Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A couple stories about attachment....

He's clean. He's diapered. He's dressed. And he's full.

We cuddle and read a book in his older brother's room as said brother gets ready for bed, with father helping. We give a quick tickle, a few hugs, nurse a bit on and off.

Then it's time to go.

I stand up and he happily takes my hand, walking with me as we wave and blow kisses to brother and father.

We walk into his room. It's ready, except for the nightlight. The lights are off and the sound machine is blasting the noise of crickets.

I close the door behind us before finding the nightlight, noting briefly how utterly dark the room is.

Even after tapping the button the light barely illuminates more than a couple square feet on his floor. I lead him to the rocking chair and let go of his hand.

As I adjust the pillow and settle my self down for the rock-to-sleep, he stands there, calmly, quietly, in near total darkness, not touching a thing.

A single, solitary child in isolation.


At peace.


I reach down and place my arms on his sides, and his hands slowly raise up. He's unsure as to my actual position, but he knows what to do anyway. He isn't dead weight, but he also isn't in a hurry.

He knows this routine, even if it's one of a dozen potential routines.

Soon he's in my lap and he nestles in, cuddled up for a quick rockabye.

Not too long after he's asleep, and I transfer him to his crib with ease and leave the room. I won't see him again for another 11 or 12 hours, and even then I may only know he's awake through the sounds of his toys as he plays with them.

At only a year old, he already knows that the world is a safe place. He is loved. He is cared for. He doesn't have to worry. He can stand alone in the dark for a few seconds and know full well that arms will be reaching for him soon. They always do.

And this, my friends, is attachment.


He goes through his routine to the best of his ability. He acts out in the normal places, prolonging those parts he finds enjoyable and, more importantly, eliciting the same familiar responses. It doesn't matter if it's negative attention so long as it's familiar.

He worries when something is different. A shower tonight? But it's usually a bath! It's not as big a deal as it used to be at least.

He follows the itinerary almost to a T. He gets dressed, he puts on lotion, he picks a book. His sound machine is on. His night light, bright enough to fill the room, is on. The light of our bedroom from next door is also on and viewable from his open door.

Not everything is planned out. He chooses a new song on his sound machine. He picks a different stuffy to sleep with. He wants to put his pillow on the foot of the bed. He chooses a different parent to read him a book.


But he still needs that bright night light.

He still needs the door open.

He still needs both of his parents to spend time with him, and no matter how long it takes for that baby brother to fall asleep he will dutifully keep himself awake for the chance to have one-on-one time, if only for a moment, with the parent who did not get to read him a book.

And he still needs a melatonin, or else it may be hours for sleep to come.

He no longer sleeps so lightly and fitfully, but he is still prone to waking up early and possibly coming into our room. We know as we kiss him goodnight that we have probably ten hours maximum before he starts to move and we have to plan accordingly.

Nights are better. Mornings are better. Life is better.

So long as there's a routine.

So long as there's safety.

So long as there's bright lights and lots of consistent attention.

So long as we sit and talk about anything that scares him, filter out all the bad things, cuddle and coddle and hug.

He's five years old, and he knows too much. He knows that parents can die, so you'd better spend as much time with them as possible. He knows that things can change quickly, so you'd better hold on to stability. He knows that the world is completely out of his control, so he'd better take control where he can and when he can.

A stable, loving family helps. A routine helps. But the worry, the anxiety, the fear, is never totally gone.

And this, my friends, is a mild attachment disorder.


It's not RAD, even though we've been offered the diagnosis. He's not a sociopath, nor does he threaten us with knives or fire, nor does he smear feces, nor does he destroy property or harm pets.

He's just... anxious.




He can't handle certain things in the same way another child his age could.

Things frighten him. Change frightens him.

And guess who is starting kindergarten this year? And guess which family is hoping to expand? Guess who is five now and has bigger responsibilities due to his larger age? Guess who is growing and changing? And guess who is big enough now that most people look down on any special treatment for him?

Sometimes I wonder if the restlessness of his heart would be noticeable at all if it wasn't for Ambrose. Ambrose, as I mentioned earlier, is extreme. When he tantrums he goes all out, and he whines and fusses like nobody. And yet, his heart is calm. He trusts us. He knows he can pitch a fit and we'll still hug him and love him and hand him a cheese stick. He knows that he can fall and we'll always be there to pick him up.

The hardest part, to me, is knowing that there was a point when P also knew this.

We don't know exactly when he was orphaned but most likely it was around the time he was a year. He could have been where Ambrose is developmentally. There's a possibility his life was filled with strife and visiting relatives and fighting and illness and fear.

Or... it could have been happiness. It could have been trust. Her death could have been sudden.

Was he like Ambrose? Did he trust, implicitly, and have that trust broken?

Or did he simply learn from the very beginning that he should never trust at all?

I know we'll never really know for certain.

And really, at this point it hardly matters. He has come so, so far and he's just such a normal kid now. It feels honestly like we're in the homestretch. Like we're in that last part of bonding, attaching, healing. I know the wounds will be re-opened at various times throughout his life (puberty, adulthood, parenthood...) and yet we're just about to where we've always dreamed we would be.


I'm not entirely sure how to wrap this up other than by saying this:

I have two wonderful, incredible, vibrant boys. They are different from each other. And they compliment each other. This stillness in the heart of one seems to be healing the heart of another. The still hearted one wants nothing more than to be an equal to his amazing and much beloved and idolized big brother, the sweetest, happiest, most playful big brother I've ever met. I am amazed by them and their relationship. And I'm so, so glad to know that even if one of our children has anxiety over us, he doesn't seem to doubt his relationship to his brother. He loves that baby with all his soul and I'm so excited for them, to see what wonderful adventures these two brothers will undertake as they get older :)

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