OK, I’ll jump in with both feet here. Attachment is hard work. There, I said it. Now that we have that (or rather now that I have it) on the table, I will just jump in with both feet. But first, a bit of housekeeping as I like to call it on my blog. No, this is not my normal posting day (yes Stefanie has a schedule for us which I very much appreciate with my Type-A personality), but I … ahem … missed my last scheduled day due to a momentary hissy fit if you will. Seriously, I have run the gamut of emotions on this latest adoption journey we’ve found ourselves on … and some of them have not been pretty. Alas I feel I’m back on my feet … at least for the moment … and I just have some things I need to put down. Perhaps they will be helpful to someone else.
Why the title? The Dance.
Well I am not a dancer per se. I mean, The Prez and I have had our share of slow dances, especially back in the day when what we would wear to the next high school dance was the biggest worry I had. Seriously folks. Yeah, The Prez and I have been dancing for over 20 years now in one form or another. But I digress. When I think of dancing, I think of one person being in the lead and the other following. Except sometimes, when the people dancing are not sure of their footing or even their hand holding feels a bit unnatural … well the dance can look quite comical and perhaps both people feel it is a bit forced too.
This thing us adoptive parents refer to as attachment reminds me of an awkward dance at times where we are just doing the motions, but our heart doesn’t seem to be in it. Other times, it feels so fluid that we think I could soak in this moment forever and never move from this spot. Even if my arms feel like they will just go numb and fall off, I’ll stay like this as long as she is snuggled in and relaxed and completely abandoned to the moment, fully TRUSTING, fully embracing the love I have for her.
I sometimes doubt we’ll ever get there. I am confident the attachment dance is going well in our home with our little girl. But it is hard work. She still struggles at times with complete trust. I don’t blame her. She has been let down a LOT. In the photo above and below, for the first time in 18 months home and after many failed attempts, this past Easter Sunday she REALLY trusted me to push her on this tire swing in our backyard. And she swung with total abandon. Total trust that Mommy would not push her too hard, would stop the swing if she said, “Stop, Mommy!” and would giggle along with her as she enjoyed the moment with complete abandon. It was quite the dance that day as she swung and Mommy pushed and started and stopped the tire swing more times than I could count … each time savoring the huge smile that overtook her face.
Me knowing she was completely trusting … her knowing that I was completely trustworthy.
As the dances continue, some not as magical as the one that day, I have just learned to accept that sometimes the song playing in the background doesn’t seem to fit the moment, or the moment doesn’t seem to fit the song. But we find our groove and the dance continues. And if the music stops, we start it over again. Or sometimes, we don’t have any music at all. And we just wait until she is ready to dance again.
In the night when her wakings arouse the grief and terror all over again, that is when the dance can be the hardest. Who wants to dance at 2 a.m.? I almost laugh (except I know the gravity of their ignorance) when I read pre-adoptive parents considering the 3-4-year-old range “because they don’t want to go back to the middle-of-the-night wakings of babies.” I can’t recall a whole week—a whole seven days straight—where I’ve not been awakened by her cries in the last year and a half. Yes, the dance continues in the wee hours of the night. It has improved: our wee-hour dance, but she still needs that specific dance at times.
My favorite dance is the one that comes out of nowhere, where she comes totally unexpected and says, “I Love You Mommy.” And then she wants some cuddle time … and as quickly as she appears, she is finished with the dance. But I realize that particular two minutes in time was oh so worth the wait and oh so worth the wee hours dance that led us to that dance.
As we are getting so close (that I can almost taste it) to embarking on yet another journey halfway around the world to a son, I know there will be dances. I wonder what type of music his heart will need. I wonder how many times we’ll step on each other’s toes as we try to find the groove. I wonder how the dance will look 18 months from now. I told someone just yesterday that I almost wish I could push the fast forward button and skip the first six months home. But then I realize I would miss so many dances: those first, awkward dances where you often just go through the motions because the EMOTIONS are not there or you’re just not feeling them in that moment. But you go through the motions because as parents, we never want to miss out on an opportunity to dance the attachment dance with our children.
In those moments where you just go through the motions, I think those are the moments where often the “heart” work is most evident. It is easy to dance when our heart is feeling the groove. When it is not, it takes real HEART and hard work. So we dance on knowing that as the dance continues, so does the work in our own hearts and theirs. And we find our groove. And in some of the most magical moments, we do feel like instead of being a spectator watching the world revolve around … we feel like the world is revolving around us.
This is so beautifully put Leslie! I had never thought of attachment that way before, but what a unique way to look at the struggles and the joys during the attachment process. Thank you for sharing this with us…and I can't wait to see you dancing with your new son!
Thank you so much for writing this post. We are leaving in 3 weeks to China for our first adoption and not knowing what to expect with the attachment scars me. I appreciate the way you put it as a dance where we need to just find our groove and it may take time to get that groove. Thank you I tend to be hard on myself if the feelings don't come right away.
I wish you all the best as you start the dance with your new son as I will be there dancing with mine too.
Such a beautifully written post. Continued blessings as you get ready to start your next dance with your new son. So exciting!!
Well said Leslie! It takes time and you made me think. Would I really give up those awkward first months if I could? Nah. Thanks for the reflection.
Wow. You DO have your voice back!!
I love your perspective on adoption and parenting and loving and attachment… this post is meant for ALL adoptive parents, a must read!
And don't those first awkward dances make the wonderful, spontaneous ones just that much sweeter??
This was beautifully written. You are real.
That's why I like you!
As a second time around adoptive family just now getting into a good rhythm of the dance after a stormy start with our newest little one, I really clicked with your description of the beginning attachment process. Our little Eli is just now learning to trust us as we are learning to trust that we can parent him in a loving and confident way. Boy, the dance is difficult at times, but then it is oh so sweet.
I love the metaphor of the dance for attachment! What a great way to think of it – to capture it. In light of recent current events, I'm especially loving the idea of learning how to dance together over time. Lots and lots of time!
I, like you, shudder when I hear folks bemoaning the "hard parts" of the process. For it's in those hard times that we weave strings between our heart and our child's heart that will carry the weight of the future hard times. With all the strings that connect the two of us, the weight of coming difficulties is easier to bear. I shudder when I read of expectations for "sleeping through the night," "normal" social skills, good table manners or polite conversation with or behavior toward strangers and so on in those early days of dancing together. (Not that I allow my Li'l Empress to rule the house with her moods. But because I want to give her room to check out these new experiences at her own comfort level, etc.)
We have to give them time to know us as we are learning them. A friend says it well: we must be students of our children – know them better than anyone else on the planet except their Father. And that takes time. And lots of different kinds of dances together!
Such a beautifully written truth. Thank you for sharing, every PAP should read this to understand it is truly a dance that can take time and vary with each song but is SO worth it!!!
Lovely! Still experiencing the wakeful nights (adopted DD at age 9.5 months, she is 5 1/2 years old now). We've had 4 (yes, FOUR) whole nights of sleep since mid-March. That is a record for sleeping here! I can't remember the time before that when we had a whole night of sleep.
BTW, we were "older" when we adopted from China and knew that a 3 yo or older was an option. I prepared for that older child and prayed like crazy for a younger one. So thankful that we got the younger! There are so many hurdles, even with the younger ones.
The Dance lasts a long, long time. I'm guessing a lifetime.
Beautiful post. So true too.
Beautifully written : )