Friday, May 10, 2013

Written on the body.

My youngest child is not a cuddler.

He is not the type of toddler who melts into your embrace, content to lie still against your heartbeat for hours at a time. He does not sit still in your lap, or fall asleep on your shoulder. More often than not, if he comes to hug you he does so at full speed and with maximum impact. An embrace often comes with a headbutt or an elbow to the ribs--I willingly accept the collateral bruises as part and parcel of his love.

Hugging YH is not for the faint of heart.

He will let you pick him up and hold him upside down, or swing him in a circle. He will laugh and ask for "More! More! More!" My husband can get YH to assume a perfect plank position, and then use his little body as a weight for bicep curls and shoulder presses. YH loves this and giggles throughout his daddy's workout regimen.

But he will rarely allow himself to be held in a cradle position. To be snuggled and swaddled and treated like an infant.

Of course all the attachment books warn me that this is a BAD SIGN. That we should be working daily to change this, so that he can feel secure in a vulnerable position. But I will not force it; I will not love him in a way that makes him uncomfortable.

The exception to the cradle is that YH will tolerate that position as long as I am actively rocking him. Not in a rocking chair, but with the large swinging motions of my tired arms. When I do this he relaxes and is able to maintain eye contact. My shoulders burn and my hip aches as I pivot back and forth----but he is happy.

This week YH started initiating "gentle" touches. We've been a family for almost a year now--and this week marked the first time he absentmindedly reached for my hand while watching a video. Just to hold it, just to rest his fingers on mine. Halfway through the video one little finger started to explore. It traveled lazily across the tendons on the back of my hand, stopping to appreciate the texture of my skin.

At the end of the video I cupped my other hand over his and he looked at me in surprise, almost unaware of what his limb had been up to.

This week he has asked to prolong our morning embrace. Usually he sits patiently and somewhat stiffly in my arms when I scoop him out of his bed. But this week he has grabbed me back with equal intensity, and twice even said "Stay Mama, stay" when I went to stand up. I do stay--of course I stay. We have been late to school every day this week and it has been SO.WORTH.IT.

In the quiet hours, when YH and the other kids are sleeping, I re-play these new behaviors. I puzzle over them and sometimes let my thoughts project a hopeful future. A future where these gentle gestures become the norm, where our love deepens and instead of counting bruises from awkward collisions I am counting kisses from my littlest beloved.

As part of the seemingly-endless-ever-changing process of untangling what is attachment related, what is exposure to alcohol related, and what is just innate to YH we are about to begin another round of testing.

This next series of evaluations will focus on his sensory needs. The crashing, the dramatic flopping, the bouncing, the tooth grinding and mouth explorations--they all point to sensory seeking behaviors. It is our hope that through the implementation of OT and a rich sensory diet (see here: we can help YH find comfort in the day-to-day.


  1. Ok so I had this whole long comment and then my internet went wonky...sigh.

    What I was trying to say before was that the sensory stuff is fascinating and I need to click on the link and explore further. But I wouldn't necessarily interpret his behaviors as bad at this stage--while it seems like a long time that he's been with you (a whole year--WOW!) in his little brain it's not any longer than any other place he has been (if I'm remembering correctly). So maybe he's still not one hundred percent convinced everything isn't about to change again... just a thought. You're doing great with him and that picture is just too cute!

    1. Thank you MTL! You're right on with your comment: he's only been with us half the amount of time he was with his foster family. Thank you for the reminder. Deep breaths, right?

  2. We need to go for a run, together.....and catch up. So many words to exchange, pace doesn't matter.

    1. Yes. I need a run with you in the worst way.

    2. Let's make that happen this week. m'kay? Happy Mother's Day, pretty mama.

  3. You always make me cry. Your love for YH (and all your kids) just pours out of you. Your respect for his needs AND his wants is so patient and graceful and filled with love. You're an inspiration to all of the mamas out there- including me.