No, not this one.
[Although I totally dug that song back in the day.]
Sometimes progress is hard to track. Sometimes, weirdly, it takes something going terribly wrong to make me realize how good it’s gotten. Like a few months ago, it might have been a massive tantrum, but I’d suddenly realize that we used to have those several times a day, and that I hadn’t seen one in weeks. We’ve gotten to the point where there are a lot more moments, like at the end of bath time or something, where something will happen and Dane and I will kind of look at each other and be like “It’s pretty awesome that I had completely forgotten about that particular behavior, right?”
But then sometimes it’s kind of like a sunrise, or something. Not instant, but visible and measurable and pretty dadgum fantastic.
We went to the “carnivore” a few weeks ago. We were eating dinner beforehand at a restaurant with booth seats and my little dude stood up on the seat and kinda crawled behind me. My first instinct was to try to lock him in and keep him from jumping out of the booth, but he put his hands on my shoulders and started to give me a “rub-back.”
At the carnival we went on a ride in this giant strawberry where you sat inside and it spun around on a little axis in the middle of the strawberry and then also went around a big wheel with all the other strawberries. There was only the booth-seat that’s big enough for adults. Our little man was about one inch over the minimum size requirement. Anyway, when it started spinning around, I was holding my arm out across his chest to keep him from flying forward and knocking his teeth out on the middle railing thing. I realized about 30 seconds in that he was holding onto the railing with one hand, and with the other arm he was reaching across my chest to hold me in and make sure I didn’t fly out. Maybe just silly little imitation, but it seemed to me like he wanted to protect his mommy.
He has also decided, apparently, that a good way to start most days is to tell his be-spectacled, puffy-eyed, pajama-clad, wonk-haired mommy that she is “so pretty,” completely unprompted and with a silly little grin.
He has started to (apparently) (knock on wood) enjoy helping me – bringing me things, helping me carry things, folding the laundry, putting a blanket on my legs, whatever – even more than he enjoys picking fights or trying to control situations.
For some reason he started asking permission for, like, everything. Even down to “Can I play with my dinosaur, Mommy?” At which I kind of panicked, thinking what if I was some kind of cruel task-masterish matron who had sucked out his individuality and personal will. Well, I can tell you that’s not true. But he seems to have started to actually enjoy the politeness and the permission, sometimes.
One of his favorite things lately is to ask, “You’re happy, Mommy?” Sometimes he asks this when I am concentrating on something and kind of brow-furrowed, which makes me look up and feel a little bit welcomely-obligated to smile and say yes, I am very happy, because I have such a sweet boy. Sometimes he asks this when he did something particularly sweet and funny and he really did just make me light up, and he seems to just relish it. Sometimes he asks it when he actually just made me legit pretty mad, but his genuine concern makes me kinda stop and back up and try to say “well, no, honey, it doesn’t make me happy when I ask you to do _____ and you throw something at my face; that generally doesn’t make people happy when you throw things at their faces. But you are my sweet boy and I am happy most of the time, yes.”
I think some of it might be approaching 3. He has so much more language to make sense of the world, and with that language comes so much more control over his life (the ability to ask for things or even negotiate for a few extra minutes at the playground or applesauce with lunch). He has more ability to put together consequences with actions – like yes, you can throw a fit right now if you want to, but you could ALSO choose the nice way now and reap benefits later.
Some of it might be really getting settled into this family without too much recent change and turmoil going on. Some of it might be me getting my act together and starting to keep my cool better than I used to. Some of it might be the fact that we had the amazing chance to have a lot of super fun experiences together this summer – camping, summer camp, Florida, swimming, whatever – and they all just go as currency in the bank, as they say, in terms of your kid wanting to trust and please you instead of fighting or making trouble.
We did go to SAMA today which is a “behavioral intervention” class, including de-escalation (verbal) and containment (physical). They spend a long time trying to teach you how to avoid ever having to do the physical part, and then a little bit on the physical part, where you get to repeatedly do things like stick your ear in complete strangers’ armpits, or have them grab your throat or drop you to the ground, etc. Because foster care is all about personal space and staying in your comfort zone!
There are a lot of things that this whole system messes up but there are a lot they get right, too. Our trainers in all of our SAMA classes (this is our 3rd) have been really good and seemed to genuinely, truly, honestly believe the best of the kids they work with and the kids they know we are parenting every day. They do this for a living and they literally look at bad behavior and see injured, scared kids who need compassion.
They do this for a living. They believe in the kids. And they believe in the process. They see kids change. They have to, or they wouldn’t still be doing it.
I am seeing a kid change. In front of my very eyes.
There are times when I’m like “um…why do people choose to do this parenting thing again? I can’t go to movies, I can’t run errands between the hours of 1:30 and 5:00 because of nap time and all the attendant activities, it takes every last ounce of my interpersonal and social intelligence to coax a 35-lb human to get into a car seat without having a colossal blow-up, and I have not had an independent, personal, private thought that had a beginning AND an ending in approximately 3 weeks.”
But then I can remember that this is why. An entire human being, at war with himself and the world, and I am playing a role in teaching him to live a peaceful, grace-full, purpose-full life. To do things he is proud of. To treat people with compassion and respect. To face things that are challenging and have the tools in his belt to meet them head on, to overcome, and to learn.
And because he is my buddy. We are reaching the stage where we truly delight in delighting each other. What possible better use is there of these numbered days?
PS If you want a little glimpse into some of this stuff, go look up the movie Short Term 12. It is… a grown-up movie (requisite disclaimer) but it is really well-done.