You already know about how crappy I've been feeling of late about the state of my home and the lack of balance I'm feeling about our lives. But there's more to be said. And I need to tell you about my week, this week that is only four days old but feels like a year long, to provide some context.
The week actually started off incredibly well. You see, for the past year, Matthew has been asking if he and I could please go somewhere together for a day or two (by ourselves), so that we could experience things the way they used to be (read: pre-adoption). Though Geoff and I try very regularly to have one-on-one time with each of the kids, Matthew has been longing for an extended time alone with me.
Geoff and I finally made that happen this past weekend. On Saturday morning, I surprised and delighted Matthew with the announcement that he and I were spending a weekend at a hotel. And that's exactly what we did: We swam lots; ordered room service for dinner and for breakfast (what kid doesn't love room service??!); ate chocolate and hamburgers and pancakes; watched movies; played Uno and SkipBo; read books out loud; cuddled and talked in a king size bed; just had a great time. Matthew glowed the entire weekend and kept hugging me and saying things like "thank you, Mom, thank you!!" and "you're the best Mom in the entire world, Mom, and if I could choose any Mom in the world, I'd choose you!! Really - I'm serious!!" It clearly met some inner need, and I was glad.
While we were away, Matthew and I talked about how hard it was going to be for him to go back home on Sunday. At some level, I believe he thought that if he could just 'get away' from it all for a day or two, things would somehow magically be different/better for him when he got back home. Geoff and I obviously knew that this would not be the case and so I was very careful to ensure that Matthew knew that the transition back to being home with his siblings might be pretty tough.
Of course, being prepared mentally and experiencing it are two completely different things. And unfortunately, tough doesn't do justice to what happened on Sunday night. Just after Seth and Lizzie fell asleep, and while he was getting ready for bed, Matthew came into Geoff's and my bedroom, where we both happened to be at the moment, and he burst into tears. He was frankly inconsolable and we all crawled into Geoff's and my bed together and I cuddled and stroked Matthew while he cried and cried. He was so terribly sad that we had to be back home and said that he didn't think he could ever go to a hotel with me again because coming home was just too painful.
For the next 90+ minutes, Matthew lay with us on our bed and wept. It was massive, relentless grief pouring out of his soul. He kept crying out loud things like "please, can we just go back to the way it used to be?" and "please, can we just sent them back to Ethiopia and give them some money so that they can live with Gashi (their birth father) again?" and over and over and over "I just want it back, I just want it back, I just want it back."
It was, frankly, a horrible evening, and an outpouring of grief that just about broke my heart. What have we done to this child?
On the one hand, Geoff and I have noticed that Matthew has been coping better of late. The younger kids have been home for nineteen months now, and it's taken most of that time for Matthew to feel somewhat settled again. But we've noticed changes that have encouraged us greatly. On the other hand, though, we've also noticed recent signs that there was some tension building again. Although his anger has been less frequent than it has been in the past, when it has come out it's been sharper and much harder to manage. I sensed a crisis coming.
Matthew has desperately needed to formally, consciously, deliberately grieve the loss of his old life. For those who are Gordon Neufeld followers, as I am, you'll know that Matthew's tears were tears of futility. Tears of futility is a stage where a child (or any of us, for that matter) have to feel the sadness/grief of something that we cannot change, in order to bring us to a place of acceptance and adaptation. In other words, in order for Matthew to finally accept that he cannot change his family circumstances, and in order for him to adapt to this 'new' life, he first needs to be allowed to fully grieve what he has lost. After he has fully grieved it, he can adapt to the new circumstance and know that he has survived that which has been so hard. Experiencing the sadness/grief of futility is a building block towards genuine resilience.
And on Sunday night, he grieved hard.
It was very painful to watch.
We did not try to reassure him. It would have been very easy for us to say "...but Matthew, we know that you love them, too..." or "but Matthew, it's going to be better..." etc etc. But what he really needed was to feel the pain of it all and for us to acknowledge it and to let him know that it was ok to grieve and let his pain out. So instead of reassuring him, we tried to hold him in his grief by offering statements such as "Matthew, we know this has been sooo hard for you," and "I know you'd like to have them go away, and it's so hard knowing that they'll always be a part of our family" and "I remember, too, what it was like when it was just the three of us and I miss those times, too" etc etc etc. Each time we offered such a statement, a fresh and painful onslaught of tears came bursting forth.
Until finally there were no more. He cried himself out, and let out a huge sigh. I could almost feel the sense of relief that came with it, and perhaps the greater level of acceptance about his new life.
Geoff and I knew that, despite how hard it was to watch Matthew go through this, it was a great progress step and hoped that this might mark the end of the grieving/futility stage. But, we also knew that it was likely that there was more to come. Experiencing the sadness that accompanies futility is usually a process and, although this was an obvious step along that journey, it sadly isn't over yet.
