All We Taught Him

We had 8 kids. Three were added to the family the old-fashioned way where a man loves a woman, a bee loves a bird or something to that effect. And, five were added the other old-fashioned way where a child wants a family, a family wants a child, a judge slings a gavel and an adoption or in our case five adoptions are finalized.

But we like kids. So, we asked, “You think we need one more? You think we need one more. Let’s have one more.” And once again, we went the old fashioned route. And, we added what we currently consider our final biological child to the family… Chapel Henry Kendrick.

It’s been great. He’s real chunky. He still has his baby blue eyes. He eats some solids, drools a lot, and army crawls all over the place. He says, “Dada” and “Mama”, and we taught him some sign language so he could tell us when he wants more rather than screaming at us. The “more” sign has just become him clapping, and he uses it for everything which probably means we failed in actually teaching him sign language. Nonetheless, it’s super cute and works for us.

He’s about ten months old now. Whereas our other children all started sleeping through the night no later than four months after joining the family, Chapel, well… he still doesn’t sleep through the night. It’s been a fairly consistent schmorgesborg of co-sleeping, night nursing, frantic pacing while patting him back to sleep, and the ever-popular crib-to-bed-to-crib rotation. We have never devolved into circling the neighborhood with him in the backseat of one of our cars, but if it would give my wife a full night’s sleep… I’d circle all night long.

We decided last night to stand our ground. We’ve nurtured dozens of children and never had this problem for this long of a time before. I don’t recall having to “stand my ground” in the past. Usually, they just started sleeping through the night to our pleasant surprise. Regardless, we chose to let him cry it out no matter how long he wales from less than 10 ft. from the end of our bed in his crib.

And so it began. Some time in the early hours of the night he fussed for a second and then launched into a blitzkrieg assault on our eardrums. At first, we tried to ignore him. Then I gave a stern, “Chapel, lay down and go to sleep.” Then my wife got up, walked to his crib, told him, “No.”, and laid him back down. After what felt like an hour of auditory abuse, I walked over to the crib, gently but firmly laid him back down, proceeded to pat and massage him back to sleep, and reminded him he was not getting out of bed. My wife and I laid back down, and in her steadfast support, she said, “Any other ideas?” My reply, “Got any earplugs?” She did. We put them in, and the cacophony subsided to a dull roar, but we were still aware of his presence.

After a few minutes using our earplug tactic, all of our defenses were torn down by Chapel’s most lethal maneuver yet. In the midst of his desperation for someone to come sooth his anxiety, he resorted to the only form of communication we had taught him. He started clapping. We could not muffle the sound of his marshmallowy, little hands coming together, and it broke us. I pulled my earplugs out, walked over to his crib, and lifted him into my arms. I held him for a minute as his cries turned into a rhythmic whimper, and he caught his breath. We sat down in the rocking chair used so many nights in the past, and I massaged his back, patted his bottom and told him he was okay. He slowly turned his whimper into a sniffle, his sniffle into heavy breathing and his heavy breathing into a sleepy rest.

Children communicate the way we teach them. In our care of abused and neglected children in foster care this has been just as true as in our care of biological children. Abused and neglected children often come with a litany of communication skills both verbal and non-verbal. Some cuss. Some hit. Some don’t cuss or hit, but they scream. We had another little girl who was 4 but functioned on an 18 month old level. She knew two words, “teevees” and “mommy”. Anytime she took a bath and we had to get her hair wet, she lost it, and IT. WAS. PIERCING. She was with us for 14 months, and by the time she was reunified with her mom, she was a healthy, little girl who could take a bath, talk to her peers and express herself to adults.

We had a nine month old placed with us for a time who had grown up in a Spanish-speaking only home. So he cried anytime he wasn’t asleep for about two weeks, and then one night my wife said, “Que paso, papi?” He perked up immediately. From then on, we knew we had to change the way we communicated with him so he could communicate with us. Still some don’t make any sounds at all. When a child has sat in a crib or been locked in a room and learned no one is coming, they lose their voice. They just freeze and wait until they’re not being addressed or until whatever is going to happen happens.

If a child has only been taught to hit, cuss, scream, be silent, clap or speak a completely different language, they will use those means to talk to us. If we, as parents, want them to use their voice to express their fears, anger or needs, we must be patient and observant enough to learn about where they lost their voice so we can help them find it and give it back to them. Sometimes the patience and observation required for a child to calm down so you can help or the gentleness needed to comfort them through things is the equivalent of ten months of sleep deprivation.

After Chapel snuggled his chubby cheeks into my neck, I spent five more minutes rubbing his back and listening to him breath. I placed him back in his crib and covered him with his blanket. I walked back to bed and laid down. Less than 30 seconds later… he was rooting around in his crib again just before the onslaught resumed. I could hear my wife subduing her laughter next to me.

I don’t doubt there will be more embattled, sleepless nights in my future. In the same way my children from foster care didn’t stop cussing, hitting, screaming or freezing just because I was patient with them one time, Chapel will continually need comfort and reassurance that he is not alone and not forgotten. Like every child, he needs help finding his voice and will require direction throughout life.

Hear your kids and know they often only communicate in the ways they have been taught. If we don’t teach them any other way, we can only expect what has been modeled. Be patient. Observe.