Blogging about life in Minnesota, raising our six kids with Down syndrome while battling Breast Cancer.

Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says, "Oh shit! She's up!"

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On Sibling Bonding

About a month ago, the sibling honeymoon we'd been enjoying in our house ended. We made it about 6 weeks longer than is typical. Well, ok there really isn't anything you can consider "typical" with an international adoption of an older child and subsequent sibling bonding. Our family was doing quite well, actually, and I was basically waiting for the proverbial crap to hit it's fan.

Part of the reason things were going so well, I think, is because Angela was still in her same routine she'd been in before we brought Axel home. She'd come home from school then disappear to the basement where she would re-enact her entire school day. Once we found out about Axel's AAI, we no longer allowed him to go downstairs without one of us present. First of all, stairs were still new to him so he wasn't safe and secondly, that big sister doesn't know her own strength!

Axel would stand at the top of the stairs, looking down into the abiss with a long, sad look on his face. He wanted so badly to play with his big sister, and be part of her imaginary parties down there. She really gets lost in her world down there, and it can be difficult to get her to interract with us when the imaginary people are more interesting.  Often I would go to the basement and ask her to please come play with Axel for a bit, that he missed her when she was at school. She would act like she'd forgotten he was here, and be excited to come upstairs and cause a ruckus with him. Oh how he would laugh when they did. He loves his big sister so. Sometimes, when Angela was at school, Axel got a little better with the steps, I would hold him steady so he could be downstairs while I was doing laundry or something. Still, he couldn't be left alone with her down there. (It goes back to that strength thing.) But when they played, they played very well together most of the time.

When Axel had his surgery, there were no stairs at allowed at all. He wasn't stable on them before his surgery, and then with the halo he couldn't see his feet. Bad combination.

So about a month ago, we were sitting at the dinner table, Axel babbling in Axelese, when Angela got upset. "Stop it. Stop that noise. Stop looking at me. Stop. Stop. Stop saying bhejdggiwt. Stop saying kay. Stop."

Did it read like someone obsessed? Because Angela really was. Axel couldn't do anything right. He tried so hard to connect with Angela and she would just get angry right away.

The last couple weeks before Axel got his halo off, I started bringing him downstairs periodically so he could hang out with her a bit and I could get some laundry done. But I had another motive: When that halo came off, Angela's personal queendom that is the basement was going to be invaded by the prince! She was going to need some trial periods to get used to it. The results were worrisome.

Lets time I thought I heard tears, only to walk into the room and find Axel on his back like a turtle, looking a bit shell-shocked with big tears rolling down his face, with Angela sitting on the couch, tongue in her cheek avoiding all eye contact with me.

Me: "What happened to Axel? Why is he on the floor?"

Angela: "I'm don't know."

Me: "Well he didn't get there by himself, and he didn't make himself cry. What did you do?"

Angela: "Axel pushed me."

Me: "Axel pushed you, so he's on the floor?" (Axel is afraid to defend himself or start anything with her so I know this isn't true.)

Angela: "Maybe."

Me: "Maybe what?"

Angela: "Maybe don't push Axel next time."

Me: "You know, when Axel gets his halo off, he's going to be down here all the time. Now is a good time practicing how to be nice to your brother."

Ok, so this is fairly normal sibling stuff, but the potential for injury is huge for Axel. And frankly, this wasn't in my plan. They were to love each other like best friends, not hate like siblings sometimes do. There are lots of variables as well that are not typical, like the fact Axel has been getting A LOT of my attention what with halo care and help with just about everything. She was hearing a lot of, "Hang on a sec, I have to finish helping Axel."

Then that little brother got even MORE attention! He and I went on a plane without her to get his halo off. Everyone was talking about the halo. I'm sure to Angela it sounded a lot like this:

The problems escalated to a point that I knew it was time to consult our in-home behavioral specialist. I did talk to Angela about the fact Axel is learning to talk, and we need to be patient with that. "And remember, there are a lot of times when we have trouble understanding you, but we don't stick our tongues out at you." (not that I haven't wanted to on occasion!)

The day Axel and I came home from Philly and the halo removal, Angela spent the day hanging out with our PCA. At one point Angela said the PCA, "Umm, Dianna? I don't think Axel should come downstairs." She knew the inevitable was coming and she wasn't looking forward to it.

Angela was asleep when we got home from the airport, so we didn't see her until the next morning. Angela was SO VERY EXCITED to see Axel without his halo. She hugged him. She kissed his head.

And they have been playing fantastically ever since.

I have a couple of theories: Angela never said much about the halo. She was there with us when he had his surgery, and Dean and I made a point of dividing our time between the kids so she got some undivided attention as well. But I wonder....since she never said anything about it...if that halo really bothered her? Like maybe she was freaked out about it but didn't have the words to say so? (although, she often tells me something "freaked her out".)

The other thing is, with his halo Axel was very limited in what he could do. Because it's been so hot, only rarely could he be outside, and when he was he couldn't DO anything out there. Angela's been waiting for someone to play on our playground with her, but Axel couldn't do that. She was still bored, and it was his fault. I think this was annoying to her. It didn't help that when they played I was constantly looking out the window, "Axel can't do that. When his halo comes off he can, but not yet." I'm sure I was driving her crazy.

But now the halo is off, and the two of them are busy busy busy. Angela isn't spending near as much time in the basement. It used to be we wouldn't know when she got up in the morning, because she's just stay downstairs. She was really isolating herself a lot, and neither Dean or I were sure what to do with it. Apparently God knew.

Now as soon as Angela gets up she's coming to get Axel for "a venture" and off they go. Axel is up and down the stairs like he's been doing it all his life, and he's loving hanging out in the basement with Angela. And, because he can move now, and not wearing that freakish halo, she seems happy to have him there. They spent a couple hours yesterday playing outside together in the fort, happy as can be.

Today I discovered the most fascinating thing of all.

Angela has a specific self-stimming activity she does when she's watching TV. She has this toy that looks like a miniature tractor tire (actually, I think it was a dog chew toy at one time but my dogs didn't like it. LOL) She will sit on the floor and roll it ahead of her to what seems to be just out of her reach, then lunge for it (but her butt never leaves the floor.) Then pick it up and kind of give it a toss, then repeat the whole sequence. Occasionally I have noticed Axel try to imitate a couple of Angela's stimming activities. Like, "Wow, she really likes doing that, maybe it's fun? I'll give it a try." only to get a look on his face because it clearly doesn't work for him. LOL

This morning I noticed it had gotten quiet downstairs, so I snuck down to take a peak. Angela has changed her tire stim! They're now rolling it back and forth between them. I'm sure this is a new honeymoon phase, and in a few weeks I'll be pulling my hair out again, but for now Axel has brought Angela out of one of her worlds.


Imogen said...

Bless her heart! Love the tractor tyre stimmy-sharing!

doozee said...

WOW! What a change! That's such happy news!

AddingOn said...

I loved this post Leah. Even with "typical" kids it is soo hard to figure out their reasoning. I love how Axel has drawn her out of herself. And the tire thing,,, oh, my heart, that is the best!