Friday, March 15, 2013

What IKEA Taught Me About Attachment

It's been so long since I've written a post here I can't even remember how to do it. I've thought about writing an update post, one that spoke to why I stopped blogging after we brought Yonas home. And someday maybe I will. I believe our story is worth telling. I believe it is worth hearing especially if you have struggled in the months and years after bringing your child home. Because struggle I did. And I'm still standing. Or maybe it's more truthful to stay I am standing again. But today I will tell a story of the long and winding road of attachment.

It started with a trip to IKEA. The girls were with their Gram in the country for the weekend so we decided a trip to IKEA was in order to finally buy the loft beds for Ava's and Eden's room. When we got there, Yonas announced excitedly that he wanted to go into Smaland, the childcare section of IKEA. He's gone in several times with his sisters, but never on his own. This isn't something we were even considering and Erik and I looked at each other in complete surprise.

"Are you sure you want to go in without any sisters Yoni?" I asked.

Erik and I did a quick silent exchange and agreed to let him give it a shot. I thought it would be good to support this bravery, this self-confidence. I told Yonas that if he wanted to leave to just tell a grown-up and they would call us. (Let me remind everyone that we just celebrated our 3rd  anniversary of Yonas being a part of our family and that Yonas will be 5 in May.)  So we put his shoes in a bin and got our hands stamped and said good-bye and he merrily went in. As I watched him walk in all I could think was, "Have I COMPLETELY misread this child?? Should he have been in preschool this entire time? Classes? Have I made a huge mistake in not nurturing this aspect of his social life?"

I kept the buzzer they gave me and my phone close by. Exactly one hour later I picked him up and we headed to the car.  He appeared fine. Five minutes in to the ride home he started saying he was hungry. He'd had a big breakfast less than two hours before. I told him we would have a snack when we got home. He fell apart. Crying, repeatedly saying, "I'm hungry, I'm hungry, I'm really hungry!"

Twenty minutes later when we walked into the house he was so far gone he wouldn't eat the snack I made for him. He was furious and sad. Erik and looked at each other and simultaneously realized what had happened. Total dysregulation because he spent one hour in Smaland. It was just too close to orphanage life--lots of kids and adults he didn't know.

I asked him to let me hold him. He didn't want to. He said he wanted to eat. But he wouldn't eat either. I said, "Yoni, I think you are feeling really sad and angry from staying by yourself at IKEA and I would love to hold you on the couch." And then I walked him to the couch and he resisted a bit. When we got there, I cuddled him up in my lap and he started to cry. A grieving kind of cry, not the  agitated one from the car. I wrapped the softest blanket we have around him and held my almost 5-year old boy like he was a baby for almost an hour while we both cried. He couldn't make eye contact with me for 45 minutes. He sucked his thumb and stared off into the distance. He was gone. When I tried to make eye contact his eyes did this same rolling thing they did when we first brought him home.

He stopped crying and eventually was able to look at me. I said, "Yoni, when you were there did you feel sad?" He nodded. "Did you feel lonely?" He nodded. "Did you feel scared?" And his whole face crumpled in on itself and he began to weep. "What were you scared of?" I asked.

"That you wouldn't come back."

I assured him that we would always come back, of course I did. But three years home and a part of him still believes that we aren't his permanent stop. The grooves of grief are so deep. How long does it take for a once institutionalized child to believe it? Will he ever fully believe it? Will he ever know it? I don't know.

We've come so far. We've been to hell and back. He and I are on this path together and every day it humbles me and fills me with wonder and gratitude and fear of the future. And it isn't as if I didn't know the scars were still there. I just thought they were a little less tender after three years.

We both regressed in the days following our trip to IKEA. He was pissy and needy, but angry and pushed me away. I slipped back into a mild version of the dazed depression that plagued me in our first two years together.

I know myself. I know my boy. I know being compassionate to the pain in both of us is the best place to start.  And I know I will keep wrapping that soft blanket around both our hearts for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Two Best Pieces of Advice I Have For Traveling Home

I have written about very little of our time in Ethiopia. I hope someday I find the wherewithal to do it. But until then I will write this. A dear friend is leaving soon for her first trip where she and her husband will meet their sons for the first time and I started thinking about our trip home with Yonas. He was 21 months old, scared and pissed off. Here are my best two tips for surviving the trip home with a screaming baby or toddler.

1. Graciously accept every single glass of wine that is offered to you. I'm not trying to be cute. I didn't have any alcohol on the way and it wasn't until I was on the verge of prying open the door of the plane and jumping out on the way home that I did. You'll have paid a load of money for your tickets. Let the wine help you care about the screaming a little less.

2. Yonas screamed a lot. And he was (and is) very loud. (When kids who were with Yonas in the orphanage talk about him, the first thing they talk about is how LOUD he was and how much he cried.) Grab your screaming mess of a child and get yourself into that tiny bathroom. Screw the line. Screw the seat belt rules. Screw 15 minutes passing. We played in the water. Or the soap. We flushed the toilet. We watched ourselves cry in the mirror. And when none of that worked he screamed in that tiny place that felt far removed from judgement and embarrassment. Airplane bathrooms have an insulated, cushioned quality. The hum of the plane will make you less concerned about disturbing other passengers and may even comfort your terrified tot. It's like a crappy noise machine. But there were times when all I had to do was walk into the bathroom and he calmed down. I stayed for as long as I needed to.

