Saturday, July 11, 2009

Emotions Run Rampant

It has been an emotional weekend at Casa de LaJoy. Josh and I had our first counseling session Friday morning which was very enlightening for me. We met together with Joan, then at her suggestion after he was comfortable I left for a short period of time. While I was present, it was so interesting to watch Josh, to see the emotions play across his see him try so hard to think about things that were uncomfortable and to offer real answers. There were long pauses as he considered what it was he was really feeling, and times when he honestly couldn't express it. It's asking a lot of a 6 year old to be able to identify and define emotions that even adults would find a challenge to talk about! But he did rather well, and his maturity is really beginning to show.

We talked about many different things, about what he felt like when he has had episodes of insecurity, about what he is scared of, and most interesting we delved a bit into his feelings about his birth mom. Joan asked him to explain to us as best he could what his thoughts were about his orphanage, explaining he may not remember it but we wanted to know what his impression was...was it good, bad or just OK. Then I also asked him if it was more good than bad to give him another level of explanation. We first asked him about people we knew would elicit a positive response, and he would use a "thumbs up". Then we asked about the orphanage and the caretakers there, which he indicated was "OK" but when questioned further was a little more bad than OK. When asked about his birth mom, he at first said he didn't know...then said more bad than OK. It was obvious that any time we came around the subject of bio mom and dad he was reluctant and less open about his expressing his feelings, although not showing any open anger.

When I left the room, they worked with puppets, which is exactly the sort of imaginary play that is right up Josh's alley. Joan tried to get Josh to use the puppets to "talk" to his birth mom, to tell her anything he wanted to say. This was the most telling thing for me...within a few moments he said "I just can't do this." and would no longer participate.

While we have the insecurity issues to deal with and are developing strategies to work with that more effectively, this little guy has a real wall up about his birth circumstances, and I have a feeling that unless we get to the bottom of that we will continue to see this revisit us over and over again...and maybe even if we DO deal with it successfully we might find he still has issues about it all.

In the meantime, I have remembered some of the things I did back when he was 3 and 4 years old which seemed to help. I am now telling him every step I take. If I have to go to the garage to get something out of the freezer, I will tell him where I am going and that I will be back in 2 minutes. If I will be working in another room in the house, I will tell him where I will be and how long he can expect me to be there. That does seem to lessen his need a little to check on me continually. He still has the urge, but it is less frequent. We are going to try to set a timer if I am working on a project safely in the house or in our yard and tell him he may only check on me when the timer goes off, and then slowly stretch that out from his current once-every-5-minutes to less frequent check in's. I also am going to laminate a small picture of Dominick and I that he can carry around with him and I will urge him to look at it when he starts feeling edgy about us not being physically next to him.

I also came up with an idea today, and I think we will try and have him draw and write a story about the beginning of his life, and then talk about it. I want to see what comes out in art and word when he is trying to share it with others in a non-verbal way, then we can talk about each page of his "book" and I can urge him to share what it feels like, not just the facts. I have no idea if this will help or not, but I think helping him put it on paper and get it out in a way that provides us with an opportunity to really examine it carefully one step at a time might just help him organize and explore his thoughts about it.

He was so tired after our appointment and lunch that he fell fast asleep in the car. I looked in the rearview mirror and something about seeing him there with his beloved torn and tattered blankie carefully wrapped around the new stuffed bear he got at Joan's office just touched me ever so deeply. He is such a nurturing little boy, caring so tenderly for his animals as well as those humans around him...and yet he is so vulnerable. It is as if he wants to make sure that those that he loves, living or stuffed, are loved and cared for in a way he never was in his early months. I also said a prayer of thanksgiving that his reactive attachment disorder has been successfully dealt with in most ways. We don't have a son that we fear may harm us or others, we don't have a child who is loud and angry and physically acting out. He is not a liar nor deceitful in any way. He is a very, very good and respectful son.

He just hurts inside. He is scared mommy or daddy will leave him and never come back. When that has already happened once in your life, it is a very reasonable fear. It is not at all irrational. When you think about it, most RAD behavior actually makes a lot of sense when considered from the point of view of the child. We may not like it, we may think it is abnormal based upon comparison with other children...but kids like Josh have been given good reason to push others away, to reject affection and protect their damaged little hearts.

Actually, I think it would be more abnormal if a child came through some of the things our RAD kids have come through and act as if all was OK!! Now THAT would be abnormal! But because the behavior hurts us so much, because we feel rejected and confused and uncertain about what to do we see their behavior as unusual and abnormal. I guess I always saw it as making good sense, even if I didn't like it. I realized we had to provide Josh with a new construct, a new set of experiences to balance against the old that had hurt him so much in order to help him move forward out of self-protection mode, and I knew that would not happen overnight. We were able to do that over time, but now there is this lingering insecurity which may never fully leave him. We now will have to teach him coping strategies to deal with, to help him see it for what it is in a rational way. The older he gets the easier that might be, but we will begin now and do what we can. If we need to revisit this many times over his childhood, then so be it. Each time will strengthen him, each time he will see it anew.

Matthew and Kenny both returned from church camp today, and all is right with our world! Hahaha! I happened to pull up next to our mailbox this evening after my ministry classes in Grand Junction just as Dominick was there with the boys. Absolutely nothing in the world can beat the look on Matthew's face as he came racing out of their van and ripped open my door yelling "Mommy! Mommy!", giving me the biggest hug ever. He suddenly looked much younger and I was thinking to myself "They really are still little guys." which is sometimes hard to remember as the days pass so quickly and they grow faster than I ever imagined they would.

