We all have that one child, don’t we? You know what I’m talking about, even if you don’t want to admit it! It’s the child that gets under your skin more than the others by either acting just like you or by acting so differently than you that you can’t even fathom understanding what’s going on their teeny head. It’s the child that you wish would sleep just a little bit longer in the morning (by at least four hours) instead of greeting you the moment your eyes pop open . . . and you wonder just how long they’ve been awake, waiting for you to stir, as thousands of thoughts and ideas and outfit choices and questions come spewing from their mouth. The child that just can’t seem to grasp that we need coffee before we can answer ALL OF THE QUESTIONS. It’s the child that follows you from room to room, so closely, in fact, that you have marks on the backs of your heels from 30th time they’ve been gouged by little toes that week. The child that requires ALL of your patience ALL of the time—No. Matter. What.
We all have that one child. And mine is my daughter. She is just a pint-sized shadow, a nugget of a human. She is seven (and a half… always add the half or they’ll have your head!), 40 pounds soaking wet, and cute as a button. Cute as a button that is on a pair of pants that are three sizes too small, digging its way into my flesh as the day goes on. She’s the child that I love, but that I would probably love more if she would ever go away and give me a chance to miss her!
When Taylor arrived at our home, she was barely four years old. She was even smaller then, although that’s hard to imagine, and she walked into our living room behind the caseworker and her brother, put her tiny hand on her tiny hip and said, “Yeah, you guys are gonna have to buy me new clothes, ‘cause they didn’t let me bring my stuff.” Then she gave the subtlest flick of her hair and pushed past us to see the rest of the house.
My husband and I had stood there somewhat speechless, shocked by her gumption. We had been told . . . told by a midget. Twenty minutes into the evening, Taylor was sitting on our laps, hugging and kissing all over us, and telling me how much she loved me—that I was the best Mommy she’s ever had. I think I knew right then, now that I look back on it. I think I knew it was RAD [reactive attachment disorder) before I even let my mind put those three little letters together.
Taylor has amazing qualities. She’s adorable, athletic, resilient, and she loves to help clean, just to name a few things. But for those of you that have been following this blog from the beginning of our journey with the kids, you may remember my frustrations about a few random behaviors. The make-up obsession (which led to stealing and wasting my expensive products, lying, making huge messes, etc.), the passion for trendy clothes but the inability to stop wearing dirty ones from the hamper (again with the lies—even when I could clearly see she’s layered like FIVE dirty shirts under her jacket!), but most importantly, her need to mother—more specifically, her need to hold/carry small children. Infants, toddlers, other children her age, it doesn’t seem to matter. Strangers, people we know, kids at the park, kids at school, babies picked up from strollers . . . yeah, this doesn’t seem to matter either.
I know the deep-rooted issues behind each of these behaviors, really I do. And my husband and I have tried a million and one therapeutic techniques (along with an equal number of not-so therapeutic techniques) and, naturally three and a half years later, she’s still being grounded to her room for picking up the babies. There are plenty of reasons I don’t want her doing this, not all of which I’ll go into detail about, but most importantly, she’s just too small and too immature to pick kids up safely. Children literally get hurt about fifty percent of the time that she touches them. Whether she’s hovering so close that she trips them, she sets them up on furniture and then walks away, or she downright drops them . . . I’m constantly having to explain the little ones’ bumps and bruises to others so they don’t call the authorities on us!
Most recently, Taylor gave the baby a near-concussion and then lied her pants off about it. Being the therapist that I am, I lost my mind on her. I banished her to her bedroom for the entire weekend. Meals and potty breaks—that was all she was allowed out for. It seemed the only way to keep the young ones safe, since she does it the second you turn to do dishes or stir the soup on the stove.
