Oh Attachment

So I had read this post last week and I thought “I should really write something” and then birthdays, bronchitis and laundry (yay!) got in the way.

But as any blogger will tell you, once you get an idea for a post in your head more often than not your day is consumed with little note taking on what you want to include in said post, how you want to say certain things, etc.

So I’ve been mind editing this post for the better part of a week which is probably a good idea since typically I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl and typically I’m left frustrated that I didn’t say everything I had wanted to say.

This post is about attachment. I’ve written about it off and on for 3 years since bringing Tariku home but I’ll try to be a little more mindful about it today because I’m getting more and more emails asking about older child adoption/twinning (and lots of discussions on forums as well) and I really feel a bit responsible for people who might enter into the same kind of arrangement we have.

For those new to hotflawedmama, we brought Tariku home from Ethiopia as a 3-year-old. We brought Tomas home from Ethiopia as a 6-year-old and Binyam, also home from Ethiopia, pretty much as a 4-year-old (he turned 4 a month after we brought him home). Remember in a country where they don’t have birth certificates, these are all fairly good guesses at age. We think they are pretty close, but they could be +/- a year in there.

I don’t really want to go into why we brought home older kids, but I will tell you some of the ways I thought we’d be equipped with some pretty good attachment related devices.

-awesome marriage
-amazing husband/dad
-good kids at home
-pretty rocking supportive family
-pretty rocking supportive and knowledgeable (read: other APs and PAPs) friends
-read the books
-knew my skills/shortcomings as a mom
-lots of faith-a faith-a faith-a
-some naivete that it would all work out in the end

I think all of this has contributed to our success in the attachment journey with all 3 of our adopted babes.

I will tell you what I was scared of before bringing Tariku home. I was scared of my attachment to him. I was scared of his attachment to me. I was scared of looking at this kid as someone else’s for a very long time. I was scared of protecting my biological babes at the expense of Tariku. I was scared that it would ruin my marriage. I was scared it would show me every day the places I fell short of the mother I wanted to be.

And with the exception of ruining our marriage, I had the right to be scared of all of that.

That said, our journey in attachment continues to go downright swimmingly compared to a lot of other fellow AP (Adoptive Parents). BUT it still took awhile. Just when one day I’d look at him and say “Oh Tariku, he’s my son!” The next day he would do something and bring anger out in me I had never seen. He’d say something mean to one of the other kids and I knew my reaction was not a reaction I would have if I was feeling fully with him what I felt with the others.

For the first few months I was caught in this cycle of getting mad at him, hating myself for doing it, getting a little resentment towards him that he made me get that angry, turn around be super nice and loving to him because of all of the shame/remorse I felt. Wake up the next morning and rinse and repeat.

Can you imagine how that was for him? I was like the very worst of the worst. He had no idea which mom would show up. I can still recall in an instant the face he would greet me with in the morning. It was a smile, no doubt, but it was hesitant. It was a “which mommy are you right now? The mommy who greets this smile with one of her own or the one who wears the permanent scowl?”

Thankfully, he’s an amazing, resilient, blessedly beautiful and innately happy little guy and we got through those ugly hours pretty quickly. Please don’t misread that, there were still days like a year after we brought him home, shit there were days like that almost 2 years after we brought him home!

And his attachment to us followed a cycle of it’s own. Wake up happy about current situation in life, oh crap mom’s late on getting breakfast started. I’m hungry. I’m probably never getting food again. Look at the way she’s smiling at Dailah. She doesn’t smile at me like that. Because I don’t have a real family. Because this is just pretend. Because she’ll leave me too, that’s why she doesn’t smile at me like that. Oh wait, she just smiled at me like that. Maybe she will stay. No, no one stays what am I thinking? I think I’ll go take that toy away from Dailah just to show mom that I don’t care if she leaves. Just to show Dailah that I control things around here. Oh crap, Dailah’s crying. I like Dailah. I love mom. What am I doing? Now they are definitely going to leave. Etc, etc.