These two tips in combination helped us survive the trip home. May it help you too!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mindful Monday: Crisis Versus Quest

A few weeks ago I began to feel this unsettling restlessness in my soul. I'm prone to bouts of restlessness, (if you're familiar with the Enneagram, I'm a Four--the Kings and Queens of restless energy). But this was restlessness with a little despair and fury thrown in for good measure. And a little of these: missing my youth, wondering what's next, looking back at my life and contemplating if I've spent my time here in a worthwhile way, and thinking about how I can ensure that in the second half of my life I use my time wisely.

I'll be forty in September.

Yep, the good ole', cliched Midlife Crisis.

So I did some research and here's what I found out: We may think that once we finish puberty we are technically finished with all the stages of growth life has to offer us, but we aren't. Most people, men and women, experience a shift in conscious between 40 and 50. And this shift basically boils down to the realization that you aren't going to live forever, and you'd better get your ass in gear. Now this means different things for different people. Changes in job, relationships, old habits and ways of being are common. Some people use their midlife crisis as an impetus for positive change in their life, while others deny it entirely or use the energy to really mess up their lives.

The Chinese ideogram for crisis contains two characters. One represents "opportunity", the other "danger". A dangerous opportunity. Yes.

Once I began thinking of it as a quest versus a crisis, I felt a little better. But the intense energy of it, that restless despair and fury forced some things to the surface for me. Things I needed to say and do to get myself to the next place I need to be.

I also started reading Martha Beck's Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live. So I'm sitting with the unknowns and trying to get excited about the next half, forgiving myself the mistakes I've made along the way, and thanking my gravity afflicted body for carrying me this far.

And then sometimes I just want to be 24, lying naked in the sun, a full Saturday stretching out before me, a night out with friends; live music and easy laughter, falling in love with Erik all the while.

And while I can't say I live every moment believing my best moments are yet to come, the future is mine for the taking.

A dangerous opportunity if I ever saw one.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Poem for a Tuesday

Wild Geese You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-- over and over announcing your place in the family of things. -Mary Oliver

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mindful Monday: If Anybody's Still Listening

Well. It's a been a while. I think there's a 75% chance that this post won't get published but I'm going to let go of that notion for now and keep typing and see what happens. It's been so long now that I can't imagine anyone could care much about what I might write here anyway.

You know I'd forgotten that I started Mindful Monday posts until I went over to Rebekah's blog and saw that she's still doing it? Who needs some mindfulness? Me. Clearly.

Yonas has been home over a year now. We've come a long way. We have a long way to go. Nothing about it has been easy. Some of it has been beautiful. Some of it has been far uglier than I could have ever imagined. Most of it has been that strange mix of pain and beauty and progress and fear and revelations and missteps that life is so full of. I have tried my best for all my kids and come up short more times than I care to count. I haven't been compassionate with myself when I've been struggling. And I've struggled a lot. More that I care to admit, which is another reason I haven't posted here much. No one likes to admit they are struggling.

How do we strike the balance of recognizing that this parenting gig is the most important job we'll ever have and setting the expectations of ourselves accordingly while letting ourselves be human?

It's the balance I've been lacking. The balance that allows me to recognize when my well is empty, when I need a break, when everything seems to be falling apart, and yet I keep pushing through because if not me, who? I know that doesn't serve us as a family in the end. I know it doesn't cultivate spaciousness and calmness. But I can't let go of the idea that these are people's souls we're taking about. Their futures. Their lives.

I said it out loud last night. I'm struggling. Again. AGAIN.

For me, today, this is a love letter to myself. It's okay if no one else reads it. The balance I seek is mine for the taking. It's not my life that needs to change, but my thinking about my life that needs to change. It's okay if I'm falling apart. It's okay if I feel overwhelmed.

In her book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, Pema Chodron says this:

"If we're willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundless of our situation. This is the first step on the path."

I feel groundless already. I might as well get comfortable with it instead of wishing it away, which is absolutely not working. It's a shaky first step. But here I am taking it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Let the laundry begin.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


That's how many words I've written since November 1st for NaNoWrimo. I'm half-way through. Up until a couple of days ago, I'd maintained a self-congratulatory two day cushion, but it's gone now.

Here's something interesting about taking a lot of time from your regularly scheduled life to do something you love, something that moves you, even if it's very silly and shouldn't be taken very seriously: It makes you a lighter, happier person because EVEN THE SILLY THINGS MATTER.

Because if we can make room for the silly endeavors, the more serious ones naturally follow. They wear away a groove in our lives, to make room for what we tell ourselves we don't have room for. The big "No" we tell ourselves when we have a dream and want to follow it becomes quieter until we can hear what our souls are begging us to do.

It doesn't matter that I don't know what I will write about when I sit down to in front of my computer tonight after my children are in bed. What matters is that I'm sitting down at all.

No one can write a great novel in one month. But I can write a mediocre one that gives me something I can't quite name in return.

And that has to be worth more than all the unfolded laundry and a growing tower of dirty dishes in the sink.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010