Adoption, Abandonment & Lingering FearPosted by Kim
I hit a very predictable adoption “echo” with one of the boys this week, the first day of our homeschool co-op, a weekly half-day class I attend with them. They have a teacher and a class of 8 students; we parents sit in the back. This is our third year, but in the van on the way over, the questions started.
“And what if you need to go to the bathroom?”
“Well then I’ll go and come right back.”
“And what if one of us gets hurt while you’re not there? Maybe we could call 911?” (no, my kids don’t have cell phones of their own)
… And so on, all the way there. Even though it’s the same school, the same building as last year, many of the same families, and we’ve done this routine before. The first year, if I ever dared slip out the the restroom without interrupting the class to let the boys know where I was going and how long I expected to be, I would return to two sobbing and hyperventilating little men. So much for my attempt at not disrupting the teacher’s flow!
Last year went a little better. I committed to the boys that I would quietly tap their shoulders if I was leaving the room and then tap them again when I got back. Somehow that contented them. All but once, when I got stopped by another mom in the hall and took longer than the customary allotted time for a potty break. That time, it was back to the aforementioned breakdown.
But this year is the 3rd year, and I wanted to see if they could handle being “like the other kids” whose moms come and go as need be. So I told them we would try that for that day. We rehearsed that they know I’m going to be there most of the class time, and if I go out for a moment, I’ll be coming back soon. And I never leave them anywhere alone.
I have one child who’s ready and one not, it turns out. One jumped right into participating in class, making friends with the other kids, and only occasionally glancing back to smile at me.
The other kept checking over his shoulder. And when he wasn’t looking at me, I strongly suspect he was worrying about me leaving most of the time. Because he wasn’t retaining much of anything. He was giving incorrect answers for questions I know he can handle. And then he’d look again. About every 30 seconds.
He knows I love him, that I have never left him, that I never will. In his mind he knows that.
But then there’s that other place in his mind, the place that remembers – even though he does not – that he has been left. That the person he most counted on disappeared. Twice, that we know of. And that part of him just knows that if he doesn’t keep a sharp eye on me, I might vanish. Or maybe forget that I have kids and leave without them? Or maybe not care? Or something. He can’t tell me exactly what it is that he’s afraid will happen. Simply that I’ll leave. And be gone.
And so it’ll be back to taps on the shoulder and possibly a seat-relocation to where he can see me without turning all the way around. For now anyway.
Will I encourage him to stretch himself to trust me in spite of his anxiety? Yes. That’s a life-skill I want him to have – acting in courage in the face of fear. But I don’t need to fabricate occasions for that. Life does that all by itself.
In the meantime, it’s consistency, reassurance and more time. Back to more than just everyone’s typical routines for us this Fall!