Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bittersweet- but with Hope

Yesterday I shared about my sweet Miss J and her endearing way of saying goodbye whenever I drop her off for kindergarten.  The contrast between six-year-old Miss J and my older daughter Miss M, when she was in kindergarten, is so huge that it's startling.  Through the comparison of my two daughters, I can see how absolutely crucial bonding and attachment is to healthy childhood development.  The attached, nurtured child (Miss J) loves her Mama like no other, delighting in making her laugh and in showing affection.  She waves and smiles and kisses and hugs without a second thought.  The hurt, abandoned, and unattached child (Miss M) ignores and fights her Mama's affection.  She shows no interest in returning it; she walks away without ever looking back.

In kindergarten, Miss M never looked back.  She wasn't interested in bonding with me at all.

In first grade, Miss M never looked back either, but she did form a superficial attachment to her teacher, who unknowingly nurtured her sickness by giving her lots of attention and anything she wanted because Miss M was 'so good and so sweet'; the perfect student, yet she was a monster at home.  It was at this time that she was diagnosed with an Attachment Disorder.

In second grade, we were wiser.  Her new teacher refused to be manipulated, and kept her distance emotionally.  So Miss M attached to her friends instead, and tried to challenge us with the advice and opinions of seven-year-olds; believing them over us.  She fought back at home like crazy, but was a popular classmate who always got her way with her peers.  By the end of the year, she was back where she had been when she was four (raging daily at home), but with the attitude of a teenager.

And she definitely never looked back.

But the story doesn't end there. 

Miss M is in third grade now.  Her new teacher is the one she's been fighting non-stop for five-and-a-half years.  She's an ornery one, this teacher.  Too stubborn to go down without a fight.  Too strong-willed to let a child or a sickness get the best of her.  Too determined to love this child, created in the image of God, whether she feels like it or not.  Whether she "deserves" it or not.  This teacher, by the grace of God, is never going to give up on healing her daughter's heart while she still draws breath.

We're "starving" Miss M of outside affection this year.  She is with me nearly one hundred percent of the time (this has NOT been easy for me as I'm not nearly as selfless as I should be, and it has NOT been easy for Miss M, as her instincts are to keep me at a distance).  Between Sunday morning and Wednesday night at church, as well as her dance class, Miss M is away from me or my husband for only about five hours a week.  There is no going to school.  There are no phone calls or play dates with friends.  There's limited contact with peers and neighbors and grandparents and babysitters and aunts and uncles; all well-meaning people that Miss M would love to attach to in my place.

Her choices this year are: attach to Mom, or attach to no one.

I won't lie.  This has been a long year.  We have good days and bad days (both of us), and we see each other at our best and at our worst.  Miss M has days when she's incredibly strong and is a very good student, and days when she's incredibly weak and can barely retain a valid thought.  Sometimes she seems like a normal nine-year-old, while other days she reverts back to that broken four-year-old, or even younger.  We still have the occasional full-fledged raging tantrums, but not nearly as often as in the past.  

The hardest part is that I don't have an escape anymore.  I can't send her off for the day and forget about our problems until she comes home.  It's tiring, and the constant vigilance of being with her all the time is draining.  Sometimes I feel like I'm going to go crazy if I don't get a couple of hours away, and there are days when I give up on schooling altogether and send her to go read a book.

However, we're making lots of progress.  Miss M has learned that no matter how horrible she is one day, I'm still going to keep her with me the next.  In fact, if she's been horrible enough, I don't even send her to church or ballet; I just keep her with me more.  She's learning security and trust. 

Miss M has also learned that she's more important to me than my freedom.  She knows that if she were in school, I could pack up the little ones and do anything I wanted with my day...but instead I'm spending my time teaching her.  She's learning self-worth.

She's also seen me completely lose my temper in frustration and then be forced by my conscience to apologize.  She's learning about forgiveness and mercy and taking responsibility for her actions.

This year, Miss M and I have learned together, fought each other, prayed, argued, laughed, cried, hugged, joked and occasionally screamed.  We've hurt each other's feelings and we've shown grace and moved on.  We've been hateful and loving and funny sometimes all in the same ten minutes, and we've been so frustrated with each other that we could both spit.  Yet we have both survived, and for the first time ever, our relationship (as rocky as it is) - is real

Slowly, we're learning to live with each other and to love one another as a true mother and daughter.

And remember how I said that the story doesn't end with the bittersweet tale I wrote yesterday? 

Here's how I know:

This morning, when I dropped Miss M off ten minutes late for ballet and told her to "Run for it!", she took off running down the sidewalk.  Halfway there, she looked over her shoulder...and when she saw that I was watching her, she flashed me a bright smile and waved.

This morning, Miss M looked back.

I am filled with hope. 
There is always hope. 
God is good, He is the God of healing and second chances, and
He loves us- both us and our children- more than we could possibly imagine.

Never give up on hope.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Three mornings a week, I pull our van up to the front of Miss J's elementary school about three minutes after the tardy bell goes off (I know this because I hear the tardy bell from my driveway when I'm shoveling kids into the van).  Two days a week, Miss J doesn't have school, which is why I'm not three minutes late for school on those days (although I do get to be late for ballet on Tuesdays).  And just so you know, it's not nearly as traffic-jammy in an elementary school parking lot when you're three minutes late, and I'm perfectly all right with you believing it's strategically planned.

Anyway, once we get there, I walk around the van and open the sliding door, at which point I extract my slow and distractable six-year-old (she is my daughter, after all) and begin our regular dropping-Miss J-off-at-school routine, which goes a little something like this:

I am bear-hugged and sloppily kissed.

I spit-clean the toothpaste from Miss J's face and remove any necessary eye boogers.

