Monday, May 21, 2012


T is doing well in sober living, so we are having one of those relatively rare crisis-free periods. After all, let me just recall that T has been through THREE stints in rehab in the past year alone! It really does make me laugh. Previously, I wouldn't have thought such drama was even possible. I think a lot of parenting older traumatized kids involves this kind of epic try-and-try-again struggle.

Anyway, among other pleasant developments, lately, T's capacity to love is back. When he hates himself, because he's binging on drugs, he hates me. (He hates everyone at such times, but I'm first on the list, being the closest.) Therefore, the few months leading up to the most recent stint in rehab were rough. I grew a thick skin and learned to depersonalize it. Frank acknowledgement of the depth of his addiction really simplified things for me; it's a disease, and when it's active, it takes over every other vital emotional function. It's really no use pursuing any other goal than to get him back to treatment at such times.

When he's not abusing substances, T not only feels proud of himself - increasingly, he's able to extend the gentle compassion and patience that are part of his essential nature to himself, as well. He is self-reflective and aware, saying things like "I'm very sensitive when I'm sober..." and "I got my feelings hurt today - I tend to take things personally." His giant milky eyes reflect his keen awareness and perception. (At the treatment facility, an older woman yelled to him "You have the face of an angel!" It's true, he does; he's like a fresh, naked soul walking around in the big, bad world. Sometimes I want to throw a blanket over him.)

When he's happy and we've been apart, he often takes a moment to grab my face and stare at me with his big mournful eyes; if I hold his eyes and smile, he smiles.  Like a baby, he wants to use my face as a mirror to check his emotional state. A new thing, too: he has begun to accept compliments. The other day I wrote to him (he emails about a million times a day from the sober living house) just to tell him that it's nice to see him happy, and that his intelligence is showing in his eyes again. "Thank you, I appreciate that," he wrote back. That might seem a small thing, but it's not. For years, he's rejected compliments - self loathing shut the door on any gesture of appreciation offered by another person.

At the same time that I'm happy for all of this, I'm grateful for the modest distance afforded by his time in treatment. The intensity of parenting him both suits my own style of love and wears me out.
I would have liked very much to be one of those parents who can foster or adopt several children at once. I know such parents - some even have full time jobs to boot! I'm struck that their love for their kids is fierce, but also more casual and spontaneous in its expression than my own - somehow, it's sportier. The mothers I know who are like that have houses that tend to be messy and warm and busy, where people gather around big tables and eat big meals and talk loudly and all at once. That's not me. My style is to love deeply and singularly. I need time to think.

T is similar and I think that's why we were all drawn together in the beginning. He's probably even more intense than I am in his love style. He has a full array of love behaviors that are like sonar, ways that he sends out little "pings" all the time to see what comes back. Receiving all those messages and transmitting back on the right frequency is both captivating and exhausting. The rest of the world starts to feel intrusive and noisy. "I'm trying to hear my kid!" I want to yell.

T tends to resuscitate early childhood bonding behaviors, because that's what he missed out on. (The other day, I had cause to wonder, when he said his first words, who did he say them to? When he took his first steps, who yelled with pride? He was in eleven foster placements before he was three - probably, he barely knew the adult who was in the room on those momentous occasions.) That's why now, when he tries, fails, and tries again, he looks to us with a much younger chld's intensity, craving recognition. He's not learning to walk, he's learning to confront the world sober, but the process is similar.

The intensity of his attachment to me and my love for him are private and all-consuming in a way that vies with life's other priorities. It reminds me of an experience I once witnessed with a friend. She had given birth to twins and during her first months at home, she asked me to visit and give her a hand. The atmosphere was peaceful and intense at the same time. She spent much of the day feeding one baby, then the other, gobbling power bars in between to keep the calories stocked. The curtains were closed, she had little sense of night versus day, and we hardly talked - we just juggled babies. They would lock eyes with hers and hold her attention - they ruled the rhythm of her day, with their intense attachment and all the crafty little things they did to keep her in their employ.

Obviously, parenting a teenage boy is not the same. But when I get worn out by my love for him and his attachment to me, I think about that day at my friend's house.  Older children with unmet developmental needs have a way of reviving all sorts of tools and tricks for meeting those needs - some are dysfunctional and others are elemental, honed to near perfection by millions of years of human evolution. It's a powerful equation and such a child's primal needs can create a world apart that is out of synch in some ways with the rhythms of the adult world.


Anonymous said...

you have such a wonderful way with words

Anonymous said...

I have become a big believer that we get the kids God meant for us to have--that we are matched because we are the best parent on planet Earth to raise that specific kid. It's like that with you and T. You are the one he needs. There is no one on Earth who could parent him better than you.

Anonymous said...

I so love reading your writing and only wish I could read more.

tall girl said...

Hello-I just wanted to say how much I enjoy reading your blog. We are in the process of trying to adopt our fifteen year old foster daughter. She wants it, we want it, but DCF has been fighting it means more paperwork for them.
Anyhow I do so relate to what you say about T looking towards you for love like a much younger child would.
I know just what you mean about loving "deeply and singularly". I feel so constantly attuned to those little fragile tendrils of hope, love, and trust that she's started to entwine around us, how easily bruised they are, how quickly withdrawn in a panic.

The other day foster daughter H and I fell out of sympathy with one another, and she began to glare at me and huff about the house until I stopped and sat by her and said something like, "I feel so uncomfortable when we don't understand each other, don't you?" whereupon she threw herself on my chest and started crying.

I do feel like I have to be stay alert and aware, that I am constantly watching, listening, for some fall of her face,some angry look, some turning away that tells me that now, now, when she seems most difficult is when she most needs support. It's like listening to some submerged song that only we can hear.
She too has curled up in my arms and stared at me with that curiously childlike, unblinking intensity, looking deeply into my eyes, rubbing all over my face with her hands. Sometimes she comes up behind me when I sit at my desk to nuzzle her face into the back of my neck say things like, "I just love looking at your face." or "I feel so happy when you hold me and tell me you love me. I hope it stays true forever."
Tomorrow we go before a judge again, and she gets to tell the judge her thoughts about why she wants to be adopted.
Last night she refused to eat dinner, refused to stop watching a show on her I-pad, until my husband sat down beside her and held her hand and she blurted out, "You will never love me the way you'd love a biological child" and began sobbing uncontrollably.

We told we did love her, that biology was no guarantee of love (the world being full of families who didn't along, not nearly as well as the three of us unrelated people did), but that we loved her for who she was, right now.

What this poor kid has lost, so much lost, and how hard it is to trust to our love.

She says, "I wish I'd met you when I was a baby. I'd be so much happier now, I'd be a better person." She wants me to wash her face, pick our her clothes, braid her hair.
We tell her how sorry we are for what we've all lost together, but how happy we are for what we have now, and all the love that lies ahead of us in the future.

marythemom said...

Thank you! Thank you for writing such beautiful, intense posts that give me an insight into your world, and in doing so better understand mine, because of, not in spite of, their differences.

I love that while so many of us see our children's trials and tribulations as failures on our part, you honestly seem to believe what we keep trying to tell ourselves is true... that it is what it is and everyone is doing their best and if things don't work out with a fairy tale ending that doesn't mean anyone did something wrong. We should just keep trying to do what we hope is best and let it work out the way God means it too.

Thank you,

Harold Russ said...

The answer is not being sober. It is living sober. You can't be happy living sober if you don't live.

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