On Triggers

Over the last few months I’ve had more people than ever email/call/Facebook me about adoption. Questions about how hard it is, how to get started, etc. I love all this interest, it’s easy to answer these questions because adoption really is one of my favorite topics to discuss these days.

It’s a little difficult, though, because Tariku’s transition has been so good. People ask about older child adoption all the time and I find myself saying, “It’s been the best thing in the world, the only way we’ll ever do it…but I want you to understand it’s no picnic.”

And really, it is kind of a picnic, a picnic that will have moments of thunderstorms but for the most part is just this joy-filled experience.

Tariku has been home with us for just over 2 years (he came home at the age of 3, for new joiners to hotflawedmama) and has done amazingly well. In recent months we’ve begun to notice that he has a few triggers that, if left unchecked, will send him in to what we call “Space Cadet mode”. That simply means he noticeably disengages which translates to us as not listening to anything we say, eating without stopping, etc.

One trigger we know for sure is food. Tariku was brought into the care center malnourished. To see that little boy in his first few photos with wrists the size of pencils and to see him now, filling out his baseball uniform better than his older brother is almost unbelievable. That said, it’s obvious he vividly remembers a time in his life where he didn’t know if or when he’d eat.

Tariku has to eat every couple of hours or he starts to “misbehave”. I put that in quotes because, truly, he can’t help it. We’re pretty sure a part of him deep inside starts to panic when he hasn’t eaten for a few hours, this little part seems to be telling him he won’t get to eat for another couple days or so. Let me note here that his “misbehaving” I’ll take any day over other kids I see. Like I said, it typically means he just doesn’t listen, will make random bad decisions (like scream at Dailah-which he never does), etc.

We’ve found if we stay on top of the food thing, he’s so much better throughout the day. People had mentioned having a “snack drawer” that is always available to him. I’ve mentioned that to him but honestly, he would just eat it all day every day. Food is that much of a trigger if he ever felt sad or lonely or frustrated, he would turn to food and I’m not sure that’s exactly what I want to teach him. So I always tell him “If you’re really hungry you just tell me and I’ll find something”. If he ever comes to me and I know there’s no way he’s hungry, we have some cuddle time in a chair just to chat. Or I give him a little Chrystal Lite to drink and that seems to help, I also tell him when the next time we’ll eat and what it’ll be, which brings us to…

Schedule. A HUGE trigger for this guy. Our assumption is that his days in Ethiopia pre-care center were probably very similar. Then one day they weren’t and everything was turned upside down. Tariku is like no one else I know about schedules. Every morning we wake up he asks me to go over what we’re doing for the day (which I of course do). This is such a trigger that if, for some reason, I go a different way to preschool then he starts talking in the car, “Mom, this is not how we go to school, where are we going? I thought you said we were going to school. Mom, this isn’t how we go to school, why aren’t we going to school?” Clearly panicking, I have to talk him down from the emotional ledge. But until we wind up at school, he goes comatose and looks out the window. It.is.heartbreaking.

The last few months have been tough with this particular trigger because we’ve inserted baseball practice into a routine that had pretty much been the same for over a year. On top of the change to our schedule he also goes to bed considerably later and so his exhaustion feeds his panic.

This presents itself by random things as well. For a guy who has never lost any possession of value, in the last month Tariku has lost brand new hats, brand new shoes, various toys, a few coats, etc (mercifully I’ve got a gift for finding stuff so most of it has subsequently been found). But all of this is so out of character and all based around the time we are running to and fro practice.

As a side note, Tariku cannot get enough of baseball, so it’s not that he doesn’t want to be there, it’s just that it’s so out of schedule that he doesn’t know what to think.

We’ve discovered a few more that are more specific to his story, so I won’t go into them here, but needless to say it all makes a lot of sense.

After parenting biological babes who have known and felt comfort and trust their whole lives, it would be very easy to dismiss or punish Tariku when he acts out. Thankfully we’ve taken enough adoption classes, read plenty of books, know some really smart people (check my blog roll) and have learned to listen to our parental guts to know that would be the exact opposite of what needs to be done.

Last night I had a small breakdown after one of his breakdowns because I just wanted to take it from him. I just wanted to take that heartbreaking yoke of his and place it on my sturdier shoulders. How I wish I could erase those parts of his past and leave only the good things he remembers. I wish I could take the sadness of his past and keep it inside me until he’s stronger and older and can understand the various dynamics a little better.

But I can’t, so we work through these things together. I try to show him every day that he will eat, we will always return home as a family, all of us together. We try to be proactive so that he doesn’t become reactive.

It’s not always easy but it’s always worth it because at the end of the day, he is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.

And really, older child adoption is truly the bomb diggity otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it again (with two more!).

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8 thoughts on “On Triggers

  1. I love this. I wonder all the time about what "triggers" we will have and try to plan accordingly, but I know that I won't really know until we are home and getting settled. Thanks for the picture of what this looks like with your son!

  2. Love the honesty with such a sweet light of love on it.I know your parenting is what makes this easier for T than other peoples styles. You accept where you kiddos are and run with that, instead of asking them to conform to you.Tessi, you are an amazing mom. 🙂

  3. I was just thinking about this, and wondering how it will be with your next two since all kids are so different. Plus, of course, I need all your wisdom since our next one will be 3ish or whatever. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for sharing so openly. It's helpful to those of us who have yet to bring our children home. We have also read the books and gone to seminars, etc., but what is most helpful is connecting with parents who have first-hand advice.

  5. Sounds like you guys are doing an amazing job with meeting him where he's at and parenting him how he needs. You're loving each of your kids in unique ways – just as they should be!

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