When I went off in March to a K*ther*ne Leslie workshop Tortuga has a visceral response to my leaving him. It was the first time he seemed genuinely fazed by being away from me. Since that day we noticed he was more affectionate without prompting. At night when I tuck the kids in I have a different "ritual" with each kid. With Corazon I usually say something like "I love you more than beans and rice" and she says "I love you to the moon and back." Both of these are from favorite bedtime books of ours. With Tortuga just wrestling him into bed and keeping him there has always had its own challenges so in our case I will usually say "Good night" and wait until he says "good night" back. Then I say "Duerme con los angelitos" (Sleep with the angels) and "dulces suenos" (sweet dreams) to which he replies "you too." Then I say "I love you." He usually doesn't respond unless it is to say "I love you too and tomorrow can I get ______." I stopped saying the "I love you" part back when we started this new intensive work with him and replaced it with "you did really well today and should be proud of yourself" or "hopefully tomorrow you will have a better day." I wanted to take the "I love you" pressure off of him and honestly he didn't seem to notice. Something quite interesting happened when I got back from that workshop. That very first night he said "I am so happy you are back mom I can't stand it." and as we said goodnight he said "I love you." No prompting or anything. Well ever since then he has said "I love you" as we say goodnight. He has only had 1 or 2 nights in the last 2 months when he hasn't done it and on both occasions it was because he was really mad about something. My response has been to say that I love him too and that I hope his anger lets him sleep soundly. I have let him initiate it each time at night and that seems to work for him.
Since that time we had also decided that we needed to provide more opportunities for him to be away from us (me especially) and the family if possible so that he might learn to recognize and appreciate what he has when we aren't there. So, in the last several months we have increased our "family time" activities that he participates in AND when he behaves in highly inappropriate ways we create "family time" activities that he misses out on. That means we have used a babysitter a few more times and each time he has been quick to tell me how much he missed me. Even when I go on errands and don't take him he bombards C. with questions about where I am and when I am returning. He also tells me that I was gone "a long time" even when I was back in little more than an hour. I think all of these things are signs of growing attachment. To be honest we are also doing this to give the other kids a greater sense of "normalcy" because it is clear that they are so much more relaxed when he isn't around. Even Pollito is a different child. We notice that he has picked up many of Tortuga's (mis)behaviors and attention-getting strategies so I have had to step up the therapeutic parenting with him.
Last weekend we took that mini-vacation to the beach because we wanted everyone to participate in a fun family activity before we did a family activity without Tortuga. C.'s work had presented an opportunity for us to spend a few days at an indoor water park. We wanted to do it but knew it would be too much for Tortuga (lots of high stimulus activities, lots of other kids to play with, me supervising all 4 kids, etc.) so we had declined. In the meantime we had spoken with C.'s dad about possible taking Tortuga camping for a few days as an 11th birthday present if we could work out the logistics. Come to find out the timing for the camping trip worked out so that we could accept that offer to go to the water park! So yesterday, we put Tortuga on a plane to Pennsylvania to visit with his grandparents and go camping and this weekend we head off to the waterpark!
We didn't tell Tortuga until the night before he left and his response was absolutely appropriate. His initial excitement was tempered by fear when he realized he would be flying alone. He is generally afraid of almost everything so flying is no exception. After I talked him through the help he would get and how the flight attendants would help him he seemed better. (He also had to recount a dozen or so scenarios on how the plane could go down and crash...) Then he said "but mom, I don't think I can stand to be away from you!" and he started to cry. I went over and put my hands on his shoulder and told him I would miss him too but that he was going to have a whole lot of fun. He got off ok with only a few tears and should be off camping as I write this.
I have to admit that it has been so nice for all of us to have a little space from him and hopefully it will help him too.