Mari seemed to hit a new phase in her grieving process. It is hard for those outside of our home to believe it because in public she is happy, friendly, and a typical ornery 4 year old. But a few weeks ago we went to an airport homecoming for some dear friends. We spent the time before their arrival waiting and visiting and generally having a great time anticipating meeting the newest member of our circle of adoptive families. In the playfulness and excitement, Mari got bitten by a little girl on the finger. The little girl obviously did NOT intend harm, she has special needs and is in many ways like a baby or young toddler, but all Mari saw was a girl near her age and did not understand what happened. So, you guessed it, the biting began again at home.
Then, a week later, we set off on our yearly road trip to visit Papa and Nana 4 states away. Yes, that is 13 hours and a week in a hotel with 5 kids. C.R.A.Z.Y. It was stressful to say the least. She completely regressed, screaming in bathroom stalls, refusing to sit on the toilet, hitting, biting and clawing her siblings, lying to me, and disobeying every single thing. I said. It was awful. I should have just turned around and driven home. I could NOT figure out what was going on with her, since we had taken at least 3 road-trips with her and had never seen her react like this. I desperately tried to keep order, enforcing boundaries firmly and struggling to not "lose it" completely. My brain was literally scrambling all week. I definitely lost the mom of the year award.
After about 4 days of this, she finally used her words to express her fear. "Mommy, I don't want you to go bye-bye."
"Honey, I'm not going anywhere. Why do you say that?"
"Because I'm scared."
Oh dear God.
"Sweetheart, we are just here to play and visit. We will all go home to daddy on Saturday. You are my little girl and I will be your mommy forever, no matter what. I love you."
2 days later, it was time to drive home. The negative behavior had persisted, but was not quite as intense. Still, I had to keep those boundaries crystal clear in order for her to not go completely wild. Amazingly, that is just what she needed, and she responded well to my "being on top of it...like white on rice. "
We got in the car to drive home, and she visibly relaxed. The closer we got, the more she began to interact in a healthy way with her siblings again. Our arrival home was met with happiness from Daddy and tears of relief for me. Man, was that week ever NOT what I expected.
The day after we got home, my four oldest had various camps scheduled which gave me mornings alone with Mari. THAT was God-ordained, to say the least. I was able to work with her, one on one, and retrain her on how to express frustration and anger. "We don't use our fingernails, we use the flat part of our hands to move someone's hand away." She has caught up on her sleep, which is HUGE. If she is tired, she will lose self-control. I cannot express how important sleep is for her. She constantly asks questions about where everybody has gone, and I answer over and over "Daddy is at work, DJ is at camp, Katie is at tennis, Gracie and Drew are at basketball." Over. And. Over. But that is what she needs, the reassurance that everyone has "not gone bye-bye," but that they are all going to come home. Every day. If this does not reinforce God's call on our family to home-school, I don't know what does.
This week was VBS, but there was no way I was sending her after the events of the past two weeks. She did not like that one little bit. She knows the kids are having fun and coming home with crafts and treats, but I told her that until I don't have to worry about her biting or scratching other people, and until I know it doesn't make her feel scared to be away from me, she needs to stay with me. Not only has that given her incentive to cool it with the physical outbursts, it has reassured her that she is important and that I am not just trying to "get a break" from her. It has been a sweet time, singing in grocery carts, going out for treats together, playing "house" and just having fun together. I am so thankful that things have settled down.
So why did this road-trip have such a negative effect on her? I have thought and prayed about it, and I feel like I have finally gotten a handle on it. I share this because those who have adopted understand, and those who WILL adopt need to understand and be prepared.
We traveled without Daddy for the first time.
We took a long trip far from home and met a lot of new people...(Even Nana and Papa were like strangers because she did not remember them from when they came to visit just after she came home). My brother and his family, my cousins, aunts, and extended family, Nana's friends....everyone was new, and a potential "new mommy" to my fearful little girl who was apparently trying to prepare herself for the worst.
When Mari was relinquished by her mother in Ethiopia, she traveled without her daddy (because he had recently passed away). She was then taken on a long trip far from home and met a lot of new people, who she grew to love and who took care of her until I came to bring her home.
Then...we traveled (again without Daddy). I took her on another long trip far from home and she met a lot of new people and has grown to love us. For months any travel involved Daddy, so it did not trigger that fear of abandonment. But this time...
well the parallel is now painfully clear.
No wonder she was scared. And in her state of panic, she did everything she could to see if she could CREATE her worst fear. Could she make me leave her? If it was going to happen it was going to be on her terms.
But it was not going to happen. And I think that truth has sunk a little deeper into her spirit now than it had before.
The healing process can be so painful. The removal of old bandages, the cleaning out of wounds, are excruciating but necessary in order to promote the healthy union of the broken pieces and the softening of deep scars. Fear, like an infection, has been lurking below the surface. But every time the symptoms arise, every time we go in and apply the salve of love, reassurance, and boundaries, it's grip loosens. It is hard, it is frustrating, and it is heart-wrenching to see how those deep hurts affect her. But I am reassured by my Father who loves her perfectly and understands her deepest needs that He has given us the tools she needs for healing. He is at work and He is faithful to complete what He has started.
I want to end this on a positive note. This month has not been completely negative. In fact a lot of good has happened in Mari's attachment process. She is officially crazy about her big brother, DJ and he adores her. She and Drew have gotten past their intensely negative rivalry and constant competition for my attention and become BFF's. Oh sweet happiness! They laugh together every day and mimic each other's silly quirks to each other's delight. They play babies and race cars and basketball together and are often seen holding hands or giving spontaneous hugs. In fact I have heard a few "I love you's" as they run upstairs together. Thank you, Jesus! Mari and Gracie get along and play together very well, except when Gracie tries to mother her and then gets on Mari's last nerve. They love to play baby dolls and "House" together and their conversations can be hilarious. :) And Katie? Well, she can be a mother hen as well, (what tween girl isn't?) but sometimes I am thankful for that tendency. She is a huge help. Mari obviously looks up to her and Katie, despite the frustrating days we have had, truly loves her little sister.
God is at work...
and He is faithful to complete what He has started.