Sunday, May 26, 2013

One year.

One year ago the little boy in the picture above joined our family forever.
In the months since he has grown two inches and gained three pounds. He is still recognizable as the little boy in the picture above--but oh so much has changed.

Today his eyebrows remain just as wonderfully fuzzy, and his cheeks are still endlessly kissable. He is still sturdy of frame, with broad shoulders and a sculpted waist. His feet remain wide and plump, tethering him to the earth. His head is still slightly lumpy, though I notice it less and less. He has a dark blue birthmark on his right upper arm, and two more on his lower back.

It kind of kills me to look at that picture. To see my son's small face so closed off, so sad. To see his shoulders hunched in defeat, his mouth soft and tugged by sorrow.  He is leaning away from his papa's hand, trying to get away from this new set of circumstances. He looks bewildered and broken-hearted.

And to my memory this photo was taken on a good day! The night before YH slept tucked in my arms. He woke up and ate a bowl full of berries and cereal for breakfast. We played in the front yard and filled up the baby pool for him to splash in. We had fun!

And yet.

And yet the camera captured this moment of quiet pain. I can't imagine what it must have felt like to him to have his whole world disappear. To be plunked down in the middle of Texas in the bosom of a well-intentioned-but-generally-clueless family. It astounds me that he had the strength to grieve and begin the healing process. That he was able to begin to trust and love us.

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YH and I talk a lot about love these days. Mostly about how much I love him and how that will never ever change.

Throughout the day he will stop what he is doing and ask me to tel him a YH story. This is a special type of story that I made up just for him.

We sit down facing each other on the sofa and lean in so that our foreheads are touching. He wiggles in excitement as I begin.

"Once upon a time there lived the most wonderful, smart, brave, silly and lovely three year old boy in the whole wide world--and his name was YH."

(we say his name together, and he collapses in giggles after saying it)

"One day YH woke up early and ate bacon and eggs for breakfast. He gathered up his favorite toy cars and kissed his mama good-bye before heading off to school. While he was at school he learned new things and played with his friends. And the whole time his mama loved him, even though they were apart."

"At then end of the school day his mama came back. Because she promised she would. And she was so happy to see YH that she gave him a big squeezy hug. And they went home and ate lunch together. And YH's mama loved him, because she loves him forever and ever and that will never change. The End."

The details vary with each incarnation, but the framework remains the same.
YH loves these stories and never tires of hearing them.
I love that he loves listening to them.
It is such a simple way to share with him how important he is to me, and to our whole family.

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I haven't seen the look of quiet pain on YH's face for quite some time now. That doesn't mean that the pain isn't there--just that he doesn't wear it prominently in each picture.

Photos taken now are more likely to capture his wide grin as he slings an arm around his brother, or proudly displays his climbing prowess.

This past year was just the beginning for YH and me. Each day I wake up a little more in love with him, and a little more eager to see what we'll discover about one another.

I love you YH, and that will never change.

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.