On the other side

Somewhere in all the  pre-adoption reading, I read about kids having strong reactions to certain times of the year.  Kids would, I was told, melt down or regress or act out during anniversaries of relinquishment, birthdays, and adoption days. Okay, I could see that in older kids, but the books said it happened with tiny ones, too.

I thought it was hooey.

I knew many adults who had tough times on annual anniversaries of deaths and divorces, but those were adults who could  look at a calendar and know what time it is.  Selam, however, was less than 3 for all of these events.  She was unaware of clocks or calendars.  I didn’t doubt that she might have memories of these things, especially sensory memories.  But annual melt-downs?


My name is Susan and I was wrong.

Last year, we were chugging along and things were getting much better in terms of adjustment and attachment and then we hit late July, and had a week of just flat out sleep-refusal.  She was clingy and teary.  It was really hard to drop her off at day care–she would attach herself to me and sob.  Her teachers would just look at me like “what is THAT?” as it was not her normal behavior.  She had accidents during the day.

Want to guess what time of year Selam was relinquished?

This last week has been more of the same. She won’t sleep. Will. not. sleep. She would prefer to physically attach herself to me.  She grabbed my leg and wouldn’t detach as I left school to go to work one day.  At pre-school, her teachers say she has been very anxious all week, asking several times a day about how much longer until Mommy comes back.

“It’s funny. I’ve never had her ask more than one time before.”

And then, just like last year, a switch flips and it’s over.  I don’t know what it is.  The same switch that turned it on turns it off again.  Yesterday morning she woke up tired. She was tired at school and slept two hours at nap.  She asked to go to bed at 8, fell right asleep, woke up at midnight, crawled into my bed and slept through until 7. And now she’s back.  I had a feeling she’s be back today.  I cut a bunch of corners on my sermon so I’d be ready for her return. We’ll go somewhere today, on an “exciting adventure” as she calls outings, just the two of us. We’ll find our way back to normal.

I guess she just has to go there, to this place that she doesn’t understand.  She doesn’t remember this event–not consciously at least (she was very young at the time), but her body remembers. Her body kicks in and says “grab tight. be alert. this world is not predictable. do not let that mommy out of your sight.”  She can’t talk about it. I’ve tried. She doesn’t know what’s going on.  She just knows that things are wrong, and she is afraid I will leave. “I’m sad,” she said yesterday morning, “but I don’t know why…..”

I guess she has to go there, and I guess she goes alone, paddling her little boat to that island of feelings she can’t really explain.  But so far, she seems to realize that I’m waiting for her on the other shore, gathering up twigs and branches to build a bridge back to here, to the apartment with the black and white cat, the yellow room full of books, and me.


One thought on “On the other side

  1. That last paragraph made my throat tighten.

    I’m a grown-up who is like that: I feel grief on anniversaries, even when I’m not totally conscious of the date. One time I was camping on a hot August day and woke up feeling really sad. It didn’t make any sense. I mean, I was having a perfectly fun time on the trip. I had been happy at that campfire the night before. All this unexplained grief that suddenly washed over me made no sense. Then I drove into town to buy a newspaper, and when I looked at the date on the newspaper, I realized what was going on. The date was the due date for a pregnancy that had miscarried months early. It wasn’t until I saw the printed date that I had any idea why I was feeling so sad.

    Hugs to Selam and you both. Dealing with those kind of feelings is difficult.

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