Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Not perfect, just better.

School starts tomorrow.  That's the first thing to know.

Oak spent major portions of today stringing dental floss around his room and trying to rig it so things would slide and pulley and ratchet and up and generally DO STUFF if you opened the door.   He also decided he was going to build a helicopter.  Linden came in from where her brother was working on the back lawn and announced in the half horrified, half delighted tones of a veteran tattle taler, "Oak is building a helicopter and is going to fly back to Baltia!"  (Do I really need to gloss over their specific country of birth?  The thing is, just a handful of people adopt from that part of the world, so I feel like if I don't keep it vague, I'm being overly public.)  This means the helicopter will be slightly bigger than I had imagined.  Or that he was bullshitting his sister. 

Tonight we were heading to bed a bit earlier than usual.  It seems 11 pm on a school night is frowned upon by the PTO.  We'd had baths, and there were sprinkles on their ice cream, and new clothes were laid out, and we'd given them the (shh) dollar watches we bought last week on the sly, which I'd hastily wrapped in their construction paper.  We thought we had done a nice job of "Yay, isn't getting ready for school FUN?"

Linden and I were heading into her bedroom with a book (Hey, what a coincidence!  It was about how much fun the first day of school is!), and the Winemaker and Oak were in Oak's bedroom already.  In the tones of a man who has already said this three times, I heard the Winemaker say, "Time to turn out the light and go to bed." 

"One minute!  One minute!" muttered Oak, as he hunkered down to work on yet another section of trip wire. 

"Do you want me to just turn out the light?"  I asked.  I got the go ahead, and did so, then went next door and started reading to Linden. 

I'd only gotten up to the third child's wish for what would happen at school this year (chocolate in the water fountain), when the Winemaker called, "Could you come help?  He's having some trouble."  Usually I'm the one hollering for backup, as I'm the one whose temper flares out of control too quickly.  I set Linden down with her book on her bed and walked back to Oak's room.  He was flailing and wailing.  I told him he could keep working on his project tomorrow afternoon, and he threw himself onto the floor and started pounding on it.  I scooped him up, and he twisted away from me and ran.

Here is where EVERY SINGLE OTHER TIME it's been like this, I would have lost my shit entirely.  I would have dragged him out of the house on a forced walk, and when he resisted, as he would have, I would have picked him up, choosing a position that couldn't possibly be taken as comfortable and nurturing, and schlupped him along until he wailed to be put down, then I would have plunked him down and snapped, "Then WALK!" and he would have sat down and refused, and so on. 

But tonight I remembered that one little detail.  School starts tomorrow.  He was described to us as a poor student during his first grade year last year.  Now we're sending him away from our 24/7 care, to people he doesn't know, who use a language he doesn't speak, to navigate a system he's unfamiliar with.  So instead of marching him straight out the door, I took him into our bedroom, and tried to hold him in my arms.  I wanted to cradle him like a baby, with his butt in my lap, and my arms supporting his shoulders and knees. 

Have you ever tried cradling an 8 year old who wants to lay face down on the bed and kick and pound it?  It was like holding a flopping fish.  He kept twisting around to lay face down instead, and I kept gamely flipping him back over.  Although it was basically a wrestling match, I kept my voice level and sweet.  When I got him into position, I asked him to look at me, and he couldn't.  He made crazy faces and laughed hysterically and tried to flip over again.  When I wouldn't let him, he swung at my face--not actually trying to hurt, just to make me let go, give up, lose my literal and figurative grip.  I grabbed his wrists, which sort of killed the gentle nurturing aspect of what I was trying to do, but I KEPT MY COOL.  You have no idea what an accomplishment this is.  I CONTINUED TO SPEAK KINDLY AND GENTLY as I grimly hung on.  When he howled that it hurt, I made myself mentally check what I was doing--was my tension making itself felt in how I held him?  Nope, I still had my self control, and all I was doing was restraining flailing hands and legs, not squashing, twisting, or otherwise doing anything that would hurt.  I told him so, and that I would let his arms go when he calmed himself.  He yanked one hand away and smacked at me--again, not hard, not to hurt, just to enrage.  I grabbed the hand back and kept telling him, "I know this is hard," a stock phrase I read on a blog or in a book.  All the while he was hysterically insisting that he be allowed to keep working on his room, and that it was all messed up now because he'd knocked against a line in the dark, that he would never be able to fix it all, that we'd ruined it. 

Finally he eased up a bit, and I announced, "Now we're ready for a walk."  He wailed and sobbed, but I GENTLY carried him downstairs, and handed him his sandals.  Weeks ago he would have broke and run, sneering and laughing, or thrown the shoes at me, or kicked me when I tried to put them on.  He still complained, but let me get the shoes on and gave me his hand so we could walk outside together.  It was a lovely night (good thing, as I was in pajama bottoms and a tank top), and I pointed out the stars.  "I don't like 'em," he snarled, so I stopped verbalizing my cheeriness and just walked.  We were just two houses down the street when he broke the silence.  "I don't want to go to school," he plaintively said.

I scooped him up to ride on my hip, and we started talking.  I couldn't comfort all his fears of course; only positive experiences will convince him school is a good place.  But at least we could talk about it, and I could give him some specific information, and I could let him know that I get it, that this is a huge task we are giving him, that it is completely natural that he is scared, but we have at least some plans of how we can help him. 

It still took awhile to get him settled enough to go to sleep, and then when I went to bed I had to give Linden her own pep talk, which included a lot of "I know you keep having to do things without getting any choice," and even got to the "When you grow up, you can decide what country you want to live in, and I will love you whether you live here or there," with the occasional detour to "Yes, I will show your kindergarten teacher how to use Google Translate if he doesn't already know." 

I have high hopes that she will love school, and that he will wind up liking certain portions of it.  If they can get the boy building and creating, he'll be in heaven.  But of course, none of us know for sure how tomorrow will go for them, how all the years of formal education will go.   Some of us are slow learners.  I've had these children in my care for nearly 12 weeks, and it was the first time I didn't let my reaction overshadow the cause of his behavior.  It was one of the few times my reaction wasn't actually WORSE than the behavior that was pissing me off.  I am GUARANTEED to continue fucking up, and there were elements of tonight that I'm sure would horrify people who know more about therapeutic parenting than I do, since all  know is a) it exists and b) we should be doing it.  But it feels SO GOOD to not be consumed with guilt right now, and I hope that feeling will help me remember to be better.  Not perfect, just better. 


  1. It sounds like you handled a tough situation really, really well. Hoping for a great first day of school for all of you. :-)

  2. Aw, thank you! It did go well, as far as I can tell, and he was quite enthusiastic about his new teacher. He got on the wrong bus, and I about had a heart attack, but he was pretty unflapped about the whole thing.