Just last week I read a desperate message from a new mom, three months into the adoption of a 9-year old kid. She was at a low point, and described the horrors she was living with as this child worked through his desperation, frustration, and brokenness in what is possibly the most safe environment he’s ever been in, his new family. The rejection, the harmful behaviors, the manipulation, the gross things, the loud things, the most shocking things kids can think of to do, to try to rattle the new cage and see what it’s made of. My heart broke for this mom. I don’t know what will happen with this family, but what I thought about was how deep down, somewhere deep that may never show itself, this kids is so GRATEFUL for her consistency, for her reliability, for the safety she represents. Afraid to trust it, so afraid, but so thankful for the glimmer of hope that it might possibly be real.
In Coming to Grips with Attachment, by Katharine Leslie, the author talks about three months being the safety and security period. This is where the child finds out whether they are in a safe place. It happens with newborn infants, and it happens with “newborn” adopted children (meaning children of any age who newly enter a family). Kids who have been through trauma are pretty aggressive about testing the validity of that safety. Ask any adoptive parent and you might just be amazed by what lengths their kids went to in their testing process! Ms. Leslie goes on to say that the next year is the ‘falling in love’ period, where real love develops among the family members. That can only happen when everyone feels safe and comfortable in their roles, so the drama of the first three months (or however long it takes) is sort of inevitable. I know in our family we saw a significant behavior change begin to take place around the three month mark. And thank God, because I wasn’t sure how much more I could handle. I felt that same sentiment in this poor momma’s words on the screen, more so, as the things she’s dealing with now are more extreme than what I endured with my three. I didn’t feel I had advice to offer, but told her about the above-mentioned book, and told her I’d be praying for her, specifically that she’d start to see that shift happen. There is such huge potential for relationship with a newly adopted child, but boy does it take time and testing. I so hope that she finds a fulfilling mother-child relationship with a healing version of her child sometime very soon.
So I was thinking about this as the year turned, our second holiday season together. As we returned from a wonderful Christmas week traveling with our three kids to visit their grandparents and cousins. I am so proud of my kids! They are a pleasure to travel with, they are fun to share the world with, they are neat people to hang out with. They have worked hard to get to this place, where they are comfortable enough to relax and enjoy themselves. We have all worked hard at it, and the hard work is paying off. And I’m so grateful for my family!
We took an epic bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge on our trip to San Francisco. That was CRAZY…crowded, overstimulating, far too close to a lot of car traffic and even more foot traffic, but so cool!
Our boys played beautifully with their cousins and watched way too many movies, which they loved. Grammy was great to stay with Ellie when she napped so the rest of us could get out and experience San Francisco, which means enjoying a lot of Asian noodles. We rode cable cars, visited parks, did a little shopping for the right fit of jeans for one of our boys. We visited Grace Cathedral for their Christmas Eve service, and the life-sized gingerbread house in the lobby of the Fairmont hotel. Grammy and Poppy surprised us with a wonderful gift, tickets to see The Lion King, our kids’ first experience with live theater. It was spectacular! The costumes, the music, the sets. so cool. I just felt grateful for the whole trip.
And then we came home and still had a week to enjoy together. Now a year ago, I probably still would have dreaded that (what am I going to DO with the kids for five extra days??). This time, I really had fun with them. Genuinely. I know, I surprise even myself!
We went on a snowy hike one morning with some friends and I marveled at how far this boy has come.
This one was ‘hypervigilant’ when he came home…his brain was spending a lot of time worrying about safety, trying to make sure there were no surprises, and watching out for everyone and everything around him. When we went on walks or hikes, the rest of the kids would run ahead and play, and he’d hang back near the adults, feeling more a part of our group than theirs. It was sad, and a complicated problem…encouraging him to go play wasn’t helpful. He’d just worry that he was doing something wrong, or that the adults were making other plans that we didn’t want him to hear. That hypervigilant brain on overdrive. As we walked last week, with some boys who have become good friends, I was overjoyed to see him run ahead, a big smile on his face, and to adventure with the rest of the group. I mean, look at that face! Open, happy, relaxed. I love it. He was laughing out loud, climbing up things, getting too close to the icy water’s edge. Being a little boy! Really, really warmed my heart and made me so proud of him! And also proud of the work we’ve done as a family, because it’s the boring, daily stuff that creates a sense of security. The boring daily stuff every day for a year and a half. That’s what it took for this kid to spend half of a walk letting go and letting himself be free. He did hang back during the second half, began caring for the toddlers and acting like an adult. And that’s fine, that’s part of who he is (and a part I love, this caring, sensitive leader), but it really made my heart leap to see him allow himself a little abandoned joy. I hope there’s more and more of this in the future.
My toddler is another story right now. She spent almost this entire walk in a backpack on my back screaming in my ear. It was rather hard to enjoy, I must say. Didn’t want down, didn’t want up, didn’t want snacks, etc. When we got home and finally got her calmed down I asked her why she cried through the whole walk. She said, “I didn’t like the walk.” Got it. That’s what I thought. It’s the phase she’s in. But darned if she isn’t cute as a button!