Last week we celebrated Miles being home for six whole months. In so many ways that 1/2 year just flew by. And in other ways it just creeped by as the most agonizing time in my whole life.
For the last six months, I felt like I didn't know my head from my behind. All of that chaos resulted in me having to be medicated. Yep- I'm not afraid to admit it. My reaction to child number three (note I said my reaction, not my child) threw my life into such a tailspin I called and begged for antidepressants. And now that they've kicked in (I think I'm a kinder, gentler version of me!) and I've had some space to reflect, I think I'm ready to give a better assessment as to how our lives are going. (Oh,God- did you hear that... It's the fallout I'll probably now experience after just admitting to the world that I had to go on meds! Be nice and keep those mean comments to yourself, please!)
I'm going to be brutally honest and say that at the three, four, and five months marks, I wasn't sure if we were going to make it. Being rejected by my own son 92.4% of the time had eaten away at any shred of self esteem I had left. I felt like such a failure as a mother. I knew it was bad when I was trying to comb Miles' hair out and he was screaming and kicking like usual and Noah (age 3) walked by and said, "Mommy, I'm sorry that Miles doesn't like you." I was sorry too. I was sorry that I was taking out my constant rejection by Miles on my husband. I was sorry that Miles was so time consuming that I had very little left for my other children. I found that I just counted the hours down until I got to put Miles down for a nap and then counted down the hours again until I could put him to bed. I was feeling sorry for myself- but more than anything, I was MAD at myself. I am a mother. In my mind being a mother means loving your children unconditionally. I hated myself that my attitude about Miles was so dependent on him reciprocating that love. But folks, it is hard to keep up a relationship when the love only flows one way. I could reason with myself that the child has been through A LOT. I knew that he had every right to be distrustful of me. I knew that teaching a child how to be a part of a family would be hard work. But I never for one second thought about how that would make me feel. Just FYI- it felt like being hit in the heart by a bus- 20 times every day. Every time my son wanted a perfect stranger to hold him instead of me- BAM. Every time he would get hurt and would refuse to let me love and cuddle him- BAM. Every time he would act super sweet and cute in front of our family and make me look insane- BAM. For me, all the hurt in my heart just turned into bitter resentment. I'm not proud of that, but it's the truth.
And then New York happened. My trip to New York was so last minute. It was one last effort to get myself together. I got on that plane and for the first time in months, I just felt free. Maybe at just that moment, my antidepressants finally kicked in or something, but whatever it was- just having a little space felt sooooo good! I got in bed at night and actually made it through my prayers for the first time in a long time without falling asleep or losing focus. I prayed for my son. I prayed for myself. I prayed that something would happen to make my family feel whole again. I prayed that I would lose the anger I felt at Miles for the things that he could in no way control. I prayed that I would lose my expectations and just learn to live in the moment and learn to find the joy in raising my three bambinos again.
My plane landed back down in Kentucky and I braced myself. I thought that the fallout from Miles for my being gone for four days would be astronomical. But by some miracle- just the opposite happened. He hugged me. He loved on me. He said "mommy" in his cute Swahili accent a hundred times. He was nicer to his brothers and sisters. The violent behaviors just stopped. He was downright just likeable and lovable to the nth degree. He has relied on me. He has depended on me. He wants to hold my hand while we walk down the street. Leaving Miles for those four days turned out to be the most amazing lifesaver for our relationship. I think the boy actually missed me. And maybe when he had some space to breath he maybe just realized that being here and being loved and having a family is not so bad after all. I am not saying that the clouds parted and the angels started singing or anything, because he still has his moments. I also know that true healing is two steps forward and one step back. I am not naive enough to think that he is all fixed! But overall, there is light back in his eyes. And that has put light back in my eyes. And that put light back in my husband's eyes. And our little family seems to be back and running on all cylinders. Amazing. (Now maybe we can stop spending our life's savings on therapists!!!)
After going round and round with the state for months about Miles' age, he will finally get to start early intervention therapy next week. We've lost a lot of time trying to cut through the red tape, but we kept fighting for it and I can't wait to see how he blossoms with the private therapy for five hours a week. He will even be getting his own psychologist. This mama is pumped about that!
He is doing so much better in the last several weeks with trying to communicate. We stopped letting him communicate with grunts and screaming. He knows the words and signs for eat and drink. So we knew that if he was hungry he had the ability to communicate that to us effectively- no excuses. I finally had to get hard core. When he would start standing at the counter and screaming and pointing and going nuts- despite the fact that I knew what he wanted- I refused to give him a snack until he would effectively communicate with words or signs what he wanted. I would completely ignore the undesirable behavior. At first it seemed cruel to me, but I realized that Miles was thriving on keeping me in a state of chaos. When I got firm and made it clear that he could not rule by terror, it was amazing how quickly the child learned to say "eat" when he hungry instead of yelling.
We did the same thing with discipline. For most adopted children, "time outs" make them feel ostracised and like they are being excluded from the family. That is not at all what we wanted to convey to Miles, but at the same time, the boy needed to know that he could not try to beat up his siblings. For months, whenever Miles got violent, I would get down on his level, hold his arms down and calmly explain about how we don't hurt other people. That was stupid, stupid, stupid! All that Miles got from that was- "if I get a pan out of the cabinet and I beat my brother over the head with it, my mom will pay attention to me! She will look at me and she will touch me and I will get all kinds of attention! I'm going to keep doing this!" I am not sure why that didn't click sooner! We set up the playpen in the middle of the living room and when Miles would get violent, I picked him up backwards so that we weren't even looking at each other. I didn't say a word to him. He got no attention from me. I just placed him in the playpen and walked away. He was in the same room as everyone (so that he was still a part of our family) but he got no positive reinforcement for the behavior. Amazingly- this tactic only took 3 days of doing until 95% of the violence stopped in our home.
We are still dealing with the trauma triggers, but the attachment aspect of this crazy journey is getting better every single day. Miles is truly beginning thrive and we are starting to find our groove as a family of five. Miles is becoming quite the jokester. He's still the entertainer in every crowd. He is still the flirt in a room full of women- teenage girls are his specialty.
That boy is going to do amazing things. I just know it. I see his huge smile full of those gleaming white teeth and I am just so grateful for him- just as he is; trauma, hurt, and all. On his six month's home anniversary, I wrote as my facebook status, "Happy 6 months home, Miles Dieudonne. We are so glad you are part of our family." It felt so good to be able to write that and mean it. It feels so good that for the last month Miles wants me around. It feels so good that he wants to hug me and that he needs me. From the first moment I saw him, I knew that he was meant to be my child. But it feels SO good to finally feel like he is my child. And you know what? I think he finally feels like he is my child.
Thank you, Jesus, that even though many people, including me, have failed my child- they have not extinguished the desires in his heart to love and be loved. Thank you for the reminder that even though I fail you miserably over and over again, that you do not give up on me. Thank you for showing me again what unconditional love is all about. Amen.