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.