Last week was challenging. It was challenging on so many levels. I’ve been snarfing up bad foods since Friday evening and I’d really kind of broken out of rudderless emotional eating in recent weeks. I must toss the rest of the Easter candy, I knew no good would come from having this mess in the house. I’m chocolate-wasted right this minute. But I digress…
There were some revelations that I’m still wrestling with on this Monday evening. I learned some new things that hurt. I continue to mourn old things that still are incredibly painful. I wrestle with the anxiety associated with…just everything. I rarely cried last week, which I’m not sure is a sign of some newfound pool of strength or just being so overwhelmed that I just can’t manage to wring out some tears. I’m not depressed (thank you anti-depressants) I’m just sad and wondering when will we get to the next stretch of better. So here’s the week’s recap.
Parenting a child who has experienced trauma is just…ugh…hard. I know, I know, this is not new news. But it just bears repeating over and over and over again.
It’s either feast for famine. And while some of these challenges look normal, peel back the layers and just listen to some of the things the neglected child will tell you. She’ll over plate food because she’s worried there won’t be enough or any more for in case she gets hungry, but saying something that sets off her alarms will mean none of it gets consumed. She will say she’s not worthy of being loved. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is ever her fault because well to admit fault means that you might get shipped away, even though that’s kind of what you think you want (see below). The kid will read your body language and facial expressions for filth—you can hide nothing, not anything, not even a slow blink.
Consequences for undesirable behavior are only met with more defiance because, as Hope told me on Friday, when you’re not used to having nice things or being treated nicely, then having those things removed as a behavioral consequence is neither a punishment nor a motivator for behavioral change. It’s just a state of being. She never thought she would have those things or even deserved those things anyway [note, these are different from desiring these things, which she does]. The removal of these things which she desires just returns her to a state that she understands and accepts—having nothing.
A song, a drive past a cemetery, a passing bumble bee can trigger huge, sustained emotional reactions from somewhere deep inside.
I’ve come to think of her emotions on a circular continuum with no end, all underpinned by fear. The fear is so extraordinary and so deep that facing it seems impossible but not living with it is not possible either, so the option is to go with what you know and that’s living under constant fear that consumes everything in its wake. It is hard to watch and live with; it seems so irrational and rational all the same. It’s hard to reassure that the fears are no longer warranted. It’s just hard in ways that I can’t really articulate.
Hope is waiting for me to give up. It was sad to hear her talk about how she has resigned herself to live with me, but she really believes that she’ll get sent back. She had a failed placement before, so she knows that it happens. She’s waiting for it to happen; it’s hard for her to believe that it won’t happen and that I’ll keep her. She doesn’t understand why I would want to. It’s not just that she’s testing me to see if I’ll cave, there’s a part of her that really wants me to cave so she can go back to what she knows. She doesn’t know how to live in a home with unconditional love. I wrote several weeks ago that she doesn’t know how to be happy. I realize now that she doesn’t know how to live without severe dysfunction; she has the skills to survive in that situation. But to live in a “functional” (I use the term loosely because we are all a bit dysfunctional) home? Well, she just doesn’t know how to live in that. She doesn’t have the skills for it. So there’s a part of her that is just committed to either causing the dysfunction that she understands and can survive in or just causing me to just roll over and give her back.
Reconciling this is hard for me.
It’s hard to feel like you’re doing anything right when everything seems to be going so wrong. Intellectually I know that we’re pushing forward. Going back to read my own posts shows me we’re moving forward. But being in the thick of things requires a level of vigilant consciousness that the world is not actually ending (as I constantly tell Hope that the world is not ending) takes a lot out of you. You just have keep reminding yourself not to get sucked into the emotional crap that’s being spun all around. It’s like mud wrestling in emotions all the time, but without the sexy wet t-shirt contest. It’s hard to not feel like a failure, even when you know you’re not failing. I’m sure most parents, no matter how they came to parenthood replay episodes at night, thinking about how they might have/should have done them differently, so that’s not unusual, but I’m finding that imposter syndrome: Parenting edition, is real y’all. It’s so real and it’s so serious.
I’ve got more parenting books than I can stand to read. I’ve binged purchased books. I’ve binge checked out books from the library. I’ve got regular parenting books, parenting the troubled child books, Christian parenting books, howl at the moon parenting books. Books for parents who are right handed with auto-kinesthetic dyslexia [that would be me, but no the book isn’t helpful]. Books for adoptive parents, black parenting books, books written by other parents, shrinks, pastors, social workers, educators, adoptees, other adopters…Tiger mom, single mom, black mom parenting books. Parenting without a father books.
If my Kindle app was an actual library of physical books, I think someone might call up Hoarders and recommend me for an episode. It’s all so absurd.
I know there isn’t a holy grail for parenting the adopted child, but sigh…I wish there was. Better yet, I wish there was a cliff notes version or just put it in a Powerpoint. I bought two new books today. I will skim them tonight.
I’ve read 5 books since I finished my dissertation on March 27th. Three were delicious, trashy beachy kind of reads. The other two were parenting books. I’ve done about half a dozen devotional reading plans. I’m sure I’ll binge devotional read this month too.
And there are still so many gaps. I find it’s not really about “knowing” kids; it’s about trying to figure out what’s going to work with your kid. It’s not about normal when normal is often only surface deep, and there’s a HAM (hot arse mess) just under the surface, it’s really just all about dealing with the HAM itself.
And yet tomorrow, I know I’ll be on the library’s website and Amazon continuing, to look for the elusive, key to everything text that doesn’t exist.
And then you get a sort of validation that maybe she’s reading something besides the non-existent poker face. After only earning half of what she normally gets in allowance last week, Hope is ALL over that chore spreadsheet so she can get the big money this week. She commented how she likes how I keep butter sitting out on the counter so it’s always soft and spreadable (thanks to all my Brit friends for that tidbit, it really doesn’t go bad!). She insists on wearing her natural hair because I wear mine. Tonight she copied something I do with my PJs and she asked how many times could she use the same towel when bathing because I shower morning and night she couldn’t figure out why I didn’t run out of towels. When she cleaned her room yesterday, she threw away two bags of trash that included papers of hers. She never throws anything away. Something about throwing away her papers is meaningful, she’s able to let somethings go. She asked me to read her a bedtime story tonight. My inside voice was like, “For reals? Bye Felicia.” Fortunately, my good sense kicked in and I rooted around on her shelf to find her Daddy Goose book that her father gave her. She told me how much she loved the book even though her father never read it to her. So I read her a story, and she giggled and laughed and wanted to see the pictures. And my daughter who is now several inches taller than me was tickled because at 12 someone finally read her a bedtime story. I’ll be reading one every night.
So that’s the word, Big Bird. We are surviving. She nervous about heading to Chicago this weekend for my graduation, but we’re going to have a good time. I love her. I love her madly, even when she is annoying the hell out of me. I love her. And we will get up tomorrow to do it all over again.