The Attachment Disorder, Part II, or Mama learns patience

About a year ago, I rid the house of sippy cups, because sippy cups are a pain in the butt and I longed for the day when everybody drank their beverages all civilized-like, you know?

The problem with sippy cups was twofold: one, they need to be assembled and disassembled using rubber stoppers, which are prone to grow mold when left unwashed for more than, say, two days. Which was never done on purpose, people! It wasn’t me who taught my kids to throw used food products under their beds! And mold is hard to clean from tiny rubbery crevices.

Secondly, children tend to chew on the cup lips, so the plastic starts to chip, and before you know it the kids are consuming microscopic bits of plastic and you’re reading an article about how that will cause them to turn into toads. And Mama ain’t interested in raising no toads.

So I threw out the sippy cups, and the Pterodactyl announced that to protest the end of this era, he would stop drinking milk. Which he did.

I didn’t argue with him about it because I was more interested in forcefeeding him anything that would keep up his blood sugar so he wouldn’t bash another hole in his wall. Yeah, that’s right, I said another hole. He’s freakishly strong for a 6-year-old boy. Also – this seemed to be a battle of wills, and I thought that I should win.

But now that Dr. Dee has convinced us his problems stem from an attachment disorder, I’ve changed my perspective. Dr. Dee says we need to spend more time soothing him, reacting calmly to his tantrums and refraining from losing our tempers. What she really meant is me refraining from losing my temper, because I can be a hothead. I’m more prone to say things like, “OH MY GOD, THIS IS FUCKING UNBEARABLE!” I say it through clenched teeth so nobody understands the FUCKING part except Husband, who weirdly never hears anything else I say through clenched teeth. The UNBEARABLE behaviors I’m referring to include series of events such as this:
Boy: CARRY ME TO BED!
Husband: I’ll carry you.
Boy: NOOOOO! MAMA! MAMA! MAMA! I WANT YOU. I WANT YOU. I WANT YOU.
Me: Okay. I’ll carry you.
Boy: NOOOOOO! START OVER! DON’T WALK THAT WAY! PUT ME DOWN!
Me: No, we’re already almost to your bed.
Boy: NOOOOOO! NOOOOOO! I WON’T GO TO BED! PUT ME ON THE COUCH! I WANNA WATCH TV! I’M HUNGRY! CARRY ME LIKE A BABY!
Me: FOR GODSAKES, GET IT TOGETHER, SON!

See, I didn’t handle that well. Dr. Dee last week told Husband that it is my job to soothe the boy when he’s acting infantile, because that’s what the attachment disorder business is about – him needing to recover the baby snuggling time he missed while languishing in an orphanage. But she also said it’s Husband’s job to soothe me. “Why?” I asked. “Because I’m acting like a big fat baby, too?”

Pretty much, said Husband.

But really. Does the Pterodactyl HAVE to claim the swing on the left precisely when his sister sits down on it? MUST he be the only one who can hand me the remote control? Can’t his big sister roll ONE of the crescent rolls so they don’t ALL look like sharks?

I realize a lot of this sounds like normal kid shit. But at the risk of sounding self-absorbed, it’s different with my kid. Change isn’t just a disappointment to him; it’s like a complete fracturing of his world. Having dinner on the porch when he wants us to have dinner inside is like canceling a trip to Disney World and going to the dry cleaners instead – irreparably crushing. And when he is crushed – well, you might as well have pulled the head off a puppy before his very eyes. He is traumatized.

In fact, some aspects of attachment disorder are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s right – my little charges now consist of a 9-year-old perfectionist who thinks sleep marks are a sign that her legs are falling off, a 4-year-old daredevil who jumps out of trees headfirst, and a 6-year-old traumatized war veteran.

Oh, dear.

So my job now includes soothing my oft-ruffled son with hugs and calm reassurance. When he tells me to pack my bags and leave the house THIS INSTANCE, I must try to hold him in my arms and whisper that I love him, and say, “Shhhh, shhhh, Mommy’s here, I’m not going anywhwere,” and when he screams that I AM THE WORST MOTHER, I must gently tell him that I’ll sit with him as long as it takes for him to calm down. Sometimes I try to distract him; once I started fake-crying in his face, which made him laugh, and another time I used his Mexican marionette to start a conversation about how he was feeling.

Previously, I would raise my voice and refuse to interact with him for as long as he remained out of control. That always ended badly – a favorite drawing ripped to pieces, a lot of door-banging, the aforementioned hole in the wall. But Dr. Dee explained that he was acting out because he needed me to soothe him – and by ignoring him, I was further detaching from him, and exacerbating his need.

Crazycakes, right? But listen. Last week at the grocery store, I picked up a couple of sippy cups. When I got home, I showed him what I had bought, and he was so excited he asked for some milk in it right away. Hot Firefighter Husband pulled his son into his lap, and cuddled him like a baby while he drank his milk. And I can’t really describe what happened next – but these five minutes infused our boy with an energy, or a lightness, that I had not seen in his face for days. He laughed all afternoon and played with his sister; he cooperated with bedtime routines. He happily went to bed on time.

