Thursday, February 26, 2009

wandering in the desert

I’ll jump right in. I find myself feeling like a failure on a daily basis as a parent. I wonder constantly if the issues that we face, Gallo and I, are simply the issues all families face or if they are a result of his adoption. Want an opinion? Surf the ‘net. Any opinion you want will be revealed.

This is normal two-year-old behavior. He’s establishing boundaries. He feels secure acting out at home. I’m doing everything right. Consistency is what he needs. Providing a safe place for him to explore his emotions.

He’s grieving his adoption. He doesn’t know how to put into the words the pain he is feeling. He’s angry. He hasn’t bonded with me. He will always have adoption trauma.

I have no idea what to think or how to feel about the going’s on in my house right now. As much as it sounds like it, this is not about me. I want to do what I can to make Gallo happy, to feel safe and loved. I have read dozens of books. They all have conflicting information. I’m truly seeking insight.

Gallo appears to be fully bonded with his father. He sees Mr. Beans as his primary care giver. I think it goes back to the second trip we made to Guatemala when we brought him home. The second night we were there I got sick – some stomach thing. It was hard enough for me to get out of bed without barfing everywhere. Besides, I didn’t know what it was (virus, food poisoning, etc.) and was afraid to make Gallo sick. So Mr. Beans took over. He changed Gallo; he fed him; he bathes him. Daddy took care of everything – including Mommy! We all got through it and came home.

Once home, Mommy stayed home from work for six weeks and became primary care giver. Mr. Beans was in school so he was home a lot in between classes and studying. Gallo got every bit of attention and focus. I was definitely nervous as a first-time mom and doubted my abilities all the time. Nonetheless, I plowed my way through it. Mr. Beans, already having two boys before Gallo, felt completely confident in his parenting abilities. Maybe Gallo picked up on that. I don’t know.

From the very beginning Mr. Beans and I split parenting responsibilities. We alternated bottles, baths and diaper changes to preparing meals, doing story time and putting him down for naps. Mr. Beans has gone out of town for a few days; so have I. We have long talks about one of us leaving then coming back. We talk about trips for days before they happen. We explain any changes in routines. Even if we thought he wouldn’t understand, we talked about it anyway.

Let me segue here to say that I have a degree in psychology. I have spent my entire adult life working with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I understand developmental stages in various populations. I have written numerous behavioral intervention programs for countless individuals, many of which had the developmental capacity of a two year old or younger. And the plans worked when followed by the staff that had to implement them. This isn’t to flaunt my resume. I’m saying all of this to explain I’ve not only got a bunch of book knowledge; I’ve got real world experience. Unfortunately at my house, I’m not having the same success. And I’m starting to wonder if it’s something more.

What’s got me rambling is this current behavioral situation:

Gallo has begun to refuse to do anything for me. Every time I ask him to do anything he says “no.” Time to take a bath? Time to go pee in the potty? Time to wash hands? Help Mommy pick up the toys? “no”

No big deal. He’s two.

Problem is that he sets in his heals and then ends up in a rage. Let’s take bath time. After dinner he takes a bath. This has been the same routine for two years now. He gets down from the table and I tell him to go to his room to get ready for bath.


I ask him two-three times and waiting approximately 10-15 seconds between each request. He says “no” or ignores me.

I then physically escort him to his room. I calmly make a request. “Take off your shirt.” I wait. I get a “no” and then he either ignores me or more often than not, he glares at me – completely challenging my authority or request or whatever you want to call it.

I then make the request again. Same response from him. I then tell him either he takes his shirt off or Mommy is going to do it. He says no and I then physically remove his shirt. As soon as I start to remove his shirt he starts crying and screaming “No I do it!” If I stop and allow him to do it, he sits there. If I request that he take off his shirt. He goes back to “no.’ If I start to remove it, he begins to scream “No I do it.” This cycle will repeat as many times as I stop to allow him to do it.

We do this for each stage of the routine: his pants, his pull up, going to the bathroom to sit on the potty; getting into the bathtub, allowing my to bathe him, drying off, brushing teeth, getting pjs on.

My reaction each time is the same. I make the request twice, waiting in between 10-15 seconds. I repeat the request each time using the exact same words and tone of voice – remaining calm. On the third go round, I give him the option of doing it himself or Mommy is going to do it. He says no; I do it; he screams; repeat.

In the evening situation, he ends up hysterical and screaming through the whole nighttime process. We finally get to his room where I’m exhausted and he’s out of control. He’s not even looking at me; he’s crying and sobbing and inconsolable. I usually end up holding him to me talking quietly “calm down… use your words… tell Mommy what’s wrong…’ Eventually he gets it together. I try to talk about listening to Mommy, following directions, not hitting or screaming or whatever he was doing. He sits quietly and listens but as soon as I stop talking he will then make some random comment “What color is that?” etc. as if to say – yeah, ok, that’s all over. New topic. We sit in his chair, chat for a bit, sing some songs (he listens to a CD as he goes to sleep), then we have “last song” and he goes into his bed. We have our nightnight rituals (blanket, duck, tuck him in, love you, etc.)

I then head for the liquor cabinet.

He doesn’t do this with Daddy. Mr. Beans gets a little farting around but that’s about it. No major melt down. No hysterics.

Mr Beans picks him up and he runs to him. He’s excited and rattles off his day. When I pick him up, he sees me, gets happy for a split second, the frowns and asks “where’s Daddy?”

He often tells me at dinner; “You don’t talk to Daddy.” I finally asked him who gets to talk to Daddy and he tells me “Gallo talks to Daddy.”

Recently in the mornings he has begun to say he wants to “stay with Daddy” rather than go to school.

The biggest development of late is his suddenly saying, “Don’t go anywhere Daddy”: and “Don’t leave” even when no one is going anywhere. We can just be sitting in the living room and he’ll announce that. He’s never saying this to me. In the mornings when I leave for work he just wants a hug and a kiss and tells me bye-bye. One evening in his room while we were rocking he informs me “I miss Daddy.” (Mr Beans had a late evening and wasn’t home for dinner and didn’t come home until after Gallo went to bed. This doesn’t happen often.) I ask “Did you miss Daddy at dinner?” He then says “I miss Mommy Daddy Gallo” (We often refer to the family this way… saying everyone’s name… it’s a game when we’re doing something, going somewhere, etc. )

Now the adoption trauma people would say he’s missing his first family and he knows it but can’t verbalize that. Except that he was never with his first family. His foster family, with whom he did spend the first 7 ½ mos of this life, were “mama” and “papa.” Never Mommy and Daddy. They only spoke Spanish to him. When I speak Spanish to him, he doesn’t seem to be interested.

I’m mental; I know it. He’s obviously bonded to his father and I’m thankful for it. I just don’t know how to facilitate a bond between he and I. Nearly every interaction between the two of us is a negative one. When he is sweet or wants attention from me, it feels like a total manipulation. I can’t explain it but it’s as if I am a means to an end. He’ll hold my hand if I have some food he wants. He asks me to pick him up but only to see what’s on the counter. He only runs to me if Mr. Beans scolds him. Of course I hate to indulge him because that undermines Mr. Beans’ authority in the moment. I cave sometimes because I’m terrified to pass up any moment when he reaches out to me.

So here I am. I’m continuing to search and read and listen. I’m overreacting; I’m seeing something very real. I’m listening to a mother’s intuition; I’ve got no intuition to hear. My doubts are because I am a first time mother; my doubts are because I’m an adoptive mother.

Where does one start and the other begin?