Friday, December 5, 2014

The Magic That Makes Christmas....Well, Christmas

We were victims of a three car bump up on the way to the Christmas Tree lighting festivities last night.  Lydia, Hope, Charlie, and I were only twelve minutes away from our destination, sitting at a stop light sharing what was left of two large orders of Chic-Fil-A waffle fries, when we felt the impact.  A car hit another car that finally hit us.  The cops came, traffic was backed up, and people were honking horns and waving fingers at us.  It wasn't pretty.  But thirty very long minutes later, we arrived on Broad Street to see the 45 foot live tree, planted back in 1960 in front of what used to be the old post office, already lit.  Standing tall and majestic.  Waiting for us.  We were twenty minutes late for the evening's festivities, but we made it.  

Noticing a very large group of people moving as one down the street, away from St. Luke's Episcopal Church, I darted off to join them, calling for Lydia to follow.  

"Where are they going?"  Lydia screeched, pushing Charlie in his stroller as I forged on ahead with Hopey.

What a crazy question.  Was it not obvious we did not have time to worry about details?  Couldn't the kid see the throng of strangers moving away from us at a fairly fast clip of speed, likely headed toward something joyful?  "I don't know where they're going,"  I pronounced, now pushing Hopey in her handicap stroller like a woman gone mad, my long black sweater flying behind me, "just hurry up and stay with me!" 

She was panting rather loudly, trying to keep up:  "Why are we running after them if we don't know where they're going?"  

"Lord, normal teenagers like to follow the crowd, right?"  For a split second I began to wonder why I was left to raise the one rebel.  "Listen, you should be thanking me for helping you burn those Chic-Fil-A waffle fries." 

"You look like Batman with a long cape,"  she snarked, trying to be funny.  It wasn't funny.  Bat woman might have been funny, but not Batman.        

How appropriate it was that we all stopped in front of what used to be my church, the former First Baptist Church building.  A quartet of men came out on the front porch to lead us in carols, and within seconds, the outdoor scene became a pseudo worship service as a mish-mashed group wondrously became one through familiar song.  "Joy To The World", "Hark The Herald Angels Sing", and "Away In A Manger" rang out through the voices of both the young and old, the rich and poor, the abled and disabled.  Then it happened.  Magic.  The Christmas magic we all anticipate each year.  The magic that makes Christmas....well, Christmas.     

The tempo slowed and voices softened from that of a roaring wind to the gentlest breeze, permeating the night air with the song of all songs.  However, what began as a delicate revering of the One for whom the song was written, crescendoed, without warning, into harmonies, growing louder and more powerful as each phrase of "Silent Night" was articulated....yes, what was initially a simple melody serenaded to the baby in a manger burst forth and erupted into the praise and celebration of Who that baby was.   Husbands, in response, reached for the hand of their wives, parents bent down and squeezed their children, and nearly everyone wiped a tear or two.   

Hope and Charlie are nine and six and still very much non-verbal.  Even though they couldn't physically sing last night, their spirits were rejoicing in song on a level beyond what my mind can imagine.  I felt it when they reached for me, hugging me and kissing me over and over again, smiles covering their faces, uninhibited love spilling out, covering me.  No words needed.  The Love of Christ.

You've experienced it too.  It's what keeps us all pressing forward even when times are so tough, we don't know where our next breath is going to come from.  It's what picks us up and dusts us off when we've been kicked down.  It's the filler for those empty spaces left by loved ones who have gone before us, the glue in families who are living far a part, a certain peace that settles in the midst of chaos, and the flicker of light shining in the face of darkness.  It's the baby in the manger, the cross on the hill, and the empty tomb.  And it sneaks up on us and finds us in the most unexpected places.  Last night, after a three car bump up, it found me in Cleveland, TN.

As you hurry and scurry about during the next days preparing for Christmas morning, my wish for you is that you find the magic that makes Christmas....well, Christmas.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Chubby fingers and teensy toes.
Angelic eyes above a turned up nose.
No words you songs you sing;
Yet perfect joy, to me, you bring.

