It’s late. I should be in bed. But there are so many thoughts swirling around in my head and writing here is becoming therapeutic for me, so sleep will wait. Besides…I got some Starbucks Holiday K-cups tonight so delicious coffee awaits in a few hours.
It’s Sunday night and I feel much differently this Sunday night than I did last night because this will be a different week, in some ways, than the last week was. Today was a good day. We got through it tear and meltdown free. But, this last week was hard. The hardest week since we’ve been home. Kevin was out of the country Mon – Sat on a business trip. That’s not something we share online for public viewing before or while it’s happening which is why I didn’t mention it. But it was not an easy thing to deal with. We had hoped he could be home until at least the new year. In terms of the attachment process, this was less than ideal. In terms of my sanity, it was even lesser than ideal. Single parenting is never easy. And believe me, every time I do it for a few days or a week, I’m reminded of the strength of my friends who do this on a daily basis due to family circumstances or military deployment. But, single parenting three kids, with one having only been in the country, let alone the family, for four weeks, had me in tears many times the days leading up to the trip. I knew it would likely be confusing and scary for James to realize his Daddy was not home day after day. For a child who has been abandoned multiple times in his life (separation at birth or soon thereafter has been scientifically proven to have effects of trauma on babies, and for most children placed in adoption they feel a sense of abandonment by their former caregivers) it was going to be by the grace of God that he would truly understand his Daddy was coming back again. We use the words “come back” all the time and we have from the very moment we walked in our hotel room for the first time and one of us had to leave the room for the bathroom. But ideas related to time are much harder to communicate. So I was concerned for him, and it has been harder and harder in the past year or so on our other two to have their Daddy gone when he travels. They usually beg to sleep with me just to feel close to him, and our other son in particular usually has a major escalation in his ADHD and sensory issues, resulting in difficult days at school and home.
Side note: Our other son was officially diagnosed this year and while we’ve chosen not to discuss this very much in public forums, it is a very daily part of our lives impacting our family relationships and dynamics. He is an awesome kid whose brain has just been wired differently and while we don’t understand why completely, we are working really hard with natural medicines, weekly OT (occupational therapy), a plan with the school, and soon a new therapist, to help him be the best he can be. Your prayers for him, and for us, would be so appreciated. As you can imagine, it also adds some very unique and difficult dimensions to this process of family dynamics and home life with a newly adopted sibling. It’s hard every day. Sometimes every moment, and we have almost no one in our circle of local relationships that is in the same situation, so at times it feels very isolating and that’s not to ask for pity, it’s to be honest about something that is actually scary to say in hopes it will give someone else out there some encouragement to know – you’re not alone.
So about this time last week all I wanted to do was think about getting through the week. And the only way to do that was a day at a time. Unfortunately, most of those days would need to be spent at home. We had four very busy days, Friday – Monday, with a lot of errands, going to church for the first time, a family Cmas gathering, etc. and I knew James was going to need quiet restorative days at home for awhile. But that felt like the last thing I needed, honestly. “Cocooning” is not easy for extroverts. And while I’m not nearly as extroverted as I used to be, it is tough for me to sacrifice the face to face connections I desire to have, to give James what he needs right now. In other words, there are a lot of times when I think, “I don’t really want to do this,” and I wrestle, HARD, with my attitude and feelings. So, facing down a week without the one adult I see and talk to face to face every day was daunting. But stay home I would have to because this was to be an intense week.
James became our son 7 weeks ago tomorrow. (Actually, today I guess). And in those 7 weeks we have seen him make a lot of progress in developing a secure attachment to us. He prefers us over others, looks to us for comfort, seeks us out to meet his needs, and wants to be near us much of the time. There were some additional steps in that just this past week -he’s now telling me “Are you hungry? More eating?” when he is hungry, versus waiting for us to ask. If I leave the room he starts yelling (yes yelling) “Mommy? Mommy? Mommy!!” and even after I tell him where I am he’s not satisfied until he sees me again or I’m back in the room. If he’s happily playing with a sibling or his Daddy he’s not as prone to do this. He has also started asking me to play. He will point to what he wants to play with and say “Mommy play? Come on…” and he is calling out to me at night. Twice this week it was just for some comfort and he ended up sleeping in our room.
