Thursday, March 20, 2014

repairing the broken

It has been nearly three years since I stepped off that plane with a tiny 24 month old strapped to my hip. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life. Tired, I mean bone tired. Awake for two days straight, emotionally and physically battered kind of tired. Cranky, too. That tiny 24 month old had quickly proven to be quite a handful. After hours of holding his smooth forehead away from my body to stop him from biting me, after trying to soothe his screaming and comfort his angry little body, I was cranky. Worried, for sure. This tiny little life had already attached himself to my heart, as well as to my body. He hadn't let me out of his sight in two weeks. He had held my finger while I showered, not minding the water splashing over him as he stood there, patiently waiting for me to finish. He had held my hand through the slats in the crib, refusing to allow his tired body to sleep. He had broken the old white wooden crib the hotel had placed in our room with his near constant full body tantrums. Even if I held him until he fell asleep his body would jolt awake when I gently placed him in the crib, his tears already falling as he started to scream, again. Worried if I would ever sleep again. Worried about the collateral damage my new son had delivered on our Russian hotel room. Will be always be destructive? Will he always be angry? Will he hurt my then four year old son? Monumental worry. A bundle of nerves, tired, cranky and worried, walking off a plane at the end of a two day journey across the world. With a tiny angry baby strapped to my hip.

I have learned a lot these past three years. I have learned that repairing the broken is not easy. I have learned that it can take years to overcome neglect and trauma, if it happens at all. I have learned that love is not always enough. Patience. Forgiveness. Education. Advocacy. Energy. An endless supply of energy.

Three years in and that boy can still drive me wild. Wild with love and pride for him and his accomplishments. Wild with frustration. Wild with worry over his future. Will he be able to make it through a one hour Sunday school class? (He can, now.) Will he ever stop purposely breaking things that are important to others? (He has, mostly.) Will he ever just go to his room when asked, to give himself, and me, a time away? (Not yet.) Will he stop hitting his daddy and I out of anger? (He has, most of the time.) Will he continue to have multiple breakdowns and screaming fits daily? (No.) Weekly? (Yes.) Will he ever be able to step outside of his state constant vigilance to be able to learn? (Yes, slowly.) Will he ever be calm enough to sleep through the night? (Yes.) Will he ever sleep through the night without an herbal assist? (Yes, mostly). Will he be able to attend a family function without eventually getting so wound up that he hits a cousin? (Not yet.)

So many worries. And for the bulk of the past three years these worries have all been about him. Will he...? Can he...? Should he...? But then it hit me. This repairing the broken is not about fixing him. It's about helping him, yes. Helping him find the strategies he will need to cope in this world. Helping him to be successful in whatever educational setting works for him. Helping him to make friends and sustain relationships. Helping him. But not fixing him. There is no repairing going on here. Not on his end, at least.

The repairing comes in on my end. Repairing the hole in my dreams that began as a tiny little tear way back in that hotel room in Russia. The tear that grew a little with each swing he took at me and each shoe he winged at my head from the backseat of the car. The rip that became a gash with each argument between my husband and myself, for raising a child of trauma is not easy and maintaining a team spirit is difficult at best and downright impossible at times. The gash that opened further with each second guess and sleepless night. The second hole that appeared the day I watched my young son's entire special needs preschool class stand up and sing a song, sans my son, because he couldn't process what was happening and he couldn't stand still long enough to participate. That was the day I learned exactly how much time my son was spending walking around his preschool with the aid, due to his disruptiveness in class. That was the day I put my boys in the car in the preschool parking lot, drove them to a drive through smoothie place, parked the car, and cried, quietly, in the front seat as they chattered and fought and giggled and drank their smoothies in the backseat. The rip really grew that day.

Every day that tiny tear either grows or is repaired in some way. There are days when I think the tear is close to sealing shut forever, that the problem is lessening and the solutions are close. And then I am blind sided by a new behavior, a new fear, a new outburst of some kind. And I fall again, taking my young son down with me.

But there is more to the repairing that rewriting the story of my dreams. There is the repairing of my parenting. What comes easily with my oldest is a struggle with my youngest. It is easy to understand the concept of "parenting the child you have, not the child you wish you had." It is not so easy to actually parent the child you have, when the child you have is frequently physically and mentally incapable of molding to your ways. So I have had to repair my parenting techniques. I have had to reach out for help. I have had to advocate on behalf of my son, on behalf of my family. I have had to educate family and friends on our needs. I have had to justify my parenting to many who should not have a say in how I raise my children. I have had to explain why we don't want him to play organized sports, at least not right now. Why we watch him like a hawk during family events. Why we remove him from "fun" before he even shows signs of going over the edge. Why we don't want to hear that he is simply "being a boy". That, yes, early life trauma is a real thing. And no, it is not always reversible. I have had to parent in a fishbowl, instead of the privacy of my home, because much of my son's anxiety issues show up in public, masked as hyperactivity and disobedience. I have had to repair my thin skin.

I have learned grace. To give grace to others, especially to my boys. And to give grace to myself.

These past three years have taught me that "normal" isn't always better, and that repairing the broken doesn't always mean fixing the child. These past three years have broken me in ways I am just beginning to understand. But something that is broken can still be useful. Broken can still be beautiful. Broken can be made whole again. I have chosen to advocate for and support my son. I have chosen to help him learn the skills to get through life. I have chosen to forgive myself when I break, yet again and when frustration gets the best of me. I understand that sometimes adoption is about repairing the broken. But now I know that I am the one who was broken. My son? He is perfect in his own way.