Oceans of salt and grains of sand.
Become treasure in your little hand.

Your wonder is not lost on me;
Never-ending innocence, like the waves of the sea.
Funny faces and a playful whim;
The world to you is a jungle gym.

A mischievous grin...Seldom shedding a tear;
Each moment a play ground,
You know no fear!

You right my wrongs in so many ways;
Now Thanksgiving is a
gift that comes every day!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Several months ago, my daughter, Lydia, had a friend over to spend the night.  Harmless, right? Well, think again.  When that girl left, I was asked the following question:

"Am I going to have to get married when I turn nineteen or twenty so some guy can support me?"

After feeling of her head to make sure she wasn't experiencing a raging fever and then dousing my own face with a handful of cold water from the tap at the kitchen sink, I quickly learned that Lydia's teenage friend is being taught that a woman's place is to find a husband....with cash-ola.  As a mother of both boys and girls, I can tell you, this revelation nearly gave me the dry heaves.  Let's be clear on the subject.  I don't want my son marrying a girl who has been out treasure hunting for a guy who'll support her, and absolutely will not stand idly by while my daughter goes out scouting for a big bank account.

After making her best attempt to drag me off of my soap box, she continued:  

"But I have Dyslexia which will make college a near impossibility, and let's face it, all I'm really good at is music." Obviously her "friend" had driven the point home to her.  And a mighty sharp point it was.

You see, being from Nashville, the term "all I'm really good at is music" is like the death knell, and although only sixteen, Lydia knows it's true.  There are more starving musicians playing in open mic bars around this city than you can shake a stick at. Literally, some folks around here have been known to pay the bar owner for a space on stage when only a handful of regulars are expected to show up. Truth was, I couldn't let my baby girl think for one more moment that she had to find some fat cat boy to take care of her.  And more important than that, it would be over my dead body that she'd still be singing "Delta Dawn, What's That Flower You've Got On" from a small stage in Leipers Fork at the age of forty two.  So, like all truly southern girls who have been raised on cornbread, pinto beans, and a healthy dose of redneck moxie, I decided to solve the problem. I gathered myself and spoke up:

"Lydia, I'm sorry, but your friend doesn't have the good sense God gave a goose.  The fact that you are so good at music means you are creative, so do you know what we're going to do? We're going to invent something totally new. And we're going to do it right now."

Fortunately for me, Chappy, my own fat cat (what can I say? I don't always lead by example), was out of town with Caleb on a college visit, so that day it was just Lydia, Hope, Charlie, and me.  She had no choice but to indulge me and my brand new dream. We sat around for hours cookin' up things we could get into when we finally thought up the Bowtie Backslider.

"Now, honey,"  I told her, "this project can be your husband.  If you'll really nurture the Bowtie Backslider, it will buy you a car, send you on trips around the world, and even give you a big old comfy house to sleep in.  And the best part is, it won't ever talk back to you, tell you 'no', or ask you to go parading around the bedroom wearing high heels and a tiny nightie."  Her face was still showing a bit of skepticism, so I was forced to pull out the big guns:  "And plus, we could try to pitch it to the Shark Tank."

With that, the girl was sold.  Praise the Lord she is such a huge fan of Mark Cuban, Mr. Wonderful, and Lori Greiner.  Thanks to them, I won't be planning a wedding anytime soon!

On July 24th we will be traveling to Greenville, North Carolina to audition for The Shark Tank with our Bowtie Backsliders, and you can bet we will use every bit of charm we can muster to lure those highfalutin TV producers in to bite on our new business venture.  Until then, we'd sure appreciate it if you'd check out our new website and help us pass the word along:

And just one more thing for that friend of Lydia's: You've got a mind, so you don't need a man.  
Marry for love, because you want to,
Not for money, because you have to! 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


I am thrilled to announce that my first novel, "Homewrecker", is available for purchase by clicking here for a physical copy:  Purchase "Homewrecker"

And here for a Kindle version:  Order via Kindle 


"Many have already found a place in their hearts for the southern sweethearts, Mary and Philip Montgomery, but change is coming, threatening to destroy all they hold dear.  Miss Charity, their youngest child who has Down syndrome, faces possible health issues, while their oldest, Wills, tests boundaries related to drugs, sex, and alcohol. Meanwhile, Mary's hilarious mother, who is known for being quite a busy body, doesn't disappoint as she guides the family her way, whether they like it or not.

