"Will it be bad for the boys to see me?" This is what Tortuga and Pollito's mother asked me on the phone this week as I was trying to schedule a time to see her. She told me her "counselor" told her she shouldn't be selfish and ask to see the boys because it "could be really bad for them." My heart ached as I reassured her that she should see the boys and that it would not "be bad" for them. I tried to explain that in some ways it might be painful for them (as she acknowledges that it is for her) but that nothing could change the fact that she is their mother and that they are connected to her and NEED to have contact especially as they work through their understanding of who they are and where they have been. We firmly believe this is true for all of them and we want them to grow up knowing that we acknowledge and recognize not only the good things about adoption but also the range of feelings and conflict and pain and trauma that adoption also brings.
One of the main reasons we take this trip East each summer is to give the children a chance to visit with their family members (birth) and to continue to help them "integrate" the many parts of their life story. Our two oldest have a general "out of sight, out of mind" tendency and until this past year Corazon would immediately "forget" everyone's name no matter how long she had known them. The trips to Massachusetts help her "remember" and also allow her to gain perspective and revisit some old experiences from a healthier place so she can let go of so much of the "junk" that clutters her perspective of herself. Tortuga has a poor memory to begin with and his perceptions of reality (good and bad) often work against his being grounded in reality. It can get pretty bad because he firmly believes that if he thinks something it must be true and we have to work hard with him to help him sift through what we call the "stories" in his head. Returning allows him to articulate his thoughts and perceptions so that he may work through some of his stuff. Without a doubt being back here brings back old feelings and memories that are both positive and negative so we anticipate that it may be difficult and painful (for all of us) and we prepare as best we can for that. We also strongly believe it is exactly what they need as they continue this process of healing from their PTSD and attaching to us in a healthy way.
As we approached Boston this summer I noticed a visible change in each of the older kids. Corazon's anxiety increased visibly and she got more and more clingy with me. When I tried asking her what was going on, what she was thinking or feeling, etc. I was met with a blank stare and a muttered "nothing." I started talking to her about what I thought might be going on and was normal. She finally opened up a little to say she got a "funny feeling" in her stomach like excitement and happiness but also like she feels at a gymnastics competition. She couldn't put any other thoughts or explanations to the feelings she was experiencing but it reminded me of how much our bodies can hold memory even if we have no conscious recollection of the memory. We have started each morning with tapping and rubbing about feelings and her being a "good kid" because I think her strongest feelings are those of being "bad" and "unloveable" which she used to articulate as a four and five year old but doesn't consciously recall these days. The tapping and rubbing are helping her tremendously and have kept her from getting too dysregulated thus far. We will visit with her mother, brother, and sister (plus niece and nephew) AND most importantly her aunt, who I think was the strongest attachment figure she had as a younger child. I think this is the person she misses and the one who she feels the most abandoned by. For the first time ever Corazon has come up with questions she has for her family (she tends to pretend she has no interest) and she has expressed a desire to see her 15 year old brother who lives in an RTC.
Tortuga is more challenging and complex. He has romantized all of his experiences in Boston and with his birth mother. In his mind she was the best at everything, gave him everything he wanted, cooked the most amazing meals, played with him all the time, and each fun experience he has with us is not quite as good as the SAME fun experience with her. While these are natural coping strategies for him and stem from the love and attachment he has for her they really complicate his life. These feelings don't allow him to fully engage in the life he has now and he is always comparing it to the romantized one and it falls short. We are working on that in order to help him separate fact from fiction but more importantly so he can give himself permission to love us and not feel like he is betraying her and his love for her in some way. We are working on that. What is worse is that when we do see her he is confronted with a reality that is hard. She doesn't usually look well and he is starting to see some of her challenges which he cannot reconcile yet with the way he wants to think of her. This usually brings us all kinds of feelings (and behaviors) so this year we have been trying to name these ahead of time as the opportunity comes up. So we will see his mother early next week and go from there. For Pollito this is more complicated and I think I have to write about that separately because he is in a very different place from Tortuga. Pollito also has to deal with Tortuga's overt attempts to influence his thinking about their adoption in ways that Pollito isn't ready to do or doesn't feel. I will have to come back to that later.