As usual one morning last week, I was only able to complete school drop-off after prying our older daughter off me like a wailing amoeba, and left to a chorus of, “NO DADDY NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” The phrase kicking and screaming is not usually literal, but that is exactly what our daughter was doing while being held back by several teachers as all the other children, including those much younger than her, looked on with both awe and disdain. As I walked down the hallway to leave, a mom who I kind of know and who was bearing witness to this whole thing looked at me and said, “Don’t you just wish you knew when days like this were coming?” I responded, “Ha, I know when I wake up it’s going to be a day like this.” I expected a normal parent-to-parent response to that, something like, “Tell me about it!” Instead she responded with a somewhat judgmental, “Really?”
Well, yeah, REALLY. My wife later said that I probably misread the comment because I was on edge. Perhaps. The previous evening our daughter had an epic meltdown. It was her singular masterpiece—her Mona Lisa—the kind of unraveling that makes you seriously reconsider if you’re even fit to be a parent. Ha, ha, yeah, THAT KIND. After talking, praying, and sleeping on it, we awoke somewhat reinvigorated by the idea that it was a new day, a new chance for her to react in appropriate ways to simple things. One of the first things she did that morning was flip the hell out because her younger sister put the step stool away before she could.
I realize that I’ve commented on our daughter’s (let’s call her DLG1 from now on, daddy's little girl, which is corny yes, but true) behavior before in this column, and I feel I should elaborate a) so that you understand I am not one of those clueless parents you see on “Nanny 911” and b) so that I can remind myself about what this little girl deals with. As I noted last week, it’s all about perspective. Also, this is going to be a multi-part column spanning several weeks/months/years because that is the type of venting I need here. (Or, it will be three parts.)
When we tell people our daughter is adopted, I’m pretty sure most people imagine the movie/Broadway show/comic/unending soundtrack of my life, “Annie.” They think, “Awwww! How sweet! Happily ever after.” Indeed, I am extremely happy and I love our daughters beyond words. But my goodness, no—that is not the scenario. The movie ends with Annie riding a freakin’ elephant at a backyard carnival, but it should really end with Annie going out of her MIND so hard she passes out because Daddy Warbucks had the audacity to tell her to dismount the elephant because it’s time for bed. Then Annie punches the elephant in the face and walks away in slow motion while things explode behind her.
Adoption is not the movies. Quick background: DLG1 was abandoned at the hospital after nine months of a drug- and possibly alcohol-infused pregnancy. She was born addicted to, among other things, meth, and spent her first three days of life in detox. She wasn’t the first of her bio mom’s offspring, and with that less than stellar history, DLG1 was born right into the system.
We knew adopting a drug-exposed child out of foster care could present issues and behaviors. And DLG1, among other things we’ll get to, has sensory integration disorder. I don’t have the best grasp of it, but I know it’s real. My wife and I went to a training class on sensory integration disorder, and they passed out a sheet of symptoms and said, “Check whichever ones you feel like your child struggles with.” I was like CHECK, CHECK, CHECK, CHECKITY, CHECK-CHECK, CHECK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU WRECK YOURSELF, DOUBLE-CHECK, CHECK, CHECK, INFINITY CHECK. My wife had the same results.
There are different levels, but DLG1 has the kind where she seeks and absolutely needs sensory input at all times. This means running, jumping, crashing into things, purposely banging her head on the wall, throwing herself on the ground in a heap of despair, doing somersaults on rocks, walking over hot coals … things like that. When she is 10 years old she is totally going to approach us and say that she wants to drop out of school and join the circus so she can be shot out of a canon every day, and I will say, “You’re not hangin’ with carnies!”
This serious disorder is actually kind of cool for me, as a dad, because I often find myself not knowing what to do. My go-to parenting move is throwing her up in the air 20 times or tackling her for no reason (watching football), which apparently helps. A lot. Her therapists say, “That’s great! Keep giving her that proprioceptive input.” Indeed, that was my plan all along. My wife is always like, “Stop throwing her so high, she’s gonna hit her head on the fan!” and I’m like, “Chill out, babe, I’m trying to do this propro-septic reboot.” Me parent good.
Oh yeah, the therapists. There are several. REALLY. We’ll cover those next week.
Note: This column appears in the 6/13 issue of The Glendale Star and the 6/14 issue of the Peoria Times.