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.
Blake Snyder’s Fun and Games
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