Last night both of my boys went to bed early for not having their listening ears on. This lack of listening led to a large floor lamp being knocked over and my sweet husband's birthday dinner being interrupted. The tiny toddler took it like a man and seemed to understand what was happening. Once he calmed down and stopped swinging at me he easily let me help him into his jammies and lay him in his crib with a few books. Even though it was early he was out cold in less than 10 minutes. Proof, obviously, that a lack of listening ears is a symptom of something larger, like sleepiness. The big five year old, on the other hand, did not take it so well.
And understandably so. According to him his little brother knocked down the lamp because my big five year old was trying to take his DS back from him. The same DS that I had told the big five year old no less than three times to move because your little brother is going to get that thing! So here is what I think went down:
Thing Two saw the DS sitting all alone on the coffee table and knows that it holds the key to all sorts of fun and games. Thing Two also knows that he is not allowed to play with this toy, which makes it all the more irresistible to him. Thing One sees Thing Two with the DS and decides the best way to get it back from him is to grab it out of his hands. Thing One has been told repeatedly to ask your brother for what your want, don't just grab things from him, but Thing One obviously knows better. Thing Two sees his brother coming at him and in a move not unlike one you would see on an old television cop show he throws the floor lamp down in front of said brother, attempting to block his path. Mommy, (played by me), hears the crash and races into the living room, where Thing Two has scrambled away from the lamp and is now making a break for the door by way of the sofa and Thing One is standing over the lamp, amazed, DS forgotten. Both Things are then put to bed, stat.
These shenanigans frustrated me for a variety of reasons. Both boys had been told not to fight and to, in fact, stay away from each for a while. The big five year old had been told to put his DS away. The big five year old had also been told to ask us for help when his little brother takes his things. And the tiny toddler has been told that there is no need to fight back. But it's easy for me to tell him to stop fighting back. It's quite another thing for him to believe that he is safe. And when his older brother, this guy he loves and looks up to, pushes him and steals his toys, he immediately goes into fight mode.
I hate to punish my children. I really really hate it. It breaks my heart and makes me feel just horrible. I know it needs to be done and I know that my boys are better off for it, but still, I hate it. And isn't our role to educate, to mold, to refine these little sponges into productive human beings? Holding true to that thought my sweet husband went and had a talk with our crying five year old. And another little piece of his innocence was gone, this time torn away by our own hands.
My husband shared some of the story of our youngest son's first 24 months in this world. He described the orphanage and the lack of love. He explained how the children would fight over the toys and how there wasn't enough food. He explained what it feels like to our youngest son when someone just walks up to him and takes a toy out of his hands. He explained how we all need to speak calmly to him, to tell him what we are going to do, to approach with care. If we don't scare him, he will eventually do as we ask. How yes, this seems unfair.
And I know my big five year old doesn't understand. He didn't see it first hand, his young mind can't process the effects of institutional living. After all, he lived in an institution himself for the first 15 months of his life, and he doesn't have these issues. This is a conversation I didn't want to have with either of my boys. I don't even like to think of it myself. When I think about what may have happened to my sweet young boy that makes him lash out when he feels threatened my heart hurts. That being said, when I am in the thick of whatever behavior is currently turning our household upside down it is hard to remember what he has gone through. There are so many unanswered questions here - am I sending the wrong message if I punish him? What if I don't punish him? What message does that send to my oldest son? Am I doing the right things to make him feel safe and loved? Will this behavior stop? It has gotten better- is that because of what we were doing and the approaches we are taking or is it because he is growing up? No matter what action I take I sometimes feel as though it is the wrong choice. And even though I know he can't help it, his actions still make me crazy and angry and frustrated. And then I feel guilty for being mad at my son. I know that a post institutionalized child needs to feel in control. He needs to build his self esteem and to feel safe and loved. I have reasons to believe that my tiny toddler may have his own very good reasons for not trusting adults and logically I know that 17 months in a Forever Family is really not that long. He needs more time. More love. More safety nets around him. This parenting a previously institutionalized toddler is not for the weak- it is often a vicious cycle and sometimes I just feel trapped.
And now we have sucked the big five year old into the trap as well. We have shown him a little more of the negative out there in the world, and asked understanding of him that he may be too young to offer. We have asked him to help us hold up that safety net a while longer.
It is always worth it, but some days are harder than others.