Featuring a lovable cast of characters most everyone can relate to, "Homewrecker" will have you laughing and crying, angry and rejoicing, and willing to fight for love above all else.  This is the first book of the Loyalty Lock Series, which denotes the common denominator all successful families share....Locking Loyalty for the long haul!"

During the next month, ALL proceeds from book sales will go to benefit 15 year old Hunter Garstin, who was left paralyzed after suffering a spinal cord injury in December when wrestling for a local high school team. This precious family is in need of support to get Hunter all the therapy and equipment he needs to walk again.  Here is a picture of him with Hopey and Charlie:

(To all those who asked for a book back in March, you should receive your copies in the next couple of weeks.  If you don't, email me @ 


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Reactive Attachment Disorder (Part Two)

When crisis mode hit in our house, it looked like a nervous break down.  I've heard the term "nervous break down" my whole life:

 "After your great grandmother lost her son and husband to unexpected heart attacks, she had a nervous break down and was never the same again" 

"If you're not careful, you're gonna have a nervous break down" 

and my favorite:  "You are so wound up, if you don't calm down, you're going to cause me to have a nervous break down".  

The term was bantered around in my upbringing as often as sweet tea was served at the dinner table....and for those who are not from the south, that is a whole lot!  I often wondered what a nervous break down was.  Did my great grandmother actually mentally break and fall to the ground?  I wasn't sure, but I knew I didn't want to have one or to see one because it sounded like a horrible thing.   

Natalie had her break down in November of 2012.  I recognized it when it happened, and it scared me half to death.  It was in our great room, in front of our fireplace, and she did literally drop to the ground.  She then pounded the floor with her fists over and over and over again while screaming:  "Please, get me some help!  I need help or I'm going to kill myself!  Why won't anyone listen to me?  Can't you see I need help?"  

I knelt by my daughter's side and tried to talk to her, but she wouldn't respond.  And when I touched her, trying to pull her to me, she didn't seem to have the ability to realize I was near her, trying to help her.  Natalie's body was stiff and wouldn't be moved, and her face was red, covered in snot and tears, as she pounded the floor with her fists, screaming with an other-worldly guttural sound I had never heard before.  Lydia, my other teenage daughter, was in the room as well, and she began to scream out in a frenzy:  "Help her mom, do her!"  And all I could think to ask her was: "Lydia, oh God, what do I do?"  I was in a panic too. 

I finally gathered enough composure to think of dialing an emergency number; they immediately re-routed my call to a mental hospital in town where I was asked a series of questions.  For the record, on a side note, I was unaware at the time that we had mental hospitals in the Nashville area.  It is odd to me now to consider that I had never given mental health any thought at all until that day.  During the entire phone call, which lasted for around fifteen minutes, Natalie never stopped screaming or hitting the floor. The person on the other end of the phone call seemed unfazed by it.  Lydia, by this time, had taken her two younger siblings into a bedroom and locked the door to keep them from the scene.  

"Bring her here and we'll admit her," the female who answered the call calmly instructed.  

Meanwhile, my mind raced:  "Admission.... into a mental hospital?  Do you really think that's necessary?" 

She continued:  "Bring a few changes of clothes for her to stay for several days.  She may even need to be here for a few weeks."  

"Oh, no, that won't be necessary,"  I remember telling her while my daughter was wailing in the background, "maybe a doctor can just meet with us and get this all straightened out pretty fast."  

I was such an air brain, wasn't I?  Laughably ignorant.  The red flag was waving in my face, but I still didn't want to see it.

"Mrs. Hollis, you've just given me the details of every member of your family, correct?"  the woman asked firmly.  I detected a hint of an attitude in her voice.