As we all pulled into the driveway and piled into the house, Kenny comes in and I can tell right away something is wrong, his eyes are red rimmed and he is trying hard to hold his emotions in check. He comes straight into my arms and melts, tears streaming and his chest heaving. He tries to tell me what is wrong but between his speech issues and the sobs I can't make it out so I have to ask him to repeat himself a couple of times. Turns out he is terribly sad about this being his last year at La Foret with his amazing counselors, and he had such a good time this year that he doesn't want it to end...he doesn't want to move up to the older group. He has had the same 3 women as his counselors, all of them older moms who saw Kenny from his first week at camp 2 years ago when he had been home barely a month and had no English at all to speak of, was as mature as the average 4 year old at times, and they were highly skeptical that Kenny and I would last even a couple of days. Seeing him only once a year for a week, they have seen dramatic changes in Kenny over 3 yearly visits.

He finally calmed down and a couple of hours later they all went to bed, and I heard him quietly crying again so I went in and took him by the hand, leading him back to our bedroom where we sat in the recliner and I rocked his gangly body in my arms as he cried and cried. When the tears slowed we started quietly talking...talking about loss, about love, about mixed emotions. He said he would miss these 3 women so much, that they had done so much for him to help him "see God", that they made him feel very special. He asked why it hurt so bad. I then took him back mentally to when our best friends moved to Chicago and how painful that was for me, how I cried many tears myself as our friendship was amazing and special and although I was ever-so-glad to have had them in my life it hurt very badly to have them leave. He remembered how hard that was for me and the rest of us, and we talked about how that pain eventually dims and then only the good memories remain. I suggested that it might help him feel better to write each one of his counselors and tell them how special they were to him, how he appreciated them so much. Finally he was calm enough to go back to bed and fall quickly into a deep slumber.

There are moments this Mommy stuff isn't easy, when you can't easily find the words or you don't know what is the right course of action to take. I question myself daily...heck, hourly sometimes...wondering if I am doing the right thing, if I have said the right words. Each of our sons has such an incredible heart, they are so open with their affection, so generous of spirit. I don't want to ruin that. I sometimes feel so inadequate to parent these emotionally deep kids, like I can't possibly keep up with them. I LOVE LOVE LOVE who they are!! While this depth of spirit and unusual set of life experiences which follows them and sometimes haunts them affects them forever, it has also created some uniquely emotionally wise-beyond-their-years young men who are tolerant, forgiving and thoughtful.

I constantly worry about my ability to continue to give them what they need so they are not hindered by their past, but are able to use it as a stepping stone to maturity. I guess it is hard at times for me to keep up with it all and feel I am walking the right path with each of them, as the path is different for each and the terrain constantly seems to be changing. I worry I will miss the crack in the sidewalk that I know will trip them up.

As Matt and Kenny each unpacked their bags tonight, they shared their camp gift shop purchases with Josh and his best buddy who went along on the trip to check out the camp for their first year next year. Both boys had something for the little ones, not knowing that Josh's friend would be with Dominick they each gave away him something they had intended to keep for themselves...a stuffed animal from Kenny and a camp pennant from Matthew. Their first thought was not for themselves as they didn't want to leave anyone else out. It was not just Kenny who was in tears when, after we all settled down and the boys had a late dinner I asked "What was the best part of camp?" and Matthew answered "Shopping for my brothers at the gift shop! I couldn't wait to get them something!". Knowing he had a terrific time and had tons of pictures to show for it, I thought it was pretty darned special that his favorite memory was when he was thinking of giving to others. Kenny's response? "F.O.B (short for "feet on bunk" hour rest time) when I could write you and daddy a letter!".

And as I finish writing this after having spent the past two evenings photographing a group of close friends' family reunion where 60+ family members gathered from round the country, I realize my own mini-family reunion tonight was just about picture perfect itself. We may not be 60 members strong, but we are LaJoy's, and we are DEFINITELY family.


Lori said...

I just want to go out there and give all three of those sweet boys a HUGE hug! What a wonderful feeling God must have knowing those three are on this planet and have the hearts they do. I love it.

Heather said...

Cindy, I'm curious. How did you find a counselor for Josh and how did you know she would work well w/ int'l adopted kids? I don't have experience w/ this, but wondering how you find someone that specializes in that kind of thing. Sorry for being nosy, but I learn so much from other adoptive parents! Thanks!

Dee said...

Beautiful post. Made me cry. I think you are going to see some really positive changes in Josh. Hang in there! You inspire me.

Anonymous said...

Your idea of having Josh express his fears and emotions through drawing should be helpful

Thinking of you all

Peggy in Virginia

Carrie DeLille said...

You are truly a family. A wonderful family with a gift of being so insightful into your childrens' needs. Each one. What a precious picture of Josh.

Tammy said...


I am so sorry your family is going through this with Josh. My heart aches as I hear how he is struggling right now.

One positive I did notice though - you mentioned he is not angry, throwing tantrums, etc. Beyond the superficial, the anger is usually covering up the real emotion - hurt. It is HUGE progress that he trusts you enough and feels safe enough to show the vulnerable emotions. Also, this may be a way for him to process his grief. The grief may have always been there and it is something he needs to go through, in order to come out stronger and more whole on the other side.

Often the healing hurts more than the original wound. The protective layers are gone and all that us left is raw pain.

You and yours will continue to be in my thoughts and prayers and you travel through this difficult time.