I readjust her hair bows.

I remind her to show the love of Jesus at school.

I am bear-hugged again and told that I'm loved.

I am told that I'll be missed.

I am waved to.

Miss J bounces about ten feet in the direction of the school building, where she pauses and I am waved to again.

I am shouted at that I am loved.

I return the "I love you" and shoo Miss J towards the school.

I am shouted at that I'll be missed.

Miss J turns around, approaches the door, then turns around again.  I am blown several kisses.

I laugh and shoo her away again, shouting "Hurry up!"

I am grinned at.  And then waved to.

Miss J opens the door and finally enters the building, where she turns around to wave goodbye.

She walks partway down the hallway and turns around to see if I'm still there.  If I'm there, she waves and blows kisses to me...every fifteen feet or so...all the way down the long front hallway of school.

Man, does this kid make my heart overflow.

This is what my kindergartner does every single day of school...without fail.  Sometimes, I play it up and throw her over my back and run her into the building, other times, if we're running more than the average three minutes late, I tell her not to wave and to just "Run for it!" (which cuts out about half the waving and puts the whole scene into chipmunk speed).  If I have to sign Miss J in at the office (please Mom, stop shaking your head...no one's ever died of being late), just when I'm sure she's halfway to her class, she pops her head back into the office to say "I love you!"

Such joy. 
Such love. 
Such security in her Mama's love and
Such sweet innocence in expressing it.

One of these days, I want to bring my camcorder to school and try to capture this window in time, when Mama's love meant everything.  I want to remember it forever.  Cherish it, knowing that this is how every little child should be allowed to feel at this age, as if they are the most treasured possession on Earth.  Allowed to feel precious.  Allowed to trust.  Allowed to love whole-heartedly and with no fear because their mothers have nurtured them and taught them how to love. 

Miss J's silly schoolday routine is a beautiful picture of what it means for a six-year-old to have a healthy attachment.  She's confident enough to be away from me for part of the day...she's not clingy or scared...she makes friends easily...loves her teacher yet loves and trusts me more...she's eager to come home to me and thrilled to see me when I pick her up.  Securely attached and beautiful.

Yet this story has a sad side, too.  It's bittersweet.  Because a few years ago, I had another kindergartner.  Another little girl that I dropped off every day three minutes late, hugged goodbye and told her that I loved her.  Another little face that I spit-cleaned, and a little heart that I reminded to follow Jesus.  But Miss M didn't have the same start to life as Miss J: her first "mom" didn't nurture her or teach her to love and trust, didn't make her feel like she was precious; the most treasured possession on Earth.

The difference between my girls hit me like an unexpected blow to the gut this year when Miss J started kindergarten, waving fourteen hundred times every morning with that silly grin and the light of love in her eyes.  Hug, kiss, smile, laugh, wave, repeat.

"Bye, Mama!  I love you!  I'm going to miss you, Mama!" 

You see, Miss M never looked back.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Think I Can

My personality is a wonderfully frustrating and obnoxiously silly combination of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and perfectionism...two things that do not mix well and which cause me to frequently ask God "What on Earth were You thinking?"

Let me give you some examples:

I am always running late.  Really late.  Even for important things.  I have no concept of time and very little natural sense of urgency, yet  I can't leave the house until I'm positive I have every single thing that I could possibly ever need with me...which makes me even later.  But to go anywhere for an hour without granola bars, bug spray and the coupon it took me fifteen minutes to find "just in case we pass Hobby Lobby and feel like stopping in" would be horrific.  Seriously.

I get really overwhelmed by what seem like really simple things to most people, like filling the dishwasher.  If I let myself dwell on the "enormity" of the task, I can't even function, yet  I have an innate need to fill it the exact same way every time, methodically placing every dish in its own specific place, and I'm insanely insistent about the spoon to fork to knife ratio in each compartment of the silverware holder.  I know.  Abnormal.  But trust me...my normal is not your normal.

As you may be able to imagine, this whole idea of uprooting our seven-branched family tree and replanting it somewhere else (along with all its junk) is looming in my future like a half-starved T-Rex peering through my front door.  The thought of packing up my life and moving everything I own from one house to another makes my brain short out. 

I can't fathom it...beginning, middle or end; it's simply too big of a task for an ADHDer like me to handle. 

Which is why I'm currently alternating between bursts of overwhelmed hyperventilation-inducing tears, waving of arms in characteristic crazy-Lisa style, and staring cathartically off into space.  Pinterest and Craigslist have fallen captive to my recent half-blank zoning sessions, where I'm searching and dreaming about the perfect things with which to fill my new house...you know, the one that I'll never get to live in if I don't actually remove my backside from the couch.
The cutest thing I've packed so far.

Don't get me wrong.  I am      s l o w l y  plugging away at all the little molehills-turned-mountains, but the obsession to pack every box "perfectly" (on top of my general state of overwhelmedness), means that my short-lived motivated sprints of useful activity are usually followed by feelings of utter despair.  And then tears.  And then arm waving.  And then Pinterest.

Did I mention I found the cutest little table on Craigslist this afternoon?  No, really - I did. 

My current life, stuck in a moving-from-one-house-to-another limbo, is nothing but a series of popped bubbles of useless emotion.  None of which is helping me pack, none of which is helping me clean, and none of which is going to accomplish a single darn thing.

And so I go into tomorrow clinging to the advice that I give regularly to my four-year-old son. 

"I think I can."     "I think I can."    "I think I can."   "I think I can."        
 "I think I can."      "I think I can!"

Here's hoping that come morning, my little blue engine will finally be able to lug its oversized caboose over the crest of that mountain.  That, my friends, would be perfect indeed.

Philippians 4:13

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. 
(Clinging to this promise with all my heart!)