"Yes,"  I answered, feeling like the elementary school girl who had just been caught with gum in her mouth.  Was I in trouble with this woman, or what?

"When you mentioned your daughter Hope and her heart condition, you said she has gone through multiple surgeries, life saving surgeries, is that correct?"  

Yes, the lady on the other end of the line was becoming notably more agitated with me. And the entire time, Natalie's screams were simultaneously getting louder.  

"That's right, Hope has had three open heart surgeries and still has an aneurysm in her heart,"  I managed.

"So, you are willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to save Hope's life, but not Natalie's.  Why is that?"  she asked.

Literally, I felt my heart sink to my feet.  After hanging up the phone, I called my husband and told him where to meet me, and a few short hours later, Natalie, my daughter, was introduced to the mental health care system.  And so was I.

When we first walked up to the electric doors, I expected them to open.  We do it all the time, right?  When entering a grocery store, Walmart, or Target, the doors automatically open.  But not here.  To my left I found a call button and pushed it:

"I'm here with my daughter, Natalie.  I think you are expecting us?"  

No answer.  I heard a buzz, and the door opened.  After an hour of questions with an intake nurse, Natalie and I were taken upstairs to the youth unit where we were surrounded by teenage boys and girls.  The doors were bolted behind us when we entered.  

The teenagers looked so normal.  Oddly normal.  They acted like friends, laughing and talking to one another, which took me off guard.  I don't know what I expected....I'm sure I didn't expect for there to be so many in number, but I also didn't expect them to appear so happy and well-adjusted in a mental hospital.  "Hello?"  I thought, "you guys do know you are in a psyche ward, don't you?"  

We were welcomed by a nurse who took us into another room to ask yet one more round of questions.  At one point, I told her:  "It's crazy how happy all these kids seem around here,"  and quickly followed my remark with:  "Oh, I shouldn't have used the word 'crazy' in a mental hospital, I am so sorry for being inconsiderate.  I'm going to have to get used to not using that word so much, because I use it all the time....."  and I rambled on nervously until she finally interrupted:  "It's OK, really, it is."  To this day, I am careful about how I use that word.

After the second round of questioning, we were ushered into a private bathroom where Natalie was made to remove her clothing so cuts and abrasions could be noted in a folder.  She was told her body would be checked on a regular basis.  

"Is that really necessary?"  I asked.  "Isn't that embarrassing for these young girls?"

"She's in a hospital, and it's for her own protection,"  the nurse assured me.  

What did I know?  At that point, I felt at a loss.  Natalie was finally acting stable, and that was a good thing.  We were given a few minutes alone before I was told to leave.

I looked Natalie straight in the face, holding her shoulders tightly with my hands:  "Are you alright?" 

She is such a beautiful girl.  A turned up nose, dark brown eyes, and a soft voice have accompanied her since the first day we met.  Although she is nearly sixteen, she looks to be about twelve or thirteen, so young and innocent:  

"I hope this place will help me; I don't want to feel like this anymore, Mom." 

We cried and hugged, said our good-byes, and I was escorted out. Again, the doors were bolted behind me.  Group visitations were to be on Sunday afternoons for thirty minutes and all other visits would be on an 'as needed' basis determined by her therapists and doctors.  Can you believe that day marked the first time Natalie spent the night away from home without me?  Throughout the years she'd been asked to sleep overs, but had always refused to be away from me.  The irony of it made me sick as I drove away and left her behind.  

The following day, after calling and checking in with one of Natalie's nurses to make sure she had done well through the night, I decided to take Lydia shopping, hoping she would open up to me and be willing to discuss how she was processing what was going on with her sister.  We entered a store and were promptly greeted by a girl who used to attend school with my older son, Caleb.  We knew who she was, but she didn't know us.  

"Can I help you?"  she asked.

"We're just looking around, but thanks," I answered.  

She followed us back to the junior section, staying right on our heels:

"You both have very pretty hair.  I hate my hair."  

"No, you're hair is pretty too,"  I smiled, "I don't have curls like you and always wished I did."

