January 23, 2012

Riding the Attachment Roller Coaster- On and On and On and...

I've been a little absent from this blog lately.  Parenting has been a pretty much 24 hour a day job for the last 2-3 weeks.  I mean, I get that it's always "supposed" to be a 24 hour a day job, but HELLO! Sometimes we get used to our cozy lives and click it into autopilot for a while.  Those times are nice every now and then- those times when you can stop pedaling and just coast down the hill for a little while.

I always find it's those times when you are coasting and think that you've totally got this mothering thing down, that's when the wheels fall off.  Our wheels are teetering right now with Miles.  He's been riding the attachment roller coaster since he came home almost two years ago. (Dude- do they ever let us off of this ride?!?!) For the last 4 or 5 months, we'd been in an absolutely awesome place with him.  He was doing well at school.  He was loving.  He was making and maintaining appropriate boundaries and relationships.  The boy was firing on all cylinders.  Then...  well, then it all went to hell.  Sometimes I struggle with writing about our attachment insecurity.  I don't want to seem disparaging to my son.  I don't want to put all of his private feelings out on the Internet.  But at the same time, writing about it helps me to make sense of it.  And reading other families' experiences with the same things has helped me on this journey tremendously.  So for better or worse, I'm writing through it.

I can pinpoint the exact moment the shift happened in him.  Our friends lost their sweet adopted son to leukemia a few weeks ago.  Many families from our Congo adoption group were in town to attend the service and we all met for lunch with our children.  9 families.  Lots and lots and lots of cute, little brown children everywhere.  That's when Miles shut down.  I could see it in his eyes.  Surrounded by all those Congolese children, in his mind, Miles was right back in the orphanage.  He has black children in his class.  We have black friends, but for some reason, being in a room full of Congolese children is just different for him.  He goes through this every time we have a reunion, get together, etc.  Every time I think that this time is going to be different and it isn't. 

Two years ago, this little incident would have resulted in continuous raging from Miles: tantrums, violence, screaming and aggression at levels that weren't normal for a two year old.  We've figured out ways to tame the tantrums.  In fact, it's been about a year since he's even had one.  However, he's crossed right over to the other extreme of the insecure attachment spectrum: complete shut down.

It was almost like something in Miles just died inside and he wasn't sure how to make sense of it.  He became physically frozen many times- almost like he couldn't remember that the next step was to move his leg or his arm.  Two years ago, he was stuck in complete fight.  Now he's stuck in complete fright (which is the third thing that I would add to fight or flight.  Psychologists need to add fright in there.  I'm just sayin').  There is a fear that has just taken over him.  He's often been afraid to talk, sometimes becoming mute for hours on end or only muttering incoherent babble while he looks like he's in a trance.

He's gone back to hoarding his food.  People, if you've never deal with a child who has suffered from extreme malnutrition, you just have no idea how often food issues arise.  Two years without adequate nutrition (remember he was 2 years old and only 13.5 pounds) not only does a number on a kid physically, but damages them psychologically for years to come.  Even though we've worked so hard for years to teach Miles that food will always be available, when he gets trapped in fright mode, he forgets that.  He's been throwing up his dinner every single night as a result of anxiety and over stuffing his food.

He forgets how to do his everyday tasks like throwing something in the garbage.  He walks in the kitchen and stops and stares.  He stares at the garbage in his hand.  He'll stare at the garbage can.  He'll ask if the garbage is supposed to go on the chair or in the sink.  When we redirect him to the garbage can, he then looks at it like he can't figure out how to open it even though he's done it a hundred times before.  Same with hand washing. (You mean water comes out of the faucet?) Or putting on shoes (Do these go on my hands?) Or picking out clothes. (He'll get two shirts and no pants)  I understand why he does this.  I get the brain science behind it.  I get the emotional trigger behind it.  I get that he sometimes needs to test us and his boundaries to make sure that we will still love him.  But it still is so frustrating!!!!  I find myself screaming in my head, "Just put on the damn shoes!"  and it makes me angry at myself.

And then there are the weird little things that happen.  Like my mom popping over and Miles telling her over and over again that she needs to leave because she's going to steal his stuff.  My mom handles these kinds of things like a champ.  She and I both calmly reminded him that he is safe in his house and no one will ever steal his things here.  I get that he knows that she doesn't live here and he's protecting his territory, but he adores my  mother and spends lots and lots of time with her and it was a little heartbreaking to see the whole thing play out.

Heartbreaking.  That's a good word to sum the whole thing up.  Heartbreaking and full of suckage.  As much as I wish that I was always patient and loving in response to all the craziness, I'm just not.  I try to give myself some slack and grace when I need it.  After all, how can I give it to my son, if I don't believe in grace for myself.  But holy moly!  When my dinner gets interrupted for the fourth night in a row because the table just got puked on, I *may* just lose it.  (and for the record, we are now giving him one bite at a time and praising him when the whole thing is swallowed and not hoarded) Sometimes it just too easy to get really mad when he's speaking gibberish or not speaking at all when I know that he has words in there and knows how to use them!  Sometimes I wish that I didn't have to put Miles in his room for a break when I know that what he probably needs is some one on one cuddle time with mom.  Sometimes parenting him makes me feel so inadequate.    Sometimes it just reminds me that life isn't fair and that kids shouldn't have to go through abuse and trauma and all the other crap that people do to their kids. 

No one is perfect at this "game".  I screw up with my biological children all the time too.  But for some reason, I don't give myself the same room to mess it all up with Miles.  I feel like he's already been through too much and that he deserves only perfection from me.  I know that it's not realistic.  But for some reason, that's just how I feel. I can't help it.  With Miles, I always wonder if I'm doing the right thing.  I always wonder if I'm doing exactly what he needs or if my attempts at being therapeutic are just screwing him up worse. I'm working on letting that go and realizing that we all screw up our all of our children, no matter how they came to us.   After all, what will they say in therapy when they are older if they couldn't talk about how their mother's screwed them up?  :-) 

I can feel this cycle coming to a close.  He's back to using words 90% of the time.  He's back to interacting appropriately.  He's slowly coming back to that place where he doesn't magically "forget" how to put on his shoes, walk, eat, chew, open his mouth without drooling.  He's sleeping well, and basically get back to himself.  It's a process- and one that takes time and sometimes just has to run it's course.

As I think over the last 2-3 weeks where we've been in this "rut" I'm extremely grateful that we don't visit this place very often anymore.  That this is now more of the exception than the rule.

For my own benefit, I'm just going to take a minute to list a few of the things that I love about Miles.  Do you ever do this?  I think it is great free therapy and an awesome way to get our brains out of focusing on the negative and creating a space for the positive to flood in. (This also works awesome for times when our husbands are being butt heads!)

Miles great qualities:
He is adventurous and loves to go out and try new things and meet new people.
He gives good hugs.
He looks adorable with his backpack on when he's ready to go to school.
He tries to do everything his brother and sister do.  Which drives them crazy, but makes me happy to see him look up to them so much.
He loves his daddy and pounces on him the moment he comes home from work.
He tries to make funny jokes and laughs at himself all the time.
He's athletic and is not afraid to push his body to it's limits.
He never meets a stranger and is friendly to everyone he meets.  He makes a lot of people's days.
Oh, and he's just so darn cute I wanna sqeeze him. 


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