Tariku still has moments where I can literally see his brain logjam back into that crazy ugly cycle. This attachment thing is a journey, we must never forget that.

Tariku has little things stored around him that show he’s not living in a dream. This is his reality, like it or not. Some of the things stored around him are in his brain, he’s got some great ways of reminding himself, but other things he hoards in his room. Notes I left in his lunch box, valentines, pictures of us, little gifts I gave just to him (even things like a sucker stick-with the sucker long gone-that I snuck him when the others weren’t watching). And I’m ok with that.

Today, I’m increasingly relieved to say that I love Tariku with full on, I’m about to get ridiculous and brag about this boy-he is my son-I love him more than I ever thought possible-he’s amazing, kind of way. I’m talking about some days he’s my favorite kid (hey, we all do that, let’s just be honest). I’m talking about my cycle now completely falls all back on him. Now I question only his escape back into fear-ville, no longer do I have a fear-ville with my name on it.

And it’s a pretty rad place to be.

With Tomas and Binyam I had the same fears because I knew I needed them. I had additional ones related to Tomas’s age. Can I really fall in love with a 6-year-old? They don’t snuggle, or stop for a second, can I really do this? Can I really find penis, fart and booger talk that charming? Am I prepared to handle a boy who will certainly remember life in Ethiopia? Am I strong enough to handle both the stories and whatever issues have come out of those stories? Are my shoulders big enough to carry his burden too? Will he ever love me knowing I suck in comparison to the nannies and all of these people who love him? When he’s aggressive, will I be putting my other kids in danger with this big kid who doesn’t have his anger in check? What if this ruins my marriage? What if he and Binyam only want to hang out with each other forever and ever?

Before bringing Tomas and Binyam home I literally wrote out a list of things that I needed to forgive myself of in advance (most of the things in the cycle from Tariku). I wrote myself a note, “This will be hard. This will be worth it.” The way I entered into the relationship with T and B was considerably different than the way I entered into the relationship with Tariku.

And that has made a huge difference. It turns out when I let myself be okay with not liking them as much as the others, the anger didn’t puff up my chest. It didn’t get out of control. It turns out when Tomas did something to hurt (emotionally) one of the others, I was quick to forgive instead of quick to anger. I’ve been such a different mom with these two.

Whew, that’s been nice. 🙂

Turns out I do find talks of penises, farts and boogers charming when a 6-year-old is saying it with an adorable accent. Turns out when I give myself a little leeway to just be who I am instead of getting frustrated with the person I thought I was and turned out not to be, I’m a fairly decent “just me”.

So as far as my attachment with Tomas and Binyam, it’s light years ahead of where I was with Tariku at this stage. Once in awhile I’ll still feel the anger of old flare up sooner than it would normally. I still get more easily frustrated with Binyam’s more difficult road of assimilation (i.e. language development, social development, etc). Just this morning I went in to get the two littles. Dailah said something hilarious so I jumped on her bed and wrestled with her. Binyam meanwhile was shouting something that sounded like “Do that to me! Do that to me!” and I had to talk myself into doing the same for him.

But I also find excitement at seeing them every morning. I find joy and delight in them. I can brag you under the table about them. I know the way I look at them is on the verge of something very real and for 7 months home-I’ll take that.

I need to tell you that their stories have a lot to do with the reasons they are doing so well. I owe everything to their first families (and even some to the care centers who housed them for so long, specifically with Tomas and Binyam). But so much of my attachment to them and vice versa-is because of them. Because they are stinking easy to love. Because they let me start each day new. They hold no records of my past mistakes (Hallelu) and continue to look at me with hope and love and total adoration in their eyes.

Because they do that. Because of that,  we’ve had no real problems.

I realize a large portion of this large post was about me. I did that on purpose. Because as a PAP (Potential Adoptive Parent) I only wanted to hear about the parents. The kids we are bringing home are all a big question mark. Depending on their level and specific hurt and trauma, mixed with their specific personalities, the kids would have their own journey. But I wanted to hear what to expect from me.