We have a long road ahead of us, I know. I still find myself tacitly reciting, like a mantra, “SHUT THE FUCK UP. SHUT THE FUCK UP.” But this has been a little breakthrough. I have a small tool in my parenting arsenal that can help me occasionally grease a squeaky wheel.

And the plastic bits? On second thought, they’ll probably pass right through him, just like they pass through the dog. If the worst occurs, I guess I could raise a toad.

9 responses to The Attachment Disorder, Part II, or Mama learns patience

  1. Erin says:

    Excellent Tricia! Yes, your beautiful little charges a bit more challenged than most. I am saving myself a lot of money by reading your stories about the Pterodactyl. Thankfully, according to your story, I am on the right track w/ my little princess! Maybe I should have the husband read this…
    xoxox
    Erin

  2. CarolCJ says:

    I started reading about the sippy cups and immediately started an email to my daughter about the mold & plastic. She has five year old triplets and a two year old. I am not sure why but I decided to not send the email until I finished reading the rest of your blog. I finished reading, went to my email and deleted it. 🙂

    • Tricia says:

      Carol, that’s hilarious. Be careful, though, when using me as your guideline for healthy living…..I’m seriously undependable. ; }

  3. vicky says:

    I have learned a lot about distraction from watching my husband. He is the master of getting Emmy to forget what she’s hysterical about by asking her questions and going to off the wall topics or engaging her and completely changing her mindset with his questions. It is like Baby Whisperer, but it works and it’s a lot better than feeling frustrated and trying to ignore the loud wailing. It doesn’t come naturally to me in the least but I’ve learned to copy him and it mostly works. He picks a subject that is hilarious and then draws her in by saying, “Listen to Daddy, what happened when…” And more often than not, when he speaks softly and she tries to hear what he’s saying and he just keeps getting her to talk (because you can’t really cry your face off and talk at the same time) she calms down. So amen to trying different approaches to reach the same goal–happy kid, happy parent.

  4. Tara Raichle says:

    Ok so I have few minutes and I’m posting on anything I read…………..even if you didnt call when you were in NYC> 😉

  5. Why is it that when women talk abut their husbands in their writings, that they always portray them as these strange creatures perched in a corner of the room?
    Okay, mini rant over. Tricia, you are learning a primary rule of parenting; fight the fights that you need to win. Save the other ones for your husband. What you say about the sippy cup doesn’t matter to your son. But, when a peer makes a comment about it, it will begin the long trek into obscurity. Make a deal with him, that the cup is only to be used at home. He should buy it.
    Parents spend way to much time trying to make their kids “cool”, as though being cool matters to a 4 year old. They have no desire to act cool in front of us, because as far as they’re concerned, they are already way cooler then we will ever be.
    You expressed a concern about the use of the word “fuck” in your writing. I feel it works best is used to provide a humorous tweek, or to express a strong feeling about something. But that’s just me. Others may not give a fuck. 😉

  6. Nadia says:

    Hi again, I hope I am not flooding your blog but your posts just resonate with me so strongly with me that I can’t resist commenting.

    When I read your posts, it reminds me SO much of my childhood. I used to have complete temper tantrums over the smallest things—legs kicking, screaming, the works. If I was practicing piano and I messed up a note, that was enough to set off a temper tantrum.

    I don’t want to imply that your child has PTSD, but it isn’t completely uncommon for adopted children to have PTSD. I was also abused in the orphanage and have PTSD from that. Abuse, in addition to neglect, isn’t uncommon in orphanages. It might be worth evaluating whether your son has PTSD with Dr. Dee, even if it just means ruling it out as a possibility.

    You aren’t the worst mother. Raising an adopted child is hard. I admit that as one myself. You will mess up, but all parents mess up. The stakes are higher with an adopted child because we come with a lot more “baggage”. Don’t be too hard on yourself and remind yourself that you are human, and that we all make mistakes.

    The fact you are analyzing your own behavior already shows in and of itself that you are a great parent. That is the different between a great parent and a lousy one. Lousy parents don’t admit they’re sometimes in the wrong, and aren’t willing to look at themselves. Lousy parents put all the blame on the child, all of the time. If a child is acting out, it’s because that child is a bad kid and it has nothing to do with something the parent might have said or done.

    You are willing to admit that sometimes you mess up and that sometimes your son acting out is in response to something you did. That already makes you a much better parent than most parents walking around, adoptive or biological.

  7. Phillippe Lieurance says:

    I just found your blog and after reading just 2 pages LOVE IT! As a Father and short time Grandfather (long time story), ) I find your honesty not only with your stories but your honest language even with the “F” word inspiring. You are saying on the blog what millions of parents think but may not actually say do to political correctness. One reply your received in effect said if it was so much angst why did you become a parent? ONLY a parent can know the frustration that happens as a parent. I think venting is important to keep your sanity and also keeping in heart the things only a child will say or do that can warm your heart and bring tears to your eyes because of their unbridled innocence. Some of life’s most deepest sorrows and joyous things can only be found in parenting. Thank you for helping in reminding me and to let other’s know that what may at times be crazy is what keeps up sane.

    • Tricia says:

      Thanks, Phillippe – both for reading my blog, and for empathizing with what we often go through in order to fine-tune this special, joyous love. Hope our cyber-paths cross again. Peace.

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