The first step is to penetrate the clouds of deceit and distortion and learn the truth about the world,
then to organize and act to change it. That's never been impossible and never been easy. ~Noam Chomsky

Monday, December 27, 2010

Last Christmas vs. This Christmas

I passed Christmas Eve 2009 lying in bed, in pajamas, from dawn until dusk, reading adoption and infertility blogs. After reading two years of posts from one specific blog I wrote a comment that went something like "Thank you. I've just spent Christmas Eve with you/your blog archive. I'm so sad, can't get out of bed, etc etc." That must have REALLY made the author's holiday merry and bright. (By the way I didn't know her at all.)

This Christmas Eve there was no time for pajamas and blogs and wallowing in self-pity.
This Christmas Eve there was a tiny striped sweater dress filled by a tiny excited girl who couldn't stop jumping on the chair and laughing.

There were candles, carols and cookies at church.

And potato crab soup for dinner.

There were grandparents with gifts.

Fresh owl pajamas. And a complex play kitchen to assemble.

It went by too quickly. I would have liked to make it last until midnight. But there is only so much you can ask of an 18 month old. After dinner we could only get through a very rapid round of Away in a Manger and the fastest version of the Night Before Christmas ever read before someone had to be packed off to bed.

The next morning Ariam received far more presents than she currently knows what to do with. Most are packed back into her closet for future boring afternoons. Two talking/moving babies, a baby stroller, and a gigantic play kitchen topped her favorites list. (She took her mothering/cooking job very seriously as you can see from the photo below. J says we set the feminist movement back at least a hundred years.)

Daddy received a grill. Ariam was very helpful.

Last year my baby was spending her last days of 2009...somewhere else. Not with our family. Not yet in Addis Ababa. I wonder who else is thinking of her this week.
(Notice her eyeing the kitchen set? She couldn't be bothered to smile for a group pic.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Attachment stress and the holidays

The day after I submitted our 6 month post-placement report stating that we had "no concerns about Ariam's attachment" we began to have concerns.

A few little questionable moments - my inability to console her during a few nights of wake ups, her complete disinterest in me when I picked her up from a friend's house, a huge crying tantrum at my birthday lunch - reached its peak on Sunday.

On Sunday morning we, the three of us, were the family chosen to light the advent candles at the front of the church. I dressed Ariam in her cutest purple outfit - striped tights, velvet tank dress, white blouse - gave her a Sunday morning bath and hair style, and sang Christmas carols all the way to church. It is a wonderful feeling to enjoy Christmas carols at church this year and not end up a sniveling pool of tears.

So we lit the candles, marched proudly back down the aisle, and I carried Ariam up to the church nursery like I do every week. She has been attending the nursery for a couple of months (it is one hour in a room full of awesome toys and fun little friends) and sometimes we stay with her but usually we drop her off and head back to the service.

On Sunday something compelled me to return to the nursery halfway through the service. She was sitting at the little round table on a toddler chair eating her goldfish crackers out of a papercup with about 8 other toddlers. She saw me and said "hi!" but didn't make a move to come to me, which was ok.
But then she started messing around on her chair and before anyone could catch her she had toppled the chair backwards and hit her head. The nearest nursery worker scooped her up and Ariam cried into her shoulder as she rushed her over to me.

Because of course the woman assumed a crying toddler would want her mommy...right?

Apparently not. Ariam refused to come to me and continued to snuggle into this TOTAL STRANGER (to her) while sobbing very melodramatically. I sort of yanked her out of the woman's arms and forced her into a cuddle but to be honest I was in shock and dismay.

This hasn't happened before. We've had no reason to question Ariam's attachment. She runs to either of us when we get her from daycare full of smiles and hugs. She clings a little when we go somewhere new. She doesn't try to hug or kiss or love on strangers, or even friends. It took her awhile to warm up to her Aya and Papa (grandma and grandpa) even.

But looking back over the last month I can see how we have relaxed our attachment standards. We've become complacent as we've assumed that the attachment bonds are strong. This month alone Ariam and I have traveled for five days without Jeremy, we had her at daycare (Mondays and Tuesday), at a friend's house 2 Fridays, and babysat by another friend (once in our house and once at hers) twice. Oh, and we've had her in the church nursery every Sunday. We have been distracted. Busy decorating the house. Traveling. Frantic to unpack and renovate. We have relied on Baby Ein.stein a bit too heavily for entertainment. We have not lingered in play or cuddled without glancing at the clock. We haven't had leisurely family meals or weekends uninterrupted by errand running and Christmas shopping.

And look what this has gotten us. A broken attachment thread.
Sure there are many threads we've woven together with the good stuff, but I think the holiday frenzy has set us back.

Ariam doesn't care about presents. She barely even acknowledges the giant green tree in our living room.
She wants us and if we don't give US to her then her attachment...I don't know...wanders? Is that the best way to describe it?

I am pulling it together and regrouping. Attachment style. We are shortening daycare hours as best we can. No Fridays at a friend's house for a few weeks. No church nursery unless one of us stays there with her. I'm trying to think of some things that she and I can do together that get us out of the house and having some fun while restringing some of the attachment threads. First order of business needs to be less concern about grocery shopping, Target errands or post office runs and more focus on things that little girls enjoy doing!

Do you have any suggestions for navigating the holidays? How do you get it all done while promoting attachment?

Thanksgiving at the Olson house - TX - 2010