"Could I pet your hair?"  she asked.  "I mean, would you mind if I touched it?"

Lydia immediately shot me a look of shock.  Her jaw nearly hit the floor.  The girl didn't notice; thankfully, her eyes were fixated on my hair.   I don't know if it was because of the bizarre time I'd had with Natalie the day before or if it was a God-thing, but I didn't even hesitate.  I answered as if her question was one I was asked every day of the week:  "Of course you can,"  I said.

So we stood there in the back corner of the store with my hair in her hands.  Lydia was a spectator, taking in the whole scene when she was suddenly pulled in:

"Can I pet your hair too?" she asked, admiring Lydia's long hair, "you both have gorgeous hair."

Lydia wasn't as poised as I was, but she murmured an: "Uhhhhm, sure, I guess."

The experience was surreal.  

A few days later, I was allowed to take Lydia with me for a therapy visit with Natalie.  I looked up at one point and caught a glance of that same girl who had petted our hair whisking by.  I later learned from Natalie the girl had attempted suicide and daily pulled out globs of her own hair, leaving piles of blond curls hidden beneath her bed.  

After a two week stay, Natalie was sent home.  The mental hospital requested she stay longer, but insurance didn't cooperate.  She was home just over twenty four hours when she melted again, hands pounding on the floor, screaming for help.  On the second visit to the mental hospital, I was left in a holding area while Natalie was taken back to be questioned alone.  The hospital wasn't as frightening to me the second time.

A man and his teenage son came in as I sat waiting for Natalie.  They sat in the holding room with me, actually right next to me, even though there were several available chairs in the room.  For the longest time I sat next to them in silence, wondering if I should say something.  What do you say in a mental hospital, right?  The man, who I assumed was the boys' father, appeared shaken.  Bent over, his elbows rested on his knees as he rocked back and forth.  His son, however, sat upright staring straight ahead.  The difference between the two was glaring.  After debating what to say, I finally broke the silence:  

"This isn't the best place to visit, is it?"  I offered a half smile.  That simple question was all the man needed.  He immediately began telling me all about his son, who he had adopted as a baby.  

"He has always been a good student and an excellent baseball player,"  he said.  "Several months ago, he was driving wasn't a rainy night and he wasn't drinking or speeding, so we don't know what happened....but when we he was found, his car had hit a tree and he was unconscious.  There wasn't a scratch on him, but it turned out he had a brain injury."  At this point, the man's face was covered in tears and his hands were trembling.  His son still sat upright, rather stoic, unmoving.  He continued:  "My wife and I could never have children, so when we adopted our son, he became the center of our world,"  he patted his son's leg, "we love him so much."  For a few seconds he cried out loud, wiping the tears as fast as they fell.  The son still showed no emotion; as for me, though, I was crying right along with my new friend.  "He started having seizures and has lost his ability to learn.  School used to be so easy for him, but not anymore.  He had been offered a scholarship to play baseball, but now has lost it because he can't play anymore.  The brain injury has taken his ability to learn and to play ball away from my boy and so he wants to die.   And he's going to do it....I'm afraid he's going to kill himself."

Then, for the first time, the boy turned to me and spoke:  "I am going to kill myself.  I've got no reason to live anymore."

After those words, the father cried like I have never seen any grown man cry in my life.  His whole body shook, and the stark room was filled with the sound of heartbreak.  

Within minutes, Natalie was brought back into the room with an intake nurse and I was asked to come join them on the journey back up to the psyche floor.  On my way out, the man rose to his feet and we gave each other an awkward hug.  I whispered in his ear:  "My daughter wants to take her life pray for us and we'll be praying for you."  

I still think of that teenage girl and boy often.  Their brief time in my life has had a larger impact on me than some relationships that have lasted tens of years.  They opened my eyes to the world around me in a brand new way, helping me to see humanity in the realm of mental illness.  It was no longer a foreign subject to me, but it was three very real people now....and one of those three, was my daughter.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Do You Ever Wish....?

