lessons learned at the county fair

Thursday, July 26, 2012

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When Brenden came to live with us, that terrible, wonderful day that he stepped onto our driveway in his denim overall shorts, he had been moved six times that year by his caseworker. This was just one more of those times. She didn’t come back to our home for a month, but when we told him she was coming to visit, he went to get his shoes. Time to move again. She would later remark on how he would maintain a significant distance from her during those monthly visits. Not close enough that she could take him.

We worked really hard to make those visits safe. She worked even harder. She brought fruit snacks. She continually reminded him she was just visiting. She complimented his room, his dresser, his place in our home. She was the one who finally got to tell him officially that he was able to live here forever. We gave her every bit of credit for that decision, and so did Brenden. SHE was the one who ‘let him stay here forever’ in his little mind. Every discussion we’ve had about her since has been positive. He remembers her with affection, he speaks about her fondly, and he loves to recount the day that she bought him a Happy Meal and drove him to our house to live forever.

All of that to illustrate how surprised I was at his reaction when we saw her earlier this week. While Wendell and I keep contact, Brenden hasn’t seen her since our adoption day nearly a year ago. She is a leader for a 4-H horse club, and we planned to visit her when we went to the county fair. I prepped Brenden ahead of time; we have a cousin who shares her name, so I made sure to let him know that it was the caseworker that I was talking about.

We walked through the goat barn and petted a calf out on a walk with its owner before heading to the expo center where her club’s horses were housed. We passed some alpacas, and wandered up and down the rows, looking for the right area. I turned down the aisle she was in, saw her, and called back around to Brenden to come. He was with my mom, and when they rounded the corner, his reaction was immediate and intense. He grabbed my mom’s leg, wouldn’t let go, and the easiest way to describe the look on his face was terror. The caseworker did the right things. She got on his level, engaged him playfully, distracted him with her horses. He warmed up a bit, but the interaction was brief. We left to see the sheep, pigs and chickens, and the kids rode rides for the rest of the afternoon.

That night, he talked for nearly an hour while I lay beside him in his bed. None of his stories were about the caseworker. They were all about the trauma in his past. Some were true, some weren’t, I’m sure. A two-year-old mind doesn’t process facts in the same way that someone with more cognition and language would. He told me about some big feelings he was having. Those feelings weren’t about the caseworker specifically either, but that was obviously what had precipitated all the discussion.

Wendell and I have been struggling through a big decision about our children and a choice for their future. This was a confirmation that I wasn’t particularly looking for, but one that came nevertheless. Our boy isn’t ready for anything more right now. It took just one glance at a person that he has positive memories of to throw him into immediate terror and an intense reaction. I can’t imagine what would happen if we attempt to push him into something even more scary and unknown.

We will move forward, and he will be able to process more of this someday. That day is not today. At this point, I don’t even think that day will come for several years. I need to focus on building stability, safety, and unconditional love into my boy. I need to let him know every single day that I am glad he is in our family, that he is special, that he will never have to move to another family again. I need to continue to give him space to feel and talk about those big and scary feelings he carries around with him. I’ve been encouraged because he’s doing so well (and he IS doing so well), but this was an abrupt reminder to me. Even though there is victory coming, we are still in the middle of this battle. Brenden is not yet healed. The day where Brenden can live in absolute victory over his past is coming, but in the meantime, we groan with the rest of creation awaiting that redemption.

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