We took the tiny toddler to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Behavioral Health Center this morning to finally look into what is going on with his odd behaviors and defiance. The good news is that even though he displays a few markers that would place him on the autism spectrum the assessor did not think that we need to worry about that. And even though he also displays a few markers for oppositional defiance disorder, she didn’t feel that was a concern either. Whew. She also reinforced that my sweet husband and I are, in fact, not crazy. Having the chance to witness just a tenth of his total lack of interest in behaving in a manner that would welcome him back to her office, she informed us that we were not over reacting in bringing him in for a visit. Whew again.
The first few days/months of his life with us were not easy, as many of you know. His young life, measured still in months at that point, had seen so much loss and confusion that I understood the acting out. We ripped him away from the only home he knew. We sounded funny. We smelled funny. I am sure he had seen other babies leave the orphanage, never to return, and so he quite possibly may have been terrified of what his fate was going to be as we walked him down that dingy hallway, through the heavy wooden door and into the gray, cold night. It brings tears to my eyes still to think about the wild look on his face as we drove away, me holding him tight and attempting to whisper comforting words into his little ear. So his outbursts at the hotel, the airports, those first few months home- I understood.
Then those first weeks stretched into months and before we knew it a year had passed. Our tiny toddler spent most of that first year continuing to display his anger. Again we thought adoption related. It is not uncommon for a child adopted as a toddler to push away people who love him, in an attempt to protect his heart. He had already lost a birth mother, never feeling that loving touch that begins to build that lifelong connection. He had seen caregivers come and go, possibly never bonding with any of them. He had lost the only home he had ever known. He had no guarantee that we weren’t going to leave him as well. So he spent months pushing us away. This was super frustrating for us because during all those months of fighting and pushing us away he was also bonding and pulling us in to his heart. Every day was filled with hugs, kisses, screams and punches. And my heart felt as though it was being pulled apart, “I love you, I hate you, I love you, I hate you” is very exhausting. But through it all I kept thinking, “This will pass. He will soon trust that we love him and that we are not leaving him and he will settle down.” Only he never did.
The days got easier, I guess. Or maybe we all just got used to it. I really don’t know which. Some days are better than others, as it is with any parenting hurdles. My sweet husband and I read books and took online parenting classes. But so far we really haven’t found what works consistently. Which brings us back to this morning, and our appointment at the behavioral health center. And the relief of finding out that our sweet little angel probably is just a stubborn and defiant toddler.
OK, so now the real work begins. We don’t know if he will outgrow this behavior. We don’t know if this is somehow adoption related, seeing as he spent the first 24 months of his life in basically a free for all setting, where it was OK to hit other kids and where he had to fight for everything he got. I’m choosing to believe that he will work it out. I’m choosing to believe that I will not have a tall, strong teenage son who is quick to anger and can’t handle his emotions. I’m choosing to believe that I will not have a 7 year old who can’t focus on the activity at hand and who’s favorite word is “no”. I’m choosing to believe that if we put in the work and help him through this now that we can have calmer days and my tiny toddler can have the calm and happy life he deserves.
So we will participate in the program being offered by the hospital. We will read the recommended books. We will take deep breaths and walk away before we explode and we will take turns handling the odd behaviors. I will research diet changes and alternative medicines and make an appointment to discuss having the metals removed from his body. We will run our lives on routines, something it is very clear our little guy needs. We will anticipate and redirect and teach teach teach. We will be thankful for our beautiful son, for the times that he laughs so hard that he instinctively covers his mouth with his hand and when he dances in his car seat. We will not lose sight of our big five year old, who soon will be starting kindergarten and may have his own struggles pop up.
So we really don’t know any more now, at the end of the day, than we did this morning, before our appointment. We know what our tiny toddler probably doesn’t have but he remains a mystery to be unlocked. And even though I am often exhausted and frustrated and ready to throw in the towel, I will happily plug away at finding the key to unlock the beautiful little person I know is in there.