Both Mrs. Broccoli Guy and Law Mommy have posted recently about how they and their new children are faring. (I feel particularly connected to these women since we all used the same agency, all adopted the same age of child, and were all waiting together to bring our children home.) It makes me realize that I haven't written about TM in a while. TM has been home for about 14 months now. His...and my...adjustment continues. I find this to be a difficult thing to write about. TM has made so much progress in the last year. When I look back on last summer it hardly seems it is the same child that I am thinking of. In so many ways, he behaves completely age-appropriately in all areas of life. But...(you knew it was coming)...there are still some things that don't seem quite right. My compulsive reading on all things adoption and attachment related never stops, so here's what I've found. TM's oddities seem to match the behaviors of people suffering from trauma. Most of the time his behavior is fine, until he comes across one of the things that trigger his fear and anxiety. Up until this past week, I knew that vacations (and hotels and suitcases) and the Vietnamese language cause him to lose self-control. Well, this week has been the week of discovering more triggers, the most extreme being talking to someone using the camera phone on the computer. I had a suspicion before, but his transfer to us last summer was incredibly traumatic for him and we're still dealing with the fallout from that. All the things I mentioned are directly related to our adoption of TM last summer. Knowing what the triggers are seems to be half the battle, though. The first time we used Skype (so the children staying with us could talk to their parents) TM became pretty nutty...he looks very hyperactive when triggered...and when J tried to carry him to a different room he was thanked by a swift kick to the shins. But we have discovered something which helps him calm himself and short-circuits the fear response....the sling. Just holding him in my arms doesn't seem to do much, but by putting him in the sling, the extra fabric seems to act as swaddling which he finds quite calming. The calming results are nearly instantaneous, he will relax and his head on my shoulder after being in the sling for less than a minute. As an experiment, the second day I put TM in the sling before we joined everyone by the computer...and it worked! So, it seems if I know the triggers ahead of time I can take preemptive action and he will remain calm. You can bet that come January, he will be in that sling long before we walk into the government building for K's Giving and Receiving Ceremony. He missed Ho Chi Minh's statue the first time and I'm not taking any chances on giving him a second try. (If you need more clarification, look in the archives under July 2006 and scroll down to Chapter 7.)
A part of me hesitates to write this because I don't want it to sound as though I regret adopting TM, or I don't love him, or that my life is completely miserable because he is our son. None of those statement is true in the least. TM's trauma is not who he is. Who he is is a bright, talkative, thoughtful, energetic, obedient, cheerful, dinosaur-, plane-, and truck-loving boy whom I am proud to call my son. Dealing with his trauma is just something that is a part of life. It seems little different to me than the fact all of our biological children have to suffer through the bad collision of genes that make up their mouths. They all have very narrow mouths and very large teeth, the roots of whom do not dissolve on their own, but must be pulled. We know our orthodontist and oral surgeon quite well by now, and there are still two to go. But wearing braces and expanders does not define them, even though application, care, and maintenance (not to mention the price) of all that metal can be a pain...it's just what has to be done. I think the tricky part is that it is so much easier to apply this to issues that can be seen, it is more difficult to do this when the issue is emotional. It takes a while to find out who the real child is underneath the fear.