The dining hall was buzzing with campers, counselors, and parents. At first, I couldn’t locate my daughter in the crowd, but I continued moving toward the spot in which I expected to find her.
I was feeling hopeful, since everyone I had encountered since parking my van in the camp parking lot had recognized my daughter’s name and shared with me a glimpse of her week.
“Oh, she was the sweetest camper! She always offered to help.”
“I was so proud of her when she faced her fears and went down the pool slide.”
“She was so adorable when she performed in the talent show, singing Frozen.”
“Ask her about all the friends she made this week. Everyone wants her to come back next year.”
My husband had dropped her off on Sunday, and we had no communication until pick-up day Friday. Knowing “no news is good news”, however, hadn’t reassured me. She was crying as her daddy and big sister left her behind in a cabin full of strangers, begging him not to leave her.
Deciding to walk away when she was crying was not the norm for us. My husband and I wondered, what would happen now? My biggest fear was that she would stop crying, grit her teeth, and go through the motions until I came to get her. She could fool someone who didn’t know her better into thinking she was okay when she was anything but.
Attachment following adoption is such a funny thing. I’ve studied the effects of early life trauma and practiced parenting with connection so that our family members can build healthy relationships with each other. We spent a year prior to adopting learning about attachment and four more years figuring out what methods, rhythms, and structure work in our household, yet her tears at camp drop-off threatened all this work.
One bad move, and we might need to start from the beginning.
If she thought her family had abandoned her, now, after all we’d been through, would she be able to trust us again?
Until the first day of camp arrived, all of our conversations about camp had been full of excitement and anticipation. I was confident she would be well cared for, knowing that a reputable children’s hospital was sending out child life specialists to counsel campers with homesickness and that trained professionals were on hand to meet the needs of the campers.
Experienced parents spoke highly of this particular camp, and everything we knew pointed toward a good week. My daughter’s ideal day would be one with structure, activity, friends, supportive adults, and food, so camp seemed like a natural fit. She has enjoyed spending weekends away from home with her grandparents and her only complaint about her elementary school is that it isn’t open on the weekends. She has a great record for doing well in safe places away from her family.
As we approached her fourth full year home, I was sure she was well attached and secure enough in our commitment to her to leave us all for a week, knowing we would return.
Her tears blindsided me. Maybe I should have seen them coming but, all of a sudden, we had an important decision to make. Leaving her at camp was a risk — not a huge, ugly risk — but a risk that we could face a setback in attachment.
Were her tears a normal part of saying good-bye for a week, typical even for a child secure with her family, or were they signaling a deeper grief of a person who has lost her home before and is expecting to lose it all over again?
Attachment is a funny thing, and I don’t have all the answers. Sometimes we can foresee the outcome of our choices, but so often we have to move forward not knowing what is ahead. We decided that we would try camp, believing the potential to be good, while accepting that we still have a lot to learn.
Before I spotted her at pick-up in the crowded dining hall, she found me.
“Mommy, Mommy, I had the best week ever! And now I am ready to go home.”
I learned more about her week on our return trip. She had stopped crying soon after my husband left and smiled throughout the rest of the week. She was afraid of the pool slide, but went down it twice, and it was fun! The climbing wall proved too scary, and she chose not to attempt it, and that was okay. We don’t need to Try All the Things.
The day after I picked my daughter up from camp, we celebrated our fourth Family Day, the anniversary of her adoption. The balance in her life recently tilted, so that while she was in an orphanage slightly less than four years, she now has been home slightly more than four years.
It took this time to be ready for camp. Trust can take awhile to establish, and I’m learning to trust myself, too, to be open to adventure for my sweet little family of five.
– guest post by Lara