Tuesday, September 9, 2014

If I Can Remember That...

Every time I turn around you are there. If I leave a room you find me. If you are forced to go up to bed without me you scream my name as you are carried away. There are days that I think you are over this fear, days that I believe that you finally understand that I will always be here for you. There are days that I can actually walk to the bathroom, go inside, close the door, and enjoy a few minutes of privacy without you trying to break in. I can hear you out there, you know. I hear you asking "Where is Mommy?" and then I hear you walking towards the closed bathroom door. Your footsteps unmistakable, I double check that the door is locked and then call out to you. "I'm right here, baby. Give me a few minutes. I'll be right out." You don't give me a few minutes. You turn the knob, testing it. You stick your fingers under the door. You talk to me as though I am not in the bathroom, as though you have no concept of privacy.

There are days that I can now be in the kitchen while you are in the family room. You wander in every so often, ask for a hug, get a drink, and wander back out. I watch you still, you know, even when you are in the next room. I value my time alone, but I watch you nonetheless, your past behavior having instilled in me a type of hyper vigilance of my own. I always need to know what you are doing, where you are. So in a way, I get it.

Sometimes I can get too comfortable with you. Sometimes I think you are "over it". That maybe, just maybe, we have accomplished something here, you and I, and you have finally learned to trust.

The other night you and I were alone. Your dad had collected your older brother from the tree out front and took him off to run errands, leaving you and I alone. I pulled out the fruit for the frozen fruit salad you wanted to make, and gave you a big bowl. You were so calm and thoughtful. You poured the cans of fruit into the bowl, adding the frozen strawberries that you and your brother had picked earlier in the summer. You chopped bananas with your kid knife and mixed everything perfectly. You gathered the plastic containers and carefully spooned the fruit mixture into each bowl, snapping the lids on proudly. You were calm, thoughtful, and 100% focused.

As you stood on your little stool at the counter I moved around behind you, cleaning up the kitchen. We chatted about the day we picked the strawberries. We talked about how long it might take for the fruit salad to freeze. I moved from the kitchen to the laundry room, putting towels in the washer and hanging up a stray set of car keys I had found on the kitchen counter. I was gone maybe 20 seconds. As I turned around I nearly tripped over you. You stood in the hallway, your hands sticky, still holding the spoon you were using to fill the bowls. "Where are you going?", you ask me. "'I'm not going anywhere.", I respond. "I heard the keys.", you say. I explain that I was just hanging them up. You look up at them, eying them suspiciously. "You and I are home alone, kiddo. I can't go anywhere without you!", I remind you.

You stand there, in the hallway, sticky fingers and dripping spoon, until I finish what I am doing and move back into the kitchen. For the next hour, until your daddy comes home, you stick right by my side. And then, at bedtime, I decide not to leave the house, and you scream my name as Daddy carries you up the stairs. My heart breaks, again.

Here I was, starting to relax. Here I was, thinking that you were having a great night. Calm, thoughtful, focused. You were having fun, cooking and spending one on one time with Mommy. But there it was. Your hyper vigilance. There it was, just hanging out there right under the surface, where it must always be. The moments of calm trick me into thinking that you have finally caught on, that you truly understand that we are a family. And maybe you do, but you are still that same scared little boy I held close to my heart in that hot orphanage, day after day.

A few days later I mentioned your hyper vigilant key moment to my husband. "That is so sad.", he said. And it is, sad. But it is also a good reminder to me. A reminder that you are not yet there, not yet ready to be pulled away from me. You get on the school bus happily each morning, following your older brother up the steps and sitting in your assigned seat. But then, on most days, you cause havoc in your kindergarten room. You settle down and go to bed easily if I am not in the house, but if you know I am home you scream and carry on as though you may never see me again. What are you thinking? What goes through your mind when you act out in school? What are you thinking when you are being carried off to bed? I cannot fill you up, despite how much time I give you. I give you all I can, giving until I feel depleted. You are literally stalking me, and there are days that I just want to hide from you. There are days that I actually do hide from you. (shhhh...) But when that happens, I simply need to remember that day in the laundry room, with the keys. I need to remember that look in your eyes when you thought I was leaving the house. I need to remember how you can go from calm and focused to scared in a heart beat. I need to remember that you have two years of hyper vigilance practice on me. I have only been doing this dance with you for three years. You have been doing it your entire life.  I need to remember that even a simple activity like cooking together in the kitchen can end in a reminder of your abandonment fears. If I remember that, then I can get up tomorrow, early early, when you wake me up at the crack of dawn, and I can hug you tight. If I remember that I can take a deep breath the next time you rattle the locked bathroom door, your questions continuing even though I am not even in front of you any longer. If I remember that I can smile as I talk to your principal on the phone, listening to notes from your school day. If I remember that I can take each moment as it comes, which, it seems, is what you do. If I remember that, I can stop and love you where you are. Wherever you are, every day.

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