Something profound happened in my home just a few days ago when one of our big kiddos asked me a question that began with four seemingly harmless words:

"Do you ever wish....."

The question went something like this:  

"Do you ever wish... you were like other women your age? That you could enjoy the freedom to go out and meet friends for a day of shopping or to meet them for coffee whenever you wanted to?  or to travel to other countries? or go to regular church like everyone else? or to just go to a restaurant without having to worry about Hope and Charlie having a sensory meltdown?"  

It was an honest question and a good one, so I paused to consider it. But my silence, although brief, was too much for this teenager who instantly kicked into guilt mode:  

"Mom, you know I'm not saying I would change Hope and Charlie, don't you?....I love them exactly the way they are....I was just wondering how YOU FEEL sometimes.  If you ever wish you could just be YOU instead of being Hope and Charlie's CARETAKER.  Is it OK for me to ask a question like that?  I feel bad for asking it now."

Isn't it funny how human nature forces us to tip-toe around certain subjects even in our own families?  

"No,"  I answered, "please don't feel bad about asking the question...I was just thinking about how I wanted to answer it."

Do I sometimes wish little bodies were SITTING ON my chairs instead of STANDING in them?

That those same little bodies were USING the potty instead of PLAYING in it?

That they would simply LIE DOWN in their beds instead of playing BENEATH them?

EAT from tables and not SIT ON them?

Do I sometimes wish I didn't have a child who has a SERIOUS HEART CONDITION?

And do I ever long for children who don't enjoy PAINTING THEIR BODIES in dirt, mud, or mulch on a daily basis?

Do I wonder what it would be like if a certain boy didn't enjoy HANGING from precarious places....

LEAVING a marked trail behind him wherever he goes....


My answer, when I found it, took not only my older child off guard, but me as well.  This, in a nutshell, is what I said:

"Before Hope and Charlie, I was a different person.  But once they came along, I believe the Lord gave my heart a complete overhaul. He changed the way I think and feel, my wants and my desires, and He even turned my dreams around.  Don't ever worry about me, because I have no desire to do anything more or different with my life, and I can honestly say I have never resented a single moment. Not ever.  And THAT is God."

I paused again to bring the conversation back around to the one who had asked the question:

"But do you know what is most amazing?"  I asked, enjoying the full attention of a wide-eyed child who is fast becoming all grown up, "I get a glimpse of Jesus every day because I get to see the truest, most perfect love played out for me as I watch YOU selflessly love your brother and sister.  And it never ceases to blow me away."

This is a few seconds of 15 year old Lydia, unknowingly caught by me on camera, displaying exactly what I'm referring to:


What I realized, when I took those few moments to consider the question, is that I actually believe I am one of the most fortunate people in the world.  Each day of my life is an adventure, promising to present at least a challenge or two.  I get to laugh, cry, scream, and celebrate multiple times throughout every day.  Life is never boring.  And even more remarkable than that, my love is reciprocated unconditionally and I am always needed. 

Do I ever wish?  The answer is NO!

1st Corinthians 12:  "Love is patient and kind; does not envy or boast; is not arrogant or rude; does not insist on it own way; is not irritable or resentful....Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things....Love never fails!" 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Reactive Attachment Disorder (Part One)


Throughout my life I've encountered some hard knocks which have, in a lot of ways, left me cynical. Consequently, over the years, you might have heard me repeat the old adage:  "A leopard can't change it's spots".  Simply put, I have never bought into the idea that people change.  I now recant that statement and admit I was wrong, foolishly wrong, because I now know a leopard who DID change her spots. My teenage daughter, Natalie, is that person.  What once was a child who wanted to die, is a young woman who is eager to live. The rage has been replaced with peace, and the heartache with joy. I see the change, Praise God!  It is real.  