So yes, we celebrate these steps forward. But as he acclimates to his new home and family, some of the shock is wearing off and we are also beginning to see him move into other phases of transition and adjustment. And it is here that I struggle with wanting to be honest about what we are facing and working through, and respecting our son’s privacy. Just as I wouldn’t want someone to give narratives or detailed examples of my behavior within the privacy of family relationships and home life, I know that James wouldn’t want that either. Particularly in this time when he is highly emotionally vulnerable. So I have to handle very carefully the power of the public knowledge into our family life in the days ahead. But I also want to be honest and real about what it means to make a family through adoption.
We are emerging out of the “Honeymoon Phase” there is no doubt. This is a “good” thing but it is a hard thing. It means he feels some level of trust in us that he’s willing to test the waters of our commitment to him. It means he’s not just “performing” all the time to keep us happy in an attempt to try to control keeping his world happy. Performing is typical survival instinct behavior for a child from an institution because they knew what it took to keep their basic needs met there and because the nannies will often tell them before they leave that they have to be good for their new mama and baba. Some will even threaten the kids that if they’re not good the families will send them back. Not saying this was the case for James. We don’t know. For some kids, they will “perform” for awhile. We know families whose kids kept it up for months. In other cases, the trauma and grief of leaving the former caregivers overrides the ability to “perform” at all.
James is expressing a lot of emotions and they are coming out in bigger and louder ways. He’s scared of certain things and fighting for control in the only way he knows how (more on that below) and when he feels like he’s losing control the fear can become overwhelming and that is very hard to watch, and even harder to walk through with him. Particularly when there is only one parent and there are multiple children involved. It’s just our reality.
He’s also more easily overwhelmed by lots of commotion in his environment – music, talking, lights, lots of toys, lots of people, etc. Sometimes the evidence of this is apparent only to Kevin and I because we know what the subtle signs are that things are building and we know what it can lead to if we don’t intervene to give him the space he needs to decompress. It’s another aspect of feeling out of control. He didn’t have the appropriate sensory stimulation to develop the skills to process and cope with all that comes at him. It’s a similar feeling of being out of control and that is again fear associated.
Part of expressing emotion means expressing his will for things. Saying no to things or not wanting to do or stop doing things he’s asked to. And when he’s pointed in a different direction he again feels out of control and without the context of a deep and loving and proven trust-based relationship with us over a long time, understand the role of a mommy and daddy, it becomes scary to feel out of control and there is a reaction.
By far, mornings are his best time. (Although we went to the bus stop with him crying in the carrier the first morning Kevin was gone because of an issue over a toy with a sibling) He struggles after his nap which coincides with when the other two kids get home from school. We have a long way to go in figuring all of these things out. This is a marathon not a sprint. And although the initial leg of the race felt less bumpy than expected, we are really just getting started.
Adoption doesn’t end when you step off the plane and take smiling pictures. It is permanent. It is a lifetime commitment to love and pursue and commit no matter what. We’re just a little farther down the path now and engaging some new territory.
Kevin’s home. The kids are thrilled. James was able to Facetime with him a few times. He asked about him often until the last two days when he didn’t ask anymore and I would bring it up to remind him. We survived, bumps, scrapes and a few wounds along the way that are still healing, but we were helped in that process by time with my parents today and tonight I got to leave the house by myself and embrace the joy of Target at 10pm. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that latte… 😉
There are some fantastic books, training and blogs out there. One of my favorites is No Hands But Ours written by several adoptive moms. This is from one post that offered some helpful background to keep in mind as we experience new things with James:
Neglect and abuse impair development – There is a change in the neurotransmitters responsible for sending chemical messages to the rest of the child’s body. Everything from physical response such as heartbeat, to mood, memory and coping mechanisms can be affected. The brain is altered in development and the neglect, abuse and abandonment can cripple the ability to grow and think clearly. When there is a lack of attachment in the very early years for a child, when that soft “sensory bath” that mothers and fathers give a child is missing, it can literally reorganize a nervous system. While that is overwhelming in and of itself, the good news is, it isn’t about bad behavior. When a small baby is not cared for, he can lose his voice – his cry doesn’t matter or produce results. The synaptic connections literally change and a child learns to fight, flight, manipulate, control or just plain check out.
Control and manipulation are strategies to survive. Deep fear triggers a deep need for control. It isn’t about infuriating you. It is about safety.
As parents we need to look with compassion and new eyes but still deal with the issues that cannot be ignored. The behavior has to change but we must look past the behavior into the child’s heart. When this happens, the emotional bond changes too.
It is all about a power struggle. If the initial damage was done to the child in the context of relationship (or lack of relationship) then it must be healed in the context of relationship. That is based on trust. When a child is asked and taught to give up unhealthy strategies, trust is foundational to change.