Monday morning rolled around and the first little while was awesome. I hoped deep in my heart that his adjustment was finally done. That hope rose up high when, even before rolling out of bed, Matthew told Seth "I love you so much, Sethie" and he hauled Lizzie into his bed for a cuddle. It was a promising start and my hopes went up that he'd finally made the adjustment.
But within the hour, it became clear that not only had Matthew not completed his process, but it was actually worse. The past few days have been rather hellish with him. His temper has been turning on a hairpin, so quickly does he move from happy to foul-tempered...and it's mostly been foul-tempered. For the first time since the younger kids have come home, his anger has taken a very harsh verbal direction and he has been yelling things that I hoped never to hear from him: "I hate you, Seth/Lizzie" and "I wish you would just go back to Ethiopia" etc etc.
It's been terribly difficult to deal with. I understand his anger and he really has been through soo much; yet on the other hand, I have to protect Seth and Lizzie from these types of experiences because they, too, have gone through so much trauma. I've had to separate the kids for huge chunks of time, and when the horrid stuff comes out of Matthew's mouth, I have immediately had to separate him from the other kids and have waited out the rage with him. It doesn't usually last long, frankly. Within minutes, he is contrite and expressing remorse for his words, and he understands fully that these are words that he doesn't mean and shouldn't say. But in the moment, his rage simply gets the better of him and it's clear that his brain just cannot manage what his hands are doing or what his tongue is spewing. I just try to hang on to our relationship and tell him that I love him and that it's going to be ok. And when he's calmer, I hear him out and let him talk. Then I pull Seth and Lizzie aside and deal with their hurt and explain to them that Matthew doesn't really believe/feel these things but that when people are angry they sometimes do/say things that they later regret. I've also let them cry out their hurt and the mixed up feelings that they have as a result of a brother who sometimes adores them and sometimes says he hates them. I have spent hours upon hours this week engaged in many such conversations every day. It's painful all 'round and I'm truly exhausted emotionally.
Adoption is one of the most wonderful things I've ever done...and it is one of the hardest things I've ever done. It is beautiful and brutal. It is a commitment of the ultimate sort, and it is utterly exhausting. All of the time spent on these issues are just added on to the usual sorts of hard conversations we engage in every single day: About race and skin colour; about birth family and poverty and country issues; about God and justice; about why kids with curly hair aren't ever going to have hair like their Mom's; about why other kids don't always play with them and choose to play with peach-skinned kids; about why they were relinquished to an orphanage; about whether or not their birth father loved them; about whether their first mother is in heaven because she believed the same things we do about God; about whether they came from their first mother's uterus or mine; etc etc. The list is just endless - and each of those topics have been covered this week alone, in addition to having to deal with all of the brutal stuff surrounding Matthew throughout every day. I'm so tired.
A good friend told me just today that she has observed that I worry a lot about the kids, and that I have very high expectations. She also told me that she thought I am a good mother. That's all it took - I started to cry...not much, because the kids were near by and I had to hold it in...but enough that Seth noticed and was concerned. Just hearing that someone still thought I was a decent mother was like a balm. I needed the hug she gave me.
I also needed to hear from her the comments about my expectations and worries. She's the second person to tell me recently that my expectations are too high. To be honest, I don't know what to make of that and need to think a bit about it; but I'm taking notice. I don't know how to change that. How does one lower/alter expectations? How much about expectations is innate and how much a result of circumstance? Which are the expectations that need to be adjusted, and by how much? How does one deal with one's nature in the course of managing expectations - for example, if it stresses me out that my house is a tornado how do I change this? And, to be clear, I'm faaar from a neat freak and not a particularly well organized person; my house if often a little messy and disorganized...but when life is kinda hard, a disastrous house makes me feel just that much more out of control.
I'm so not wanting to sound whiny or ungrateful. I am grateful. And I know I've got it so good in so many respects. I feel guilty about feeling so hard done by of late. These kids are, all three, an answer to a zillion prayers and a symbol that dreams do come true. They are testament in my life of the reality of miracles. In my heart, what I hope is that what comes out here is not so much complaint, but an expression of exhaustion and, sometimes, of helplessness and my own growing sense of futility. Then, add to this my feelings of being overwhelmed by everything that's not getting done, and the state of my house, and my observation is that I'm just not in great shape.
Thank goodness I'm not depressed like I was last year at this time. At a big picture level, I'm coping. I also know (at least in my head) that there's a light at the end of this tunnel. But there's no doubt that I'm struggling with how to get through this and trying to remember that this is a season of life; part of a journey, and not the end point. Thank God.