Monster Feet in the Night

The force is strong with Carl tonight. He is trudging up the stairs into our bedroom about every hour or so. I hear a quiet, “Mommy? Daddy?” and squint my eyes open. There is Carl standing in the doorway in Star Wars Pajamas and monster-feet slippers. Yes, the force is strong. The force of wakefulness.

All manner of emergencies happen. He has a stomach ache. He needs to blow his nose. He had a bad dream while he was awake  and he cannot fall asleep. I know exactly what this means. Mary has been gone for a week straight now. I believe that Carl is afraid because he was separated from his sister for so long in foster care. The 11-year-old boy who is a fierce athlete by day, has become a frightened child with monster-feet slippers at night.

What he really needs right now is a little nurture. What I really need right now is a little sleep. He asks to sleep with the cardigan I wore that day. I hand it over while realizing I’m missing about 8 cardigans because the children like to sleep with the smell of mom. I’m either going to have to go shopping, or go digging around under their beds. But first, I really need to sleep.

“Do you feel safe now? Do you have everything you need?” I hear Luke say this as he escorts Carl back to bed for the 6th time. And it’s only 1:00 AM. I do not know how people with infants do this! Luke then asks Carl to please stop coming up the stairs and knocking on our door. He explains that we all need to sleep. If Carl can’t sleep he can do one of his crossword puzzle books or read for a bit. Carl agrees in a sincere and determined voice.

2:00 AM rolls around. I am woken by something. Carl is standing at the bottom of the stairs (not going up) and whisper-yelling, “Mommy? Mommy!” Well at least he isn’t banging on the door to our room. He has a headache this time. I administer tylenol and take him back to bed. Hey, he attempted to follow Dad’s directions.

3:30 AM comes and, believe it or not, I am woken again by a little whisper-shout from the bottom of the stairs. “OK, Kid.” I say, “You’re scared. Grab the nesting materials from our closet and set up a place to sleep on the floor near our bed.” He agrees with palpable relief.

It’s that little high-pitched voice that gets me. Soon it will change and deepen. He will only be my little guy in Star Wars PJs for a little longer. Carl rustles up a soft bed made from a large down-feather quilt and several different kinds of “nesting” pillows we keep on hand for the kids. It’s usually used for watching movies. We don’t co-sleep, but whatever. Did I mention the part about 3:30 AM?

Finally, we sleep. The next morning I stumble downstairs like a bleary-eyed zombie. My face feels puffy. Carl is industriously putting his things in his backpack and getting ready for the day. I can’t seem to manage actual words so I grunt and mumble my way over to the couch. That’s when Carl hands me a fresh cup of coffee. Just the way I like it. My little big guy is now dressed in Nike sports gear and operating kitchen appliances.

Soon the days of monster-feet and the little voice will be gone. He is growing so quickly. Adopting kids from hard places is a long, difficult journey. But it’s amazing. It’s moments like these where It’s nighttime again, once more. These are the moments I can reflect and write about our lives. It’s all worth it. He has learned to show empathy. He has learned to trust. He has–wait…is he up? AGAIN?! Yes, he’s up.

What I meant to say was:

Please send coffee!!!!


**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

family, Star Wars

Does Kylo Ren Have Reactive Attachment Disorder?: RAD and the New Star Wars Movie


I know I can’t be the only trauma mama out there rooting for the new villain, Kylo Ren. When I watched the new star wars movie, my heart lurched when this new character removed his mask. The new Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens,” is rife with analogies for Reactive Attachment Disorder. Perhaps I over-identified with the character of Kylo Ren. Perhaps I have been in the trenches too long, and see RAD lurking around every corner. Perhaps I’m just a mom who can see the potential of a lost boy behind the villain in a movie.

I don’t really know anything about Star Wars. I’m not a movie critic. I’m just a mom identifying with a movie. The character in the movie isn’t adopted, and wasn’t written to be a person with RAD, as far as I know.

