Friday, October 19, 2012
Trauma & The "Well Adjusted Child"
As I am getting mentally prepared to welcome two more boys into our family, I have been contemplating the early days of Colin and Cameron being in our family.
It's been awhile since I've posted about the boys' transitions. And I also realized that, for the most part, it has been Colin that I have shared about the most.
For the past few weeks, it is Cameron that has been on my heart.
To recap a bit, Cameron was the child that we advocated heavily for when we got home with Colin in September of 2011.
This was the picture that captivated us from the other side of the world. Just look at those EYES!
We were told time and again that we could not possibly adopt him, so with the help of several friends and advocates, and with his age out date approaching, we all set out to find his family.
Fast forward through a LOT of details and we find we are indeed his family and we race back to China to get him. So, in December, he became a Rylands.
I don't know what I expected, except that I found myself surprised whenever Cameron was "different" than his new, older brother.
It was clear to us that he was much younger than his legal age, and so we did expect there to be maturity differences.
As I remember back to the early days, one big difference was Cameron's expectations. When he saw something he wanted, he took it. I remember even in the hotels while still in country, I felt the need to begin teaching him to ask for things. (Note here: for children who perhaps had a difficult infancy/toddler years, it is important to develop a bond of trust by meeting their needs often and consistently. It is also valuable to be able to say yes a LOT!)
So, I was intentional about setting up situations where I knew I was going to be able to say yes. Stocking the hotel room with healthy snacks allowed me to say yes everytime he remembered to ask for a snack. Instead of grabbing a banana, I required him to ask. This opened up the lines of communication (with me instead of Colin) and allowed me to be the one to give him what he wanted/needed).
Other differences? Colin would help me with anything and everything (even when I wasn't looking to be helped!). Cameron?
Well, our dear, sweet, pretty Cameron was perfectly content to be served.
Now, in case you were to think that he was not an obedient or respectful child, let me pause to say that was not the case. When we asked Cameron to come help us with something, or hold the door, or clear the table etc..he was compliant. However, if he was not asked, jumping up to help someone do something would never have crossed his mind!
You see, our pretty boy was quite a popular young lad in his home country and I suspect was not pushed hard to do anything he didn't want to do. He had the "puppy dog eyes" down pat!
I want to warn prospective adoptive parents and those recently home with older children that the appearance of a good transition is not always what is appears to be. Would that it were that easy.
With Cameron, he would hide his pain behind a smile. Often even giggles. When we had to have the difficult conversation with him that he was not really 14, he laughed. (While tears welled up in his eyes). Had we not been hyper vigilant to observe the "hidden signs", we surely would have missed the pain that this news caused him.
If you have raised boys, you know how important things like age, height, weight, strength..are to the male species! Telling Cameron that he was 4 YEARS youger than he thought was a HARD thing to handle.
We who have grown up with parents who raised us from birth take for granted that our birthday really IS the day we were born. Those who have a different story, can't rely on that. Our birthdate and the stories we are told as children about our early years are integral parts of our core identity. Here we were telling this precious child that what he thought about his identity was not true. So, while some of you might be tempted to challenge the "age" or "birthdate" that your adopted child comes with, I would caution you to pray over that decision carefully. If the gap for Cameron had not been quite so dramatic, I am not convinced we would have made the change for him.
If you are a PAP (prospective adoptive parent) or newly home, be on guard to look for other signs that your child might be grieving the loss involved in their adoption.
For our boys, while they were older and more able to articulate their hurts and needs than younger children, they didn't necessarily share them with us. At least not right away.
Realize that this reluctance is not just because of the language barrier. In fact, I believe that the language barrier can be a protective layer over their hearts while they begin the tough work of healing. For Cameron, being 4 years younger than Colin, he has less control over his emotional responses to things.
But, eventually, and with a lot of affirmation, they do eventually begin to trust. With Cameron, it was July before he started to open up about his memories.
Once afternoon, while Cameron and I were alone in the car heading home from a Doctor's appointment, he says, "I remember taking a train ride with my mama". Maybe it was the train tracks that we drove by that triggered this memory. Saying nothing, but looking his way, I silently gave him permission to continue if he wanted.
And he did. The conversation that followed was one that I shall never forget. One that ripped my heart to pieces as I fought with all my might to stay focused on the highway, listen intently, and NOT cry for fear that he would be upset by that.
My precious, beautiful boy shared with me, in painfully accurate detail, the days and moments that led to his mama making the decision to abandon her son.
While he could not remember where his home was, he did remember riding on a train for 2 days with his mother. Then, he shared about the day they were on a city bus and he fell asleep beside her in the seat. When he awoke from his nap, he was alone in the seat, surrounded by strangers, unable to find his mama. All I could think of in that moment was to say, "Honey, were you scared?" He looked me right in the eyes and said, "Yes, mama. I was really scared."
Oh my heart!
All these thoughts raced through my mind at such speed...
"I need to show him I love him."
"I need to tell him that his mama loved him."
"I need to somehow make this ok."
So, what did I actually say?
I told him that as a mama, I knew what a very difficult thing it must have been for her to do. I told him that she loved him so much that she was willing to let someone else be his mama so that he could get his clubbed feet fixed and have more opportunities for a happy life.
He said that this was what he felt was true also.
I realize that I might never know the exact circumstances that drove his Mother to this choice. I can only assume that his special need played heavily into her decision as well as the expense of surgery and therapy.
What I know for sure is that she will always have my compassion and respect. I can not even imagine being in that place. Being in a situation where I had to sacrifice my child for his own good. Whatever the details, I will do everything I can, with God's help, to be there for Cameron as he heals from this rough start.
He has overcome so much in his life. And his defense mechanisms are still there, deep inside. And they do surface from time to time. The tears come, he withdraws and diverts his eyes away from you, and it takes him some time to recover and bounce back. But, after 10 months with our family, we are making progress. He is healing, little by little and his smile is becoming brighter each and every day.
He is much quicker to share his experiences in the orphanage, share happy memories about his younger years along with the sad ones, and trust that we are here to stay.
Of all my boys, Cameron is the most excited about welcoming Connor and Cooper into our family. I can't wait to see how God is going to use him to love these two new boys into our home!
One thing that hasn't changed?
He still has the most killer gorgeous eyes ever!