We adopted Natalie when she was three years old from a run-down neglectful Russian orphanage.  What we didn't know at the time was that we were bringing home a special needs child, one who had never been held or called by her name, one who had not been bathed or cared for, and one who, as a result of all of this, lacked the ability to attach.  The connection that is made inside the brains of babes when their mommas meet their needs with diaper changes, milk, and cuddles was never made with Natalie.  Instead, there is a something missing, and she has felt it every day of her life. The medical community has given the empty space a name:  Reactive Attachment Disorder.  This is our story:

"Does my child have Reactive Attachment Disorder?"  If you have ever asked the question, she probably does.  Let that sink in.  Your child likely has RAD, which means you are parenting a special needs child.  As more research is being done, conservative studies now project 30-35% of children who are adopted from other countries as well as children who have had experience being bounced around in the foster care system in our own country WILL struggle with some degree of attachment issues.  I believe, however, the number is actually much higher.  Like all other mental illnesses, the numbers gathered are based only on reported cases.  As I am finding out from the many messages I continue to receive from parents who have children showing signs of RAD, many cases are not being reported at all.     

Most parents are probably a lot like me.  They see warning signs, conduct that is not "typical", but because the behavior is sporadic instead of constant, those parents don't seek help until the behavior is close to full crisis mode.  Looking back, Natalie showed symptoms of RAD early on;  but because she came from a Russian orphanage, didn't speak our language, and had no idea how to belong to a family, my expectations of her were poles apart from the expectations I had for the children I'd birthed.  I made the decision to accept her as she came to us and to allow her to blend into our family in her own way and on her own time frame.  She was three, how hard would that be, right?  (Insert a gigantic gulp)

Bringing up Natalie, from the beginning, proved to be one of the most difficult tasks of my life.  Daily, the brand new little three year old who didn't speak my language gathered up small objects and hid them under her bed, in her closet, and in all kinds of other strange places.  At one time, our guest bathtub was filled with silverware, every baking pan I owned, Q-tips, Bandaids, and her brother's Pokemon underwear.  Uhhhm, talk about random.  Nothing was off limits.  Even when we visited the homes of friends and family members, I'd have to check her pockets to rescue little treasures she'd picked up to take home for her collection.  Ok, I told myself, I would probably hoard everything too if I'd never possessed anything in my life.  How could she understand, after all?  Well, when a child is still hoarding at the age of thirteen, developing an ingenious craft out of stealing while at the same time finding brilliant locations to horde (including cutting a hole into the seams of winter coats and hiding the goods beneath the lining of the coats), you know you've got a problem.     

Another big warning sign included mood changes.  She'd go from a happy giggling little girl at home to very sad and withdrawn when going out to a public place.  Being uneducated on RAD and mental disorders in general, I believed she simply didn't like to leave home and that she would eventually grow out of it.  I imagined her mood swings being brought on by a possible fear that we would leave home and take her to live with another family or even back to the orphanage, but it was deeper than that.  Natalie learned at a very early age that she could control her surroundings and the behavior of others through her own actions.  Her orphanage was rough.  Indescribable.  When there, my husband and I noticed whenever the workers were around, Natalie would hold her head down and stand perfectly still.  But as soon as they were out of the room, and she was safe in our care, she would morph into an animated, playful, charming little girl.  We falsely attributed it to a bizarre survival tactic, even laughed about it when we were in Russia, but it was actually so much more than that.  Natalie had learned to control her surroundings through behavior, and in doing so, thought she had learned to control her own life.  

This behavior continued into adolescence and carried into her teenage years.  As time passed, though, I no longer paid attention to it as much.  My mom would comment on how she always seemed to have a little dark cloud following her around whenever we went out, but I'd answer:  "That's just Natalie".  I remember, at one point, receiving an email from a concerned youth leader at church.  She informed me that Natalie always stood off by herself during the youth service, with her head down, weekly telling the leaders her heart felt very sad.  It was when Lydia and Caleb, her older siblings, began to report to me how Natalie had a group of adult leaders at church gathered around her week after week that I finally put two and two together.  I thought back on the many years of her showing the same behavior at the grocery store, at a social gathering, or at a restaurant....and sure enough, most times when we were out, and when she was acting all sad and blue, an adult (typically a woman) would seek her out and give her a word of encouragement or a compliment.  The little rascal was working her environment all along, even at the age of three in the orphanage.  The hole in her heart needed to be filled, and the attention of others filled that hole even if only for short spurts of time.

