Why, hello there, Grief. We meet again. I’ve written about you before, but it was so very long ago that I’d forgotten you existed. Maybe “forgotten” is the wrong word. I chose to pretend you’d never darken my door again. I banished you by sheer force of will. I smothered my child in everything the experts said he needed to achieve a healthy attachment. And yet here you are, the most unwelcome houseguest I’ve ever had the displeasure of hosting, and bonus! You’ve brought along your good friend Anxiety.
You’re no stranger to this house. I’ve hosted you a few times in the past. I know how to kick your ass back to Hell where you come from, so I don’t stress too much when you show up for me. I’m 37, and I have some coping skills. My three year old doesn’t, though, so I’m sure even YOU can understand why I’m a little bit peeved that you’re here.
Mommies everywhere know what I’m talking about: you’d do absolutely anything to protect your child from *any* kind of harm. You’d step in front of a moving train if you had to. Yeah, I can’t do that. I’ve tried. There is absolutely nothing I can do to release the grip that Grief has on my child. I can’t keep Anxiety from waking him up screaming in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, time, consistent routine, and love are the only things I can offer, and thank God, they seem to be working.
Everything has been going along swimmingly for the past couple of years. Jack has adjusted beyond our wildest expectations, and he’s the brightest light in our lives. “Happy” doesn’t even begin to describe the joy with which this child experiences life. He laughs loudly and often, and with his whole being. He gives and receives affection so freely that he puts the rest of us to shame. He even wants to hug the lizards on the back porch. When his friends are having a bad day, he’s the first in line to offer a shoulder. At three, he already stands up for social injustices. I mean, he’s not marching on Washington or anything, but he does try to mediate on the playground when kids need a little help sharing or taking turns. He’s crazy good at it, too. He’s smart as a whip, hilarious, compassionate, mischievous in the best possible way, curious, energetic, fun, sweet, loving, playful, and a whole lot of other adjectives. He’s the easiest child on the planet: he behaves in public, always uses his manners, and is unfailingly respectful.
I got too comfortable. I forgot that I have to constantly walk the tightrope, balancing between normal childhood behaviors and ghosts of his first life. I knew that they would never be completely vanquished, but I really thought that as he got older they would be easier to deal with. I assumed that as he began to communicate, he’d be able to voice his fears and frustrations. And maybe, one day, that will be the case. Right now, it’s not. He’s sad. Scratch that. He’s not sad. He’s heartbroken. He’s grieving. He’s anxious. And he’s not quite sure why. I know why, though, so at least there’s that.
He had a wonderful Christmas. He got to spend lots of time with lots of family. He got a TON of one-on-one time with Grandma. He was the center of the universe for a little while. And then everybody left. Kevin’s work schedule went a little wonky. The routine was shot to hell, and my child’s sense of stability went with it.
It’s a bit easier to write about now, almost a week after we’ve come through the worst of it. If you’d have asked me last week I would have broken down in tears. I spent the past two weeks crying, actually. When you haven’t slept in seven days and you have to pick your child up from school (twice) because HE can’t stop crying (for no reason, or so sayeth his teachers, but I know the truth), then yeah, you’re prone to tears. I actually had to call my mother last weekend so she could talk to my child who could only wail the word “GRAAAAAANDMAAAAAA”. He couldn’t say anything else. Seriously. That was it. The day before? It was “DAAAAAAADDDDDDY”. From midnight to 3AM, without fail, the screaming would start. Inconsolable grief would haunt my child’s sleep, and he was powerless to fight it. During the day he was gripped with such free-floating anxiety that all he could do was flit from one activity to the next every two minutes (SO unlike him. He usually has laser focus and knows *exactly* what he wants to do). He couldn’t concentrate on anything at all. Exhaustion has ruled this house since the holidays.
We’ve navigated these waters before; he went through some fairly heavy separation anxiety back in the fall because of a staffing upheaval at his school, which in turn affected his daily routine for a few weeks. We had a couple of rough nights and emotional mornings, but other than that it was pretty typical. I even congratulated myself on being so prepared. Ha. Ha ha ha. NOTHING prepared me for the past couple of weeks.
Thankfully, things have started to settle down a bit. Jack managed to sleep in his own bed (nightmare-free) last night, which hasn’t happened since my mother was here. The routine is firmly back in place: school is back to its regular post-holiday schedule, Daddy is home every night and on the weekends, and there are plenty of hugs and cuddles to go around. I’ve started using a calendar every day with him so he knows what’s coming up, from dentist appointments to his birthday, from Valentine’s Day to Grandma’s next visit from Texas—as well as the day she leaves to go back there. We’re all on the emotional mend.
The lesson I’ve learned is this: Trust the experts when they say that anxiety in a post-institutionalized child will always come back, even when the child can’t communicate why he feels sad or anxious. I will trust my own instincts and experience. I will allow my child to feel sad without judgement, but I will also provide him the tools he needs to cope. And I will not take my child’s everyday happiness for granted again. I know all the usual platitudes apply: Kids are resilient. Love conquers all. Those things are true, and when I don’t feel like my emotional health has gone 12 rounds with Pacquiao I’ll jump back into the Positivity Pond with both feet. A friend recently told me that I live a fairy tale life. I don’t quite agree with that. I AM incredibly blessed with so many, many things (or as Jack would say “many many MANY things!”), but it’s times like these that remind me that there is Darkness in every life, even mine. It’s how you choose to deal with the Darkness that defines you.
The first verse of the above-referenced song has been on repeat in my brain for a while, but I *think* I’ve kicked Darkness and Anxiety to the curb, at least for now. I’ll be a bit more vigilant in the future, though. I know Kevin feels some guilt on the extremely rare occasion work takes him away for a little while, but like I told him, we can’t stop living our lives. We just have to learn how to hit the curve balls.