"Mom, how does the Tooth Fairy fly through the air?"
"How do YOU think?"
"I think moms do it."
"But how can a Mom be a Tooth Fairy?"
"Good moms are lots of things, Princess."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rock-a-Bye, Baby

Much of that material out there on parenting traumatized children talks about re-doing the baby years they missed. And I tried. Oh, I tried. Warm sweetened milk. Hand-fed caramels. Bottles. Baby toys on a blanket. Play-pen-like enclosed spaces. Holding and cuddling. Finger plays. Everything.


Princess hated it. Hated. It. The only time she didn't fight these activities tooth and nail was when I was doing them with Peanut. Then she wanted to do them, all right. Until I'd stop doing them with Peanut and try to do them with her. Then, no way. My underlying parental philosophy since Buddy was small was called If Everyone is Miserable Then Do Something Else. We were both miserable, so I gave it up.

But the ADD layer of Princess is peeling away, and there's something interesting underneath. It's almost as if the newly-exposed part was holding all the time, energy, and therapy we put in but never saw the result of. There's some empathy in there. There's imprinting. My hair is overgrown and crying out for the salon, so I parted it on the other side and pinned my bangs back (which makes so much more sense than making an appointment. I know, I know). On Sunday, Princess came down with her hair switched over and in an outfit as close to mine as she could manage. I thought, hmmmm.

Yesterday was difficult. Princess is now only raging about once a week, and she had one on Sunday. The kids (ok, and Josh and I) are still pretty raw from the intensity of the summer, and have been not exactly quick to include her this week. Plus, Peanut and the Cuddle Bear started taking gymnastics together Mondays, and something about it is very difficult for Princess to swallow. No matter that she would hate gymnastics. Someone else is getting something different from what she gets. So Tuesday was harsh.

Princess and Peanut started a jumping-over-a-beanbag game. You know the kind. The sort of thing where you know someone is going to get mildly injured, but not injured enough for you to get off F*ceb**k and say, "stop it before someone loses an eye!" So sure enough. Princess shoved Peanut down for reasons that are still invisible to me, and Peanut cried. Princess obviously felt bad, but wouldn't express it, preferring the methods of "Mumble 'I'm Sorry!' From Another Room and Loudly Complain That She Didn't Hear It," and "Stomp Into the Kitchen and Scream 'I'm Sorry' in Her Face," to the more social accepted methods of apology.

We made it to Princess's tap class, but it was obvious to me we were not done. On the way home Peanut make her world-class spit noises to bother Princess, and Princess was duly bothered. Which she expressed by beating the crap out of Peanut.

Stop the car. Get out. Drag out clawing Princess. Go to other side of car hoping to not attract highway attention. Restrain clawing hands. Spread feet wide to avoid kicking. The regular drill.

"We feel really bad inside when we hurt someone. The only way to stop feeling bad is to tell the person we hurt that we feel bad about it. This would be a good time to do bubble breaths."

And then, it happened. A small, shaky, panicked voice said,

"but will you do them with me, Mom?"

Well, heck yeah.

We breathed. We got back in the car. We drove home.

Did you notice what we didn't do? Yep. We didn't apologize to Peanut. Which means those stinkin' Big Feelings were STILL THERE.

So tantrum number three happened at 7:15. I was ready for it, because Princess has been asking to go to bed at 7:00. She clearly felt she needed to stoke things up one more time. I don't even remember what she used, because it so didn't matter. I said, "things are just too hard right now, aren't they?" and scooped her up like a toddler. She protested. I sang Rock-a-Bye Baby up the stairs (which was not easy, because that child can make herself really heavy), which she likes, but pretends not to. Only this time, she didn't pretend she didn't like it. By the time I was rocking her on her bed, she was molded into me with her arms around my neck. Relaxed. When I stopped, she hugged me and rolled off into her covers and said,

"I love you, Mom."

I could get used to this.


  1. Not knowing your full story -- I'm quite curious as to how your parenting changed from when they were your foster daughters to when you adopted them. Did you know adoption was going to (most likely) be the final result when they came to live with you?

    I've got two foster daughters that desperately need to have some of baby year experiences redone. However, I'm trying to weigh out if this is an activity that would be healthy in a foster situation or if they need to bond like that with either their bio-mom (if that's how the case turns out) or in an adoptive situation.

    For now, we're doing a lot of snuggling and holding them like babies.

    What's your advice on more in-depth bonding activities with foster kids?

