The look of progress...and a few thoughts about Orlando
When Corazon joined our family she was four and a half. At the time she was a charmer who invited everyone to be her new mom or family. I quickly learned not to leave her with anyone except C. and one friend who struggled with keeping Corazon in check but who trusted my parenting enough to report everything that happened while i was off to work so I could address whatever needed my attention. Otherwise Corazon and I did everything together. I mean everything. I was working full-time and so was C. so when I was presenting a workshop or paper at a conference, she was right there with me. That first year she got to Montreal, Phoenix, San Francisco, Connecticut, New York City, and a whole bunch of other places with me because I could not trust what she might do or say.
During those first two years she was home I never left her with a sitter and every night I was there to put her to bed and to wake up with her at least half a dozen times each night. It was exhausting but necessary because the consequences of her sneaking out of her room at night would have been disastrous--trust me--we had several really close calls. When the boys came the pattern continued and I just stayed close to them (I now had 2 kids with RAD and a toddler). Then a few months after the boys came I had to attend an out of town funeral. I would be gone three nights. C. was 6 months pregnant and the thought of leaving her with a toddler and two raging kids was almost too much. How could I justify leaving her with them? Yet there was no way I could justify NOT going to this funeral. My friend needed me there and she was the only person in my life who could watch Corazon in short stints (while I taught my evening class or emergency school pickups.) There was no way i could leave. I did the best I could to leave things ready for C. to manage the kids and the night antics. I only hoped they would save their rages and payback for me. And save them they did! There was hell to pay and I SWORE I could never do that again. It was so much worse than I had anticipated.
A few short months later we learned that C. would need to have a c-section to deliver Milagro. We had a "plan" for when she went into labor and had coached 3 of our closest friends about how to manage their behaviors and needs. I had pages of notes for each caretaker and each kid's bag had been packed to minimize problem behaviors I am not kidding. Each article of clothing had been chosen because it didn't have pockets (stealing), string(choking, tearing), buttons (swallowing, pulling off, opening to display specific body parts, etc,) matched everything else in the bag (in case of accidents), met sensory needs, etc. etc. We were as set as we could be but now we would be away for three nights. We toyed with me staying home but decided that we both wanted to be at the hospital and share that experience fully in addition to providing whatever support C. might need as she recovered from surgery. With mixed feelings we sent them off with their respective caretakers but managed to see them daily during the time we were in the hospital. Neither of the older kids missed a beat as they waved goodbye and smiled as we said goodbye. Corazon behaved as though she was THRILLED to be away from us except for one time when she let slip that she "missed" us. Tortuga reported he was having the time of his life and urged us to stay away as long as possible. However, both of them were captivated by Milagro. They couldn't get enough of her during that hospital stay. When we returned home there was hell to pay AGAIN. It was an incredible blessing that Milagro pretty much slept through the night since the other kids kept me up all night long. We had rages and meltdowns and all kinds of unsafe behaviors and I once again vowed that would be it. Never again could I do that to them or to myself. And I didn't spend a night away from them again for the next two years.
Fast forward to last Spring when I went away for two nights to a K*therine L*slie workshop. This time I could see the signs of attachment. When I left (I wrote about it here) and when I returned (look here) there was real evidence that they felt something. Corazon still "disassociated" and C. reported that as soon as they pulled away she drifted off to sleep and then buried her head in a book. When I returned she smiled a greeting, said she missed me, then paid me back for days because I left her.
I have just returned from Orlando where I had the most amazing time with almost 70 incredible and courageous women who live this life. Women who get it when we say our kids are different. Women who get it when we share parenting strategies that would get us banned from most "mother's groups" and even our churches, schools, and parts of our extended families. Women who get it when we express our pain that the people closest to us--our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and even best friends-- think we are crazy and are causing our kids' troubles. Women who get it when we say that come hell or high water we are going to travel hundreds of miles to spend a weekend in houses with a bunch of "strangers" we met on the Internet because we NEED them. Women who rushed into the arms of said strangers in airports, driveways, villas, and exclaimed " I have been waiting for years to hug you!" and who cried at the thought of saying good-bye to these people they had only met 72 hours ago. Women who pinched pennies to make this trip possible, donated money on the internet to make it happen for another mama who was here, and put money in another woman's bra at dinner Sunday night so that someone else can have this kind of experience thousands of miles away this May! It was like coming home to a place where people don't need to know you, don't need to remember your name, don't need to hear all the details of your struggles and your pain, yet they can CRY your pain, SHARE your fears, FINISH your thoughts, LAUGH with you about your mistakes, TELL you you are a good mother when you have heard the opposite so many times you have started to believe it and CELEBRATE your victories with you. How often do we find solidarity like that with a bunch of strangers we would never be in the same room with if we didn't share this thing called trauma and the over-powering love we have for our kids who may not even know how to love us back? Amazing.
There was another kind of amazing that happened when I got home that these women can understand and celebrate. C. and the kids picked me up at the airport and we decided to go out to a late lunch/early dinner. They all told me they missed me and were happy to be home. Corazon sat behind me with her head buried in her book and tried to fall asleep. When we got to the restaurant I gave each of them a hug and told them I was happy to see them and sent them to the playground while they waited for their food. C. took this picture of Corazon and me.
She came over to hug me and started crying. When I asked her why she was crying she said she was "so happy to see me" and insisted those were "happy tears." I don't think I have ever seen her cry "happy tears." Ever.