Our daughter, DLG1, is beautiful, sweet, smart, funny, active, warm, and extremely outgoing. You could meet her, as many have, and find her to be no different than the average child. Even our extended family often has a difficult time believing that our nurture did not easily overcome her nature.
The truth of the matter is that it has not, and never will.
We see life through the lens of our own experiences, and because of that it’s nearly impossible to understand, much less relate to, a child who was born not to a mother but to a system that passed her around until God intervened. Even we, her parents who have been there since day … (counting) 111, have difficulty with it all. There is an extreme temptation to say, to believe, she’s been with us essentially her entire life, and she doesn’t remember being abandoned; she was just a baby! And even if she did remember anything, it must have been terrible, and life is much better now. Everything is fine. These behaviors are … normal?
Our daughter’s behavioral therapist—who is truly breaking through with my wife and I as much as she is with her—has reiterated the omnipresent theme of abandonment and what it means. Here is what it means: our daughter was abandoned. No matter how horrific her nine months in utero, or how traumatic her first days on Earth, she was abandoned. That familiar voice, no matter how loud, silent, or profane, was gone the very instant she entered this world. She’ll never get over it. Our job is to help her cope.
Fear of abandonment takes on many forms, but the form most closely associated with me losing my mind once and for all is DLG1’s absolute need for control. Combine that subconscious fear with all the fantastic work that drugs did to her developing brain and you get quite the exciting ride down parenting lane! Wait, I just thought of a poem:
Drugs to her brain
Will not help you steer
Down parenting lane
Thank you. (I premiered that during an impromptu slam poetry session on a Phoenix street corner to mixed reviews.) (I did not.)
Anyway, our daughter is on a neverending quest for control of her environment because she does not yet fully trust that we, her parents, will always be there. Surrendering her will to ours makes her feel very unsafe and extremely vulnerable. This means everything from going absolutely INSANE because I handed her the blue toothbrush when she wanted the green one to sabotaging every possible good thing we provide her by demanding more. Our daughter never wants anything—be it a treat, TV show, time at the pool, people visiting, whatever—to end because it means her surrender to forces (usually us) beyond her control. In her subconscious mind, the last time she surrendered she was left all alone in a cold hospital room. She'll be darned if she let's that happen again.
You wanted to cry a little bit there, right? Me too. But guess what? When you’re in the throes of one of these episodes, and it’s the fifth one that morning, it’s pretty difficult to draw upon that reality. It’s pretty difficult to supplant discipline with sensitivity. Where is the line?
These constant assaults on our senses have made us—or at least made us feel like—unworthy, inconsistent parents, forever trying and failing at new ways to handle everything. Each night when we close the door to the girls’ bedroom (usually to incessant wailing), my wife and I spend the next 20 minutes or so staring blankly at the ceiling, painstakingly detailing every wrong parenting move and cowering in fear at the prospect of the teenage years of this drama or, worse, some medicated version of our beautiful, sweet, smart, funny, active, warm, and extremely outgoing little girl.
It’s draining. Thankfully, there are occasional microbursts of perspective, be they from our support system of fost-to-adopt parents, parents of regular ol’ biological children (who knew?), God, or our family, which remind us that our only real job is to love her. Which we do like nobody’s business. There is hope, and our challenge is to trust that everything will work out the way it should if we just keep at it. Keep on truckin’, keep on keepin’ on, keep on rockin’ in the free world, keep on giving proprioceptive input, and all those other inspirational song phrases.
I sure hope things start to work out sooner than later, however, because DLG2 has a WHOLE ‘nother set of issues.
But one girl at a time (for this article I mean—we take care of both of them simultaneously, honest). Sure, our daughter can be a handful sometimes, but few have any idea where she’s come from and besides, I got this, okay, so BACK OFF. She is going to make it, gosh darn it, and so are we. She’s overcome so much already, and will continue to do so.
One day she will jump farther than anyone thought she could.
Note: This column appears in the 6/27 issue of The Glendale Star and the 6/28 issue of the Peoria Times.