You guys, she was heartbroken! But I was not. For a full weekend, I walked without heels being stepped on, drank an entire cup of coffee without having to answer (or ignore) 200 questions, and I didn’t have to apply first aid to anyone in the house! So you can imagine my surprise when Saturday late afternoon, I started to miss her. (I know, it shocked me, too!) It’s just so much calmer with her in a different room that I almost mistook my feelings for her as the flu.
After finding no fever, I deduced that it was definitely me missing Taylor. However, I am one for consistency. And I told her that she was grounded for the weekend, so how could I go back on my word without losing whatever ground I think I might have with her? This is where parenting gets tough… constantly questioning every choice and weighing every option, and then wondering if I chose the right thing or not!
And it was in that moment of self-debate, standing at the top of the stairs, that I heard something coming from her room . . . Was she talking to herself or to someone else?
It didn’t take long before I realized what was happening. Friends, my daughter was praying. She was praying loudly and boldly, just like I’d taught her to do. She was not prompted, nor was encouraged to do it as a condition for “early release.” So, I stood there, tears streaming down my face, as I heard these words:
“God, PLEASE make me good! When you say to do it, I wanna do it. I’ll read my Bible and I won’t wear dirty clothes and I WON’T pick up babies no more. I need to stop trying and start doing!” (A quote from me . . . she has been listening!!) “I need to move on and be who I gotta be. I don’t want to go down the wrong path!” (I put daily Bible verses in the kids’ lunch boxes. Taylor had one earlier in the week about God lighting her path and showing her which way to go. So, not only did she read it, she memorized it and applied it.)
This is where she randomly burst into song in the middle of her prayer with the correct amount of Taylor-sized drama. “Je-sus, I gotta dooooo the right thing, Je-susssss . . . I gotta taaaaaake the right path, Je-sus . . .” Ok, so I stopped crying to crack up for a few minutes as she mooed like a cow going through a spin cycle, uttering those sweet words before returning to her prayer. Only this time, I could hear the tears in her voice.
“God, I have such a long way to go and my mom, she’s not being mean to me by keeping me in my room, she’s just trying to help me. If she dies, I’ll probably end up in jail, so you HAVE to help me, God! I need to do MY part so everybody can be happy. Please! Please help me be good, God. Please!”
Between heaving sobs, I was able to pull myself together and assess the situation with fresh eyes. The child who seems to never learn her lesson, the child who seems to only care about what she wants despite the harm it may cause others, the child who is that child to me . . . . Well. She was learning, wasn’t she? It’s so hard to remember that her behavior is not always “defiant”. Hearing her words to God reminds me that she’s not trying to be bad. She doesn’t want to struggle like this. Her desire to do the right thing is tantamount to her desire to over-mother the little ones, and it has caused a spiritual war inside of her, frustrating her, leaving her feeling like a failure. And where was I? Sipping my coffee and enjoying my healing heels.
I felt so small in that moment. So broken for her little heart. I walked down the stairs, took a deep breath, and opened her door. There she was, sitting on her bed, baby doll in her lap, tear-stained cheeks looking back at me. She suddenly burst into sobs and I moved to her, grabbing her up into my arms, letting her just weep her frustrated, cleansing tears.
I think I felt closer to her in that moment than I ever have. I, too, do what is wrong, despite knowing what is right. I, too, sin repeatedly and don’t seem to learn my lesson. I don’t have RAD. What is my excuse?
We were able to have a long heart-to-heart over the next hour, my daughter and I. We talked about safety. We talked about consistency in consequences. We talked about love. And we talked about forgiveness. I explained how God’s grace covers us fully and completely, no matter what we’ve done. I also explained how God uses just wisdom in order to teach us things in the middle of our sin. And I explained that I loved her—that I was so proud of her for letting God work on her heart.
Taylor remained grounded until the next day and she understood why that decision was held. But I think she and I both gained a huge sense of peace in our relationship from that hour we spent talking on her bed. And, although my heels are back to being marred and my state of mind back to that of Frazzled, I am filled with hope at the realization that she is, in fact, learning and growing and trying. You guys, what else matters?