Tortuga was very happy to have me home from Orlando. He wanted to be near me all the time. We went out to lunch when I returned and all he wanted to do was hug me and sit at the table with me rather than go play with the other kids at the playground. He genuinely seemed happy to see me and was quick to articulate that. He was also really angry at me for leaving and I could sense that just under the surface. He held it together until we got home and THEN it started. My usual statement of "Please go do your nighttime routine" was met with a GROWL, a stare-down, a stomp and muttering under his breath. A reminder to put away his clothes was met with open hostility and a resounding "NO!" A request that he change his tone resulted in him turning his back on me, yelling that I was "mean" and that he "didn't care." Before it escalated further I called him downstairs and like any smart mom asked him what was going on. Of course he responded with "Nothing!"
So I changed my strategy and said I knew what was wrong. I told him he was mad. He denied it. He was mad at me for leaving. He denied it. He was mad at me for not being home. Denial. He was mad at himself for missing me. "No!" he yelled. He was mad that he even cared. He started crying. Big tears rolling down his face. So I told him, "I know why you are crying. You are crying because you are RELIEVED. Even though you heard me say I would be back and I am always here, a small part of you was WORRIED. Even though you knew I would come home, You were worried." He kept crying and finally told me he had dreamed on both the Friday and Saturday that I was gone and he couldn't find me "no mater how hard I looked". He said he kept thinking about what would happen to him without me if I didn't come home. Poor kid...I felt so sad for him. Yet this was also huge progress. Of course I have know he misses me even when I leave him home to run an errand. But this was for 3 whole days and even though C. was home and he feels safe with her he was still worried.
The next couple of weeks were filled with ups and downs for him. He stayed mad and had to work extra hard to keep himself in check. Sometimes he has succeeded but other times...not so much. I know his anger is fear based but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with. I know he is healing and I know he is attaching but he still has much to work through.
A week or so ago they were all having an especially difficult time. I had spent ALL day trying to keep the older two regulated, the younger boy from hurting the youngest, and the littlest one out of the fray. By 4:30 p.m. I had the three oldest in bed for the night. I hadn't even fed them dinner! C. and I were putting together a meal for a family whose dad was seriously injured in a biking accident. We were focused on trying to be helpful and the kids were feeling "neglected" because our attention was focused on someone else. By the time I was finished preparing the meal and C. was ready to go deliver it, I had had enough interruptions to last me for the rest of the week! So I put them to bed. When C. returned she lit into the three of them for their behavior and attitude. She was upset because she had seen the kids, their mom, and grandparents and they were so worried about their dad because he had a head and brain injury and still didn't recognize them. She reminded them how precious life it and how wrong it is to take things for granted. Tortuga was the first one to burst into tears and he wanted to apologize for his "selfishness" as soon as she finished speaking. He is most definitely our most selfish and entitled kid so this was a huge deal for him as well. After that I fed them dinner and put them back in their rooms to read before bed so C. and I could have quiet time together.
We are seeing a wide range of expression of feelings from Tortuga. We are working hard with him to name these feelings and the thoughts behind these feelings. We are working to help him match his thoughts, behaviors and feelings because often there is a serious mismatch. For example, he will frown when something good happens. We have also found that writing is an excellent way for him to process his feelings and even though he complains at times about writing it is a strategy I highly recommend for kids who get triggered by verbal interactions. In fact sometimes I will "script" much of what took place and leave blanks for him to fill in the feelings, thoughts and actions. It is a little bit like a mad lib. This strategy has really helped him piece together some of what he is feeling and thinking.