“Ah-Ma!” She calls, “Ah-Ma help me! I need help!” She is calling to me in her littlest baby voice. My 8-year-old daughter, Mary is in the shower. It appears as though my new name is “Ah-Ma.” She cries and wails that someone must wash her hair and help her in the shower. She insists that her “Ah-Ma” must dress her after said shower. I assure her that I am there and I will sit outside the door while she puts her PJs on. She is on her own for help inside the shower but I promise to brush her hair when she is out. Then the sobbing starts. “I’m scared!” She yells, “I need you.” I reassure her of my presence, but I do not dispute her fear. “You are scared, honey. Tell me about it,” I encourage her. She screams louder and louder and kicks her little feet against the plastic wall of the tub. So far, she isn’t kicking hard enough to endanger herself. I sit outside the bathroom door and continue to affirm her “big feelings.” I tell her she is scared and mad. I encourage her to scream louder, to let it all out. Finally she reaches that breaking point. Her sobs quiet into sniffles. I peek inside the bathroom. She’s reached one little hand outside of the shower curtain so I take it in mine and hold it. The shower curtain is between us but we are together in her hurts.
“Mary,” I tell her when she is quiet, “It sounds like you were afraid that you were all alone in the bathroom. It sounds like you were afraid and you needed mommy to take care of you. Why don’t you come out with your PJs on? I can dry your hair with the towel and brush it for you. Then I can hold you in your blankies.” She mumbles affirmation to my plan so I back out of the bathroom and wait. Through the door I can hear her muffled voice, “But what about my teeth?” I know that she is really asking me to brush them for her. I give her a choice. She can brush her teeth before holding or after holding. She chooses “after,” of course.
After I painstakingly dry and brush her hair, I wrap her up in her “blankies.” They are quite possibly the most intense-smelling pieces of fabric I’ve ever encountered. She hardly ever lets me wash them. They are two battered blankets chock full of holes and their colors range somewhere between taupe and puke-yellow. I’m pretty sure one of them was originally a dish towel. These “blankies” have followed her from her bio-home into a foster home, and now into her forever home. Our home.
As I hold her tightly I am reminded of a much younger child. She nestles into a warm little cocoon and becomes calmer. I rock her gently and hum meaningless tunes into her ear. She snuggles in closer and kisses my cheek. Mary begins to giggle and laugh as I tickle her neck. I place the palm of my hand on her cheek and whisper, ” My baby baby baby.”
In these moments I have all the warm fuzzy feelings that come from being “mom.” My heart is so full in these loving snuggle moments that it might burst! This is what every mother must feel like when soothing their infant or toddler. I feel strong in my ability to soothe her with my very presence. She is beginning to slowly trust that I will never leave.
When we first adopted “older” kids, friends were afraid we would miss all of the great “baby fun.” Like what? Diapers? No thanks. The thing about our kids, and many kids in foster care, is that they often didn’t get to experience a caregiver rocking and feeding them and taking care of their needs. At least, not all of the time. For example, our 8 and 9-year-olds thought they should make their own dinner when they first came to us. Mary got the stomach flu once and insisted on cleaning her own vomit until I forced her to accept that this was a “mom job” and she should go to bed. They just didn’t have enough of those basic bonding experiences. So once traumatized kids like ours start to feel secure with their primary caregivers, they begin to regress. This is, in fact, a good sign. Regression consists of exhibiting behaviors more typical for a younger child. Our kids are developmentally farther behind at least emotionally speaking. The more Luke and I are able to meet these basic needs, the more attached our children become to us. We meet them where they are developmentally and grow their little emotional states until they are ready for their chronological age. And if they never get there? Well, more cuddles for us.
Sean, at 14, loves to hang out with his mama. He gives more hugs than any teenager I’ve ever seen. He kisses me on the cheek and proudly shows off his art work. He wants me to follow certain TV shows that he is into. He wants to have a mom and kid book club with me. Trust me, I am not at all complaining. He even wanted me to chaperon his 8th grade dance. He told everyone (and I mean every kid there!) “Hey, my moms here.” He introduced his friends to me and stayed to help me clean up the dance. I think he was proud of me!
In the evenings, after Luke and I put the little chickens to bed, Sean flops belly down across my lap on the couch. Sean is roughly the size of the couch and I’m, well, not. Until he settles in I struggle to breathe but I hold him anyway, at least until my legs go numb. At 9 o’clock I tuck him into bed. I tuck the covers in around him and rub his back until he falls asleep. I lean in and whisper “My baby baby baby.” Sometimes he holds my hand against his cheek until he falls asleep.
Carl and Marcus are the tough ones in our family. They will argue and debate for hours. If you say left, they debate the merits of right. Once in awhile Carl loves to be wrapped up and rocked back and forth. I feed him from his water bottle and we play “baby” although he is 9. I’ve been told they will only regress for as long as they need it. I’m hoping Carl needs it for a very long time. I love to squish Carl up. I whisper to him, “My baby baby baby.” 17-year-old Marcus will leap into Luke’s arms saying, “Catch me Pops!” Marcus is never afraid of falling. Luke can catch us all. It’s hilariously funny but I suspect it’s also meaningful for Marcus. It’s probably a good thing he hasn’t reached 100 pounds yet.
It’s hard for me to fully imagine what it’s like to be hurting and alone without anyone to answer your cries. Since we brought our chickens home I sometimes have dreams that they leave us in some way or another. When this happens, I wake up with a start, somewhat panicked. Even in sleep, Luke can sense my discomfort. He wraps one strong arm around me and I am anchored in this reality. I’m home. After 8 years of marriage, turning to him is like breathing, it just comes naturally. I reflexively seek and get support. Luke gets the same from me, of course, and until now I almost didn’t realize how precious and valuable that is. I’m not afraid of falling. Luke will always catch me.
Did we miss out on anything with older kids? In my opinion we lucked out. We are the luckiest. Go ahead and fall little chickens, we will catch you. Last night I drifted off on the couch snuggling with the chickens. I woke up to a gentle touch on my cheek. I heard a whispered, “My mama mama mama.” And I knew it was true.
If you’ve ever considered fostering or adopting I encourage you to get started on your adventure today!