Monday, February 11, 2013

On not celebrating Tet and Chinese New Year

Yesterday was the lunar new year. Usually we do something to observe it and I had even planned on doing so this year. I had special food, was going to make a cake, and even had a craft planned. But we ended up pretty much ignoring the day, though we did eat some of the food.

Why did we do this, particularly since observing the lunar new year is a 'thing' (as in practically a requirement in order to be considered a 'good' parent) among adoptive families with Asian children? And since we even had made a special trip down to the Vietnamese market to purchase some of the food? Well, the short answer is that sometimes you need to let go of something that is good in order to accomplish something better.

I think it all begins back in that Vietnamese marker last Friday. Parenting children with a trauma history is all about knowing triggers. And I'm usually pretty good at knowing what TM's triggers are and how to avoid (or at least mitigate) them. Early on, anything associated with Vietnam had been an issue, but in the past several years this has lessened and I don't think about it so much now. We eat Vietnamese food on a fairly regular basis and TM enjoys it without any issues. So, the weekend took me by surprise. The only thing I can trace back to that could have been a trigger was entering the Vietnamese market.

Vietnam has a certain smell to it. Each country does, I think, because each country's locale is different as well as foods that are typically prepared along with all sorts of other variables. But to me, Vietnam's is unique. (Not unique in a bad way, just very different from home and I actually like it.) Each time I walk into a Vietnamese market, it smells as though I am back in Vietnam. (The winter coat spoils the illusion, but a girl can wish.) And on the trip last Friday, I noticed that TM was particularly struck by what he smelled... and saw... and heard. He was much more engaged with everything in it than he had been the last time we were there together. I actually considered it a good trip and wrote off the escalating degree of talking as over-excitement. It should have been my first warning sign.

We'll be discussing this with the therapist today, but I think all those sights and smells triggered memories (if they are even that tangible) that had been hidden far, far away for a long time. With our long-term therapy work, those feeling and memories are a little more accessible. And it is always far easier to rage to mask the pain than to actually deal with the pain and fear. (This is my explanation for the not-so-great weekend, and I'm going to continue living with this explanation for the moment because it at least provides me with a story that has some forward motion in it. I'm not quite ready to go to the place where he is getting worse and not better. I deal with my pain and fear through denial. A place in which I am quite happy stay.)

All that to say, I could see that TM was stressed beyond belief that we were planning a big party for Tet. Obsessing about what was going to happen, when it was going to happen, what we were going to eat, when we were going to eat, etc., etc. interspersed with some really difficult behavior was my clue. I finally just mentioned that we were going to skip it all. I would fix the ginger chicken, rice, and cucumber salad (which is a normal dinner for us) and that would be it. I helped TM make a small quilt (I'll show pictures when it's done; it's pretty darn good) and the rest of the day went calmly. Taking the pressure off from the holiday made a huge difference.


Gretchen W said...

L. was crying hysterically on Saturday afternoon, inconsolable that she was "so lonely, so lonely." I was frustrated and short with her, pointed out that she had a sleepover date with her friend C. on Friday night and that she had spent all morning playing with another friend, M.

She was crying so hard she couldn't breathe at one point.

She finally stopped crying and helped me make dinner and she seemed okay for the rest of the night.

Sunday morning I had to wake her up at 10:45 to get ready to go to our Lunar New Year party with our Families with Children from Asia group.

She rolled over and looked at the wall and said she didn't want to go. She said she hated adoption. She said she never gets to see her mommy.

I sat down and asked if she meant her first mom. She said no. I asked if she meant her foster mom - she said she didn't want to talk about it. I told her I was ready to talk about her other moms whenever she wanted, but she kept saying she didn't want to talk.

She refused to wear red. She refused to wear her ao dai. Ultimately she wore a blue blouse and a black skirt and spent the entire party either on my lap or the lap of the one other mom in FCA that she really feels comfortable with, or playing with some of the much younger girls - 3 year olds and babies. She didn't want to talk to the girls her age, she didn't want to make a paper lantern, she didn't really want to eat much, even though they had her favorite things...

It's clear to me that the day was a trigger for her.

thecurryseven said...

I'm so sorry you had a rotten weekend as well. I can always count on L. to help interpret what is going on inside of TM's head, though. I wish we lived closer, I think it would be good for these two to really get to know each other and not just stare at one another every year or so. I think what goes on inside their heads is so much the same, it just comes out in different ways.


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