So there you go. And if you’re an AP and are feeling any or all of this, know you’re not alone. It’s a scary thing, it’s a beautiful thing it’s a really, really exhausting thing this attachment. But I need to tell you it’s worth it. As a woman on the other side. It’s so worth it.

And so are they (our kids) and so are you.

16 thoughts on “Oh Attachment

  1. Thank you SO much for posting this!!! We are into the process…again! :)We are actually looking at 2 boys ages 10 and 11…to having been there done that with 2 little guys there are still places that I have significant doubt. Thank you for the pointers in fogiving yourself, it's something I have a hard time with. And thank you for the example of the jumping on the bed and then making yourself do it for Binyam. I have to do that with Nahom still…it's a balance and one that I always find myself in…but loving almost every minute. :)You rock!

  2. Thanks for this, I needed to hear it today. We are leaving tonight to fly to Ethiopia to meet our son and go to court. I have been worrying about all of this stuff for the past year and it never gets old hearing about someone else's experience. Since he isn't officially our's yet, I can't tell you what his Ethiopian name is, but I will say that it's the same name as one of your little guys 🙂

  3. Thank you. I needed that. I am at 10 months home with my 4 year old and have 3 bio kiddos. Attachment has been much harder than I imagined. I read about it but I was surprised at the feelings I had towards him in the beginning. Things are much better now but as you know a work in progress. It is so encouraging to know that I am normal and that there are moms out there like me too! You inspire me 🙂 Thank you

  4. This is brilliant. I can also add that when an adopted child tells you they're headed home because they're done with you, it doesn't hurt your feelings when you're still in the growing love stage:)

  5. Thank you so much for posting this. I can relate to all of this. And, it gives me *hope*! I love that you wrote out a list of ways you would forgive yourself in advance, with your two boys. I have been caught in the fear- anger-remorse-guilt-forgiveness cycle so many times. Fear that I am not doing things right. Anger that she makes me feel like a horrible parent. Remorse, guilt…ah forgiveness. Repeat. Days when she trusts me, and clings to me–are easier to get back up. Days when she's withdrawn and seems hurt–are hard for both of us.Really awesome post.

  6. My word….this is so well expressed. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your words, your love, your struggle and sharing it so openly. I don't feel so alone in it, and that really helps. thank you. sending a hug.

  7. Thanks for the honest post. I wish I had read more about this side of adoption because I made some very WRONG assumptions about infant adoption and attachment. Silly me, I didn't get that these feelings apply in ALL adoptions. Anger. Guilt. Remorse. Happy. Repeat. Happy to hear it is going well with everyone.

  8. SUCH an interesting post! I just loved how you learned so much through adoption #1, and that really really helped with adopting again. This gives me hope that maybe if we adopt more we won't have to have QUITE the same level of crazy as we did the first time! (And to be clear – all the crazy comes from me, the babies are very reasonable little human beings. Mostly). So good to read – I can't tell you how much I'm learning from all these different perspectives!

  9. Thank you so so much for posting this Tesi. It was wonderful to read. I appreciate so much that you are willing to share so openly. You are one awesome mom.

  10. I'm here for the first time from Claudia's place, probably obviously……anyway – love this post! I can especially relate to the vicious cycle, I still find myself caught up in it over a year later. Thanks for showing me I'm not alone in it.

  11. Wow, as the mother of both bio babes and now an adopted child (4 months home), I am in awe of your ability to capture it in words. Thanks so much for showing me that someone else has this tug of war of the heart. We get this idea as adoptive moms that we are supposed to be Mother Teresa to these kids that have already been through so much. In the end, you have to realize that there is only one Mother Theresa and it ain't me.

  12. Thank you so much for your response to my painting! That is incredibly flattering. I had hoped to show this painting this spring and next fall so it isn't available to sell presently. But if you are interested I could work on a commission piece. You can see more of my work at http://www.fiddlheadart.com Thanks again…you made me smile. I want nothing more than for my art to make you feel something, or connect to the subject/theme…and knowing you did fills me with joy!

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