Two other behaviors that stick out to me as I look back are that she lied often and lacked impulse control.  Both were tied together like a redneck and his dually truck.  (If you are from the south, you totally know what I'm talking about).  For instance, when Natalie was eight years old, she developed a curiosity with my cold cream.    That's right, my beauty secret is Pond's Cold Cream, what of it?  Anyway, she would stand and watch me slathering it all over my face each night, rubbing my eyes until they looked like those of a raccoon, and then carefully wiping it clean.  She wanted to smell it, touch it, and asked me to put it on her face.  "I'll put a little bit on your face, but it might be too strong for your skin, so we'll have to be careful,"  I recall telling her one evening.  A few days later, I noticed she had very quietly disappeared, which was usually not a good sign. After searching the house in a panic, I found her in my bathroom with a towel, attempting to wipe up the white cold cream that was now coating every square inch of the carpet, the countertop, Natalie's body, and the cat.  As soon as she saw me, she pointed to the poor cat and said:  "Cassie did it and I was cleaning it up so she wouldn't get in trouble."  If this had been in the days of Facebook or Instagram, I would've posted it.  It is still a vivid picture in my mind.  And I can actually laugh about it now.

Another example was during a time when we were visiting my mom's house.  Not remembering to avoid candles at all cost when children are around,  especially Natalie, my mom had one lit in her bathroom when we arrived.  The scent of vanilla drew Natalie and her sister right to it.  And once again, after noticing they had quietly disappeared, I rushed to find them standing over the candle, sniffing in the aroma and filling their lungs with smoke (or so I feared at the time).  My mom asked Lydia to bend down and blow out the candle.  I believe she actually said it like this:  "Lydia, your mom is in a tizzy over that candle, so will you lean over and blow it out so she'll hush?"  I actually played out what was going to happen before Lydia had time to pucker her lips to blow.  Just as I was screaming "NOOOOOOO!", Natalie quickly bent her head down and blew that candle with all the air she could muster, blowing hot wax all over Lydia's face and hair.  Then, without hesitation and without a sign of guilt, she stood and said:  "Oh, I thought GiGi said for me to blow it out.  I'm sorry."  OK, Mom, do you now see why I was in such a "tizzy"?  Such is the life with RAD.

Natalie's symptom list is long, and with each one, I made an excuse:

1.  Wrestling with school work = Probably a learning delay
2.  Temper tantrum = She is high spirited, that's all
3.  Wanting her own way = The classic strong willed child
4.  Stubborn = Give her credit, the girl knows what she wants
5.  Obsessive Compulsive = She likes things orderly
6.  Lies = Lot's of kids tell lies, but they grow out of it
7.  Binging on food = Her body is growing
8.  No impulse control = She's just immature for her age
9.  Unusual speech patterns = Her first three years were spent in an orphanage where no one spoke to her, so I shouldn't expect too much.  

I am the mom of five children, and the two youngest have Down syndrome. Because their disability was diagnosed pre-birth and is something I can daily see with my eyes, I accept it and am eager to give them the help they need.  Natalie, on the other hand, didn't have a diagnosis and her appearance is that of a very healthy, typical girl.  So I denied it.  I totally missed it.  RAD stared me in the face every day, bearing nearly every symptom on the list, and I didn't recognize it.  THIS is the reason I believe it is much more prevalent than statistical data suggests.  If I didn't see RAD in my daughter, it's likely others don't see it in their families either. 

We adopted Natalie in 2001, making us one of those families who caught the awesome "save the orphan" tidal wave just as it was beginning.  Since that time, thousands of orphans have been saved and now have forever families in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Many of those children have RAD, some more pronounced than others, but all of them are in need of early intervention.  If I had caught Natalie's RAD sooner, I think we could have avoided the long term treatment center route.  And that is why it is vital to consider and identify RAD early.  Know the signs, be willing to recognize symptoms of RAD in your own child, and then implement early intervention techniques.