Whatever the case, I was riveted to the screen. I predicted the boy’s treachery  long before it happened. The first glimmer of attachment disorder came in a scene relatively early on. The character Kylo Ren had the female protagonist, Rey, captured in a cell. He was attempting to draw information out of her. She said something along the lines of she couldn’t tell if she was talking to a “man or a machine behind that mask.” So he took it off. There was Kylo, a perfectly normal boy. He didn’t have any facial disfigurement, scars, or any visible reason to hide his face. So why the mask?

It was in this moment that I began to see the mask as a protective layer between his emotions and the world. If he kept a barrier between himself and others, then he could continue to wield his power as if he were something other than human. But human he was, at least to me. In the scene where his mask is removed, the hero, Rey, looks into his eyes and begins to see his true fears. Kylo recoils instantly and retreats to his mask once more. After all, sharing feelings, allowing emotional intimacy, these are scary things for those with RAD. This is where I sensed a “disturbance in the force,” so to speak.

Later in the movie we learn that Kylo Ren is really the son of Princess Leia and Han Solo. In this scene, Kylo is alone in a room with Darth Vader’s melted mask. He is begging for strength to remain with the “darkside” while lamenting that the presence of Han Solo was bringing up old feelings. I know I’m not the only mother who experienced this very thing from a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. A child tries to renounce their love for a parent or primary caretaker. They panic when feelings towards this person begin to surface. I knew in this moment, that the character of Han Solo was doomed. I knew it for the simple reason that I could see there was no way that RAD, the dark force, or whatever you call it, would allow this boy to feel love towards a father figure.

That struggle is real for kids with RAD. The scariest thing they must face is their own growing attachment. To feel love, even a little, for a caretaker seems deadly to them. In order to get rid of the threat (love) the person with RAD must take very drastic action to sever the attachment. I know when our teenage boys got too close, they took drastic measures. They said anything, did anything, and in the end, physically hurt me, in order to burn that tie. I am no stranger to death threats, plans for my murder, and other homicidal ideations. After all, the bigger the love, the bigger the action will need to be in order to be rid of it. That’s how I knew Han Solo would die.

What I didn’t plan on was the absolute perfection of the RAD metaphor played out in Han Solo’s murder scene. I couldn’t look away. It’s only a movie after all, so how could they have gotten this so perfectly, truly accurate as a metaphor for RAD?

Han Solo calls to his son and approaches him. The boy removes his mask. There it is. The vulnerability. The human connection. Kylo says that he is being torn apart. He doesn’t want to feel this pain anymore. How many attachment-challenged children have felt the same way when confronted with the love of a parental figure. Kylo asks for his father’s help, and of course, Han replies that he will “do anything.” In so offering up this unconditional love and support, Han literally aides in his own death. He holds the lightsaber, with his son, as Kylo slices it through him. Our own giving is too often our own undoing. We give without thought to our own needs. As parents, we put our children first. Children, of course, deserve nothing less. But RAD? Rad will take this from a child. RAD will twist this into something terrifying and threatening.

The most poignant moment in the whole movie, or at least for me, is not the stab itself. The slice through Han Solo’s chest is just like so many parents have felt their own hearts town asunder. It’s what happens next that seals the RAD metaphor for me. Han Solo, now impaled,  reaches a hand up and and cups the face of his son. In this moment, he shows his unconditional love. He still sees the boy he loves, no matter his actions.

Parents who are in the trenches with me will empathize. I know I had absolute empathy for that moment. No matter the actions our children may take, they are not villains. They cannot defeat our love. Yes, they can sever ties, and destroy relationships, and walk away seemingly unscathed. But I know the truth. It is not our children who are the villains. It is the RAD inside of them that can do this to a family.

As the movie ended I found myself in a strange position that so many other RAD mamas are probably in. I was rooting for Kylo Ren. I am pulling for his redemption in future movies. I don’t believe that his character is beyond hope. In him, I saw a boy who was afraid to love. In him, I saw the two sons I lost. He may be the new antagonist where the Star Wars franchise in concerned, but not to me. Never to me. I will always see RAD as the true villain.

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