  2. Wow - those ARE the moments, aren't they? I honestly think that they are so precious they make up for a LOT.

  3. Lynn- I'm not a therapist, so I'll put out the disclaimer that I'm only speaking from my own experience. Looking back, I think things were very confusing for my girls. They weren't "attached" (according to the myriads of evaluations) to their first mom, and they didn't know what they were supposed to do with me. It's almost as if I can only "count" the three years they lived with us in foster care/guardianship as half as far as bonding goes. Peanut became a completely different child (in a good way) during the latter 3/4 of the year post-finalization. The Cuddle Bear said "Daddy" at 9 months, and "Mommy" at 19 months- one month after visitation was ended.

    So while you're in limbo, do all you can. But try not to get discouraged if it doesn't seem to be helping. And don't try to get them to do any bonding they're pushing against. With Princess specifically, it's almost as though all that work we did is in there, it just wasn't where we could see it. Now it's coming to the top. Maybe.

    There's my two cents. Because you asked. :)

  4. Kerrie -
    Thank you so much for your "two cents". The people that know best are the ones that have done it before! :) I value your experience and expertise!!

    My girls were calling us Mom & Dad by the third day they were placed with us. From what I can tell, they've never bonded with anyone. I'm not sure how much their first mom raised them (if at all) or much of their history before the last three years (of which they were in a kinship/guardianship arrangement - where they were severely abused!!). The girls CAN'T talk about their past. They don't know where they've lived as it seems they've blocked most of it out of their memories. CPS doesn't seem to know anything either. I'm not sure who does know. (Gotta love the system.)

    My fear is that they are going to attach so strongly to us that if a different forever home is chosen by the state for them, breaking that attachment could be detrimental. And, given their behaviors and the fact that I've got a houseful of boys, I'm not sure if our home would be the best adoption placement for them if that's what ended up happening.

    I'm not sure what the girls will do or not do as far as attachment activities are concerned. I'm just trying to figure out what is best for THEM as long as they are in a foster situation.

  5. Even if they move, it will be better for them if they've attached to you. One reason the foster care system was re-hauled 20ish years ago to allow foster parents to adopt was that research clearly showed that it was better for children to bond with anyone, even someone who would leave, than to bond with no one at all.

  6. Lynn, speaking as an adoptive parent and someone who's read of lot of attachment books and talked to trauma experts, I'd say work on attachment stuff!!

    Forming ANY attachment is essential to our kids and every single day it gets harder for them to do this.

    Believing someone loves them is vital to their growth and development. Think of it this way - if you saw a baby on the street, would you put it in a lost and found box and not touch it? Of course not. You'd cuddle it, protect it and take care of it until its parents could be found (and that's exactly what they'd want you to do). Yes, going to a new home is going to be traumatic for those girls, but how much safer is each girl going to feel if she knows that someone loves and cares about her (not because they get paid to do it, not some generic kid, but HER).

    My son didn't enter my home until he was 13. I honestly think he doesn't know how to attach, and it scares the heck out of him too. His sister on the other hand still calls her former foster mom. Our daughter came to us with RAD too, but she has slowly been able to attach to me. She honestly believes that her biomom doesn't love her, but she has the security of knowing that her foster mom does, even if our daughter wasn't capable of loving the foster mom back during the time that she lived with her. Our son's foster dad refuses his calls. He was emotionally distant while our son lived with him. Our son has been abandoned yet again. He may never recover.

    So for yourself, if the girls end up staying with you a long time or even permanantly, or for the sake of the parents who may eventually adopt them, or the children they have after they age out of the system (like our kids' biomom did), please show these little girls what real Mom love feels like and work on attachment.

    Mary in TX

  7. Thank you both for your comments.

    For what it's worth, we ARE working on attachment with both girls!!! To list just a few things we do: they are included in every family event. We eat dinner together as a family every evening. Shoot, we almost always eat breakfast together too. We play games with them. We try to do individual things with them as well. The bedtime routine is quite personalized with lots of cuddling, prayers and singing. My goal is for them to truly feel like family when they are here.

    I was just curious on the more "extreme" things like bottle feeding, baby toys, etc.

    I believe we will do whatever seems to come naturally with attachment activities. For now, that will be lots of cuddling and holding.

    Thank you so much!!!

  8. Would you consider writing a piece for www.wearegraftedin.com about parenting an attaching child? We would love to have you contribute something for us!