Monday, May 2, 2011

Dandelion Days

It's that time of year again, when the newly-green landscape is freckled with sporadic dots of yellow, and the gardener begins his yearly battle with the hardiest of weeds.  A frustrating season for those afflicted with lawn envy, and a blissful season for wild, long-eared vegetarians.  Yep, you guessed it.  It's dandelion season.

I have a love-hate relationship with dandelions.  I hate them in my lawn.  I hate them in my garden.  I hate them growing in the cracks in my driveway.  Mostly, I hate them. 

But I love the completely stemless ones pinched between my son's chubby fingers and offered up as treasures.  I love them squished together in sloppy bouquets and arranged in vases on my kitchen counter.  I love "Dandelion Days", when the sky is blue, the clouds are fluffy, and there's nothing more important than holding little hands and picking dandelions.  Today is a Dandelion Day.

If I let go of the weed stigma and try to see them through the eyes of my littlest kids, it's easy to love dandelions.  They're a tiny drop of golden sunshine in an otherwise endless sea of green.  But besides being precious to my kids, there's another reason I love them. 

Dandelions remind me of how far I've come.

Miss M was four and-a-half the first spring she was with us.  Most of her time she spent trying to make us as miserable as possible (we later learned she suffers from an Attachment Disorder, or RAD).  Sometimes, though, she would be playing in the yard and she'd come in with a dandelion to give me.  It was never a grand presentation, just a monotone "I picked this for you".  I'm now ashamed to admit that I rarely showed much enthusiasm for her offering.  I remember telling her that they were weeds and asking her to take them back outside, using allergies as an excuse. 

Why?  First of all, I was an inexperienced parent.  Maybe I was trying to punish her for putting me through hell since almost the moment she walked through our door.  But more than that, I was (not purposefully) withholding my love from her- protecting myself from the inevitable rejection she would hurl at me sometimes only moments later.

Before you judge me too harshly, please concede that you know nothing about living with and attempting to love a child with an Attachment Disorder.  Unless, of course, you do, which means that you will understand where I'm coming from.  Having a daughter like Miss M is not like having a biological child with a problem, or an adopted child without one.  It's unique in that you have no bond with your child (from birth) and you have almost no way of forming one (because of the problem). 

Children with attachment disorders believe at their very core that they are worthless (because of abuse, neglect, trauma, separation, etc. in the first few years of life), and will do ANYTHING to convince the people trying to love them that they are unlovable.  Parent figures are vehemently pushed away, because these children have learned from past experiences that parents can't be trusted to take care of them.  They will do anything to keep from loving you or admitting that they need you, and to keep you from loving them, because if they are dependent on you, they're no longer in control- they're vulnerable and they feel like they could die.  Love is terrifying.

When Miss M came, I loved her with my whole heart.  I poured myself into her.  We baked cookies, we colored, we played, we sang songs, we read books, we cuddled.  For a short time, it seemed like a mother's love was all she needed, but as soon as Miss M suspected that I was here to stay, I became a threat to her.  And she became a monster.  She ripped my whole heart into pieces.  I picked up the pieces, taped them back together, and loved her as well as my taped-together heart could.  Again, she ripped it to pieces.  I taped the pieces back together and tried again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  But the more times I had to repair my tortured heart, the weaker it became.  Eventually, I had no love of my own left to give her.  That's where I found myself that spring when she started bringing me dandelions.

 And then a funny thing happened the following summer.  My emotionally stable, nurtured baby girl, Miss J (then 2), began bringing me dandelions.  She brought them to me proudly, clasped in pudgy hands and accompanied by toothy grins.  And I realized something.  No one taught her to do it, she brought them to me because she loved me...the same way her big sister loved me even though it scared her to death.

A lot has changed in the four years since Miss M first brought me dandelions, and at the same time nothing has changed at all.  We still have tantrums, although fewer and further between, and usually after she's felt particularly vulnerable or loved or close to me.  She's made great strides, but always ends up relapsing and trying to push me away.  We go through weeks and sometimes months of backslides, but come out stronger on the other side.  I continue to guard my heart too much, but I'm learning not to let everything affect me, at least not for long.  My heart still isn't strong enough, but God's is, and now I draw on His strength to love my daughter.  

And another thing has changed.  Miss M stopped bringing me dandelions.  Seems someone told her they were weeds.  Now she and her big brother bring me bouquets of wild violets and grape hyacinths, along with several varieties of weeds that they find on their walk home from school.  If they find out that they're weeds, it won't be from me.  In fact, they aren't weeds to me.  They're beautiful symbols of love and appreciation and acceptance that neither one of my damaged kids knows how to put into words.  So I cheerfully gather them up, arrange them in vases, and display them proudly for all to see...even if I can't stop sneezing.


  1. Wow, Lisa. Powerful essay. I can SO relate, as several of my children have had attachment disorders. Currently only one is significantly affected by it, and thus, so is the entire family. His cognitive functioning level also makes things challenging. The defiance is the toughest for me to deal with--even more so than the autism, etc. Thanks for sharing your heart--your honesty is heartwarming!

  2. Phew, I'm in tears here. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Lisa.