I tell people all the time, especially when we’re knee deep in discussions about adoption or attachment issues. Ya know, some kiddos just don’t handle institutionalization well. Some come out of it just fine. Some go straight to their new family and never look back with smiles and enthusiasm. And others, like our sweet thing, will likely always carry the scars of growing up in an institution with too few care givers, or not enough food, or not enough clothing, or a lack of stimulation, or insert any basic need here. And most fall somewhere in between…
And the thing is you have no idea if your child will be the one that comes through it all with flying colors or carries the scars until it’s a done deal. You just don’t know.
Of our 3 adopted children, 2 transitioned pretty much according to the text books. Both Jude and Mimi were best-case scenarios when it came to how they transitioned to our family and attachment. They grieved. They fought it hard. But the difficult process of loss and coming into the fold of a new family, showed all the evidence that they would come through the difficult process of adoption healthy in the end. But we also have one of those children that just didn’t handle it well and shows the evidence that she will likely carry the scars regardless of what we do.
For this reason, I was incredibly hesitant to leave on my me-vacation. I had left her once before, on our trip to China to get Mimi. But of course there was something that just didn’t sit right with me about leaving Tess for this very self indulgent 8-day me-time trip. I’d be the first to encourage mamas to get away and rejuvenate themselves. But I certainly hadn’t been encouraging myself to do that. It had been 5 1/2 years since Tess came home and over 1 since Mimi came home. I knew it was time. But still… how do you walk away from a child who really isn’t sure if you’re actually going to come back? I mean way down deep in her soul, she’s honestly not sure if I’m going to permanently leave her or not. And no amount of talking and assuring can change that. I was leaving her with Papa. So of course it wasn’t like I was leaving her completely without a parent. But still… how would I get on that plane and say goodbye?
But I did leave for 8 days.
And I cried when I left. And so did she.
And I seemed to text constantly to my loves at home.
And the next day I assured her I’d be home in 7 days.
And I sent pictures.
And Tess sent me pictures.
And soon I told her I was coming home in 4 days.
And I sent her a video of the beach and the waves.
And when she asked, I reminded her I’d soon be home in only 2 more days.
And we talked about how school went the next day.
And daily she tore off the paper rings on the chain that marked the days till I’d come home.
And she cried at night and made one last phone call across the country.
And she asked when I’d be home, and I finally said that the very next day I would be the there to tuck her in and say prayers the very next night.
Over a week later, when the plane landed, according to plan I was extremely rejuvenated and refreshed. As I trotted down the airport concourse, I felt a bit like a child when I was walking far more quickly than necessary to greet my family.
And there they were, all 8 of them waiting for me. 7 voices squealing Mommy! so excited to see me. 16 legs running my way. 16 arms that reaching out to squeeze my legs and my neck and my shoulders. 8 I missed you soooo much! I was once again encircled by the shoulders of the man I had missed so dearly. But in that moment there was 1 that needed more. She needed more than a hug and embrace. In that moment when all were so excited and happy, Tess looked so scared and seemed to need reassurance that I really was back. I crouched down and looked into her big brown eyes. I told you I was coming back. And I will always come back. We’re family. And we’re stuck with each other. Forever. I could almost see her exhale in that moment. Exhale all the doubt that she had held in her those 8 long days. And as she did, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such eye contact as she stared into my eyes. Her tears instantly welled up, and she started a quiet cry. Tess, I’m right here now. And I scooped her up and held her.
In the car on the way home, she fought falling asleep. I knew she was afraid I’d disappear if she closed her eyes. Only when I told her that I was the only one that would carry her from the car to her bed that night, did she finally suck on her two fingers and allow her eyes to close.
So where does this leave us?
Well, we’re still on the path of attachment. Don’t get me wrong. It’s wonderful that we’ve come so far that she was feeling such relief when I returned. Her missing me is a huge deal. But the fact that she has these seeds of doubt that she is safe and loved, and worry that she will be abandoned yet again, and stress, (really, should any 5-year-old carry this type of stress?) is a sure sign that 5 1/2 years later, we’re still on the road to secure attachment. Once again, we’re assured that we’re definitely moving in the right direction… in a direction of love, peace and acceptance. But we’re not out of the woods yet.