Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Holy Pity Party, Batman!

I reread my last post.  Oh my word did I sound pathetic!  I guess that is the magic of documenting things in the moment, rather than reflecting on them later.  Time tends to remove some raw edges and cast everything in a soft rosy glow.

I'm happy to report that the quality of life has improved dramatically in the past week.  Praise the Lord for that!  I feel like I am slowly crawling out of my deep pit of self-pity and feeling pretty optimistic that things are on the right trajectory.

Most of the illnesses have passed with just myself, Veronica and Levi having a lingering cold.

Everything gets better with sleep.  Levi has only been waking once or twice a night lately and has been going back to sleep fairly quickly, instead of randomly waking and staying awake for hours.  That alone has made life better.  He still hasn't committed to naps again, even though he would nap in China.  He will take a 15-20 minute power nap and will himself awake.  I know it isn't enough sleep for him because he rubs his eyes fiercely in an attempt to stay awake.  However, I will gladly take this progress. 

He is also figuring out what the word, "No" means.  He is testing the boundaries, as all exploring toddlers should, but he also is finally (sometimes) listening to me when I tell him not to bite the cat or pull the floor lamp onto his head.  I think he might be trying to please me.  Progress!

Attachment has also improved.  He still adores Ben.  (Don't we all!)  He still prefers to go to his Daddy when given the option.  But definite progress has been made. 

All indications show that Levi had been well loved and cared for before he joined us.  His biggest obstacle is not to learn how to attach, but to transfer his attachment from his foster mother to me, his forever mother.  Up till a few days ago, he was willing to get what he needed from me.  He had worked his way up to being comfortable with eye contact, and accepting cuddles, comfort, back rubs, snacks, etc. from me.  When he would get hurt - which seems to be a common occurrence with this daredevil - he sought out my comfort and snuggled in close.  At least as long as my irresistible husband wasn't around. 

The real progress that I have noted in the last few days is that he is not only able to accept the nurturing he needs from me, but he is ready to be reciprocal in his affections.  Instead of stoically looking on as I tickle him, he will laugh a hearty belly laugh.  Instead of simply allowing me to hug him, he will reach out and (usually gently) rub my cheeks and look into my eyes.  Instead of running away from me to do his own thing, he has been running toward me with a smile wanting a little snuggle time with Mommy.

Let me tell you, folks.  This new development has made everything so much more enjoyable!  He is finally starting to figure out that I am not too shabby for a mom.  He is beginning to realize that he can trust me and rely on me.

Now folks have been asking, "Is he attached yet."  I think that is not quite the right way to think about attachment.  Attachment cannot usually be answered as a yes or no question.  There is a continuum.  I can definitely see that we are attaching to each other.  Yup, I had to attach to him just as much as he has to attach to me.  I am pleased with the progress we have made and I have no reason to doubt that our mother-child relationship will continue to improve.  I believe that we can push past any setbacks we experience in the future.  This isn't a smooth road, there are switchbacks, hills, valleys and plateaus. 

Some of you might be wondering what kinds of activities help foster attachment.  I'll share some of the things we have been deliberate about that I believe are helpful. 

1.  Ben and I are the ONLY ones to meet Levi's needs.  If he is hungry, thirsty, sad, poopy, whatever, Ben and I are the ones who deal with it.  We don't let the other children take care of him, either.  If he drops his bottle we won't even allow anyone else to hand it to him.  This means we have not left him in anyone else's care yet, and we don't anticipate doing so for quite some time.

2.  Bottle feeding.  At 17 months, most children are off bottles.  Not Levi.  Granted, with his unrepaired cleft, a special bottle does help him drink, even though I am sure we could probably teach him to drink out of a cup or sippy cup by himself.  We are deliberate about doing a nighttime and nap time feeding while snuggled on the rocking chair, wrapped in a blanket.  This is a chance for sustained eye contact and close comfort.  After the bottle is done, we rock together for a while.  I love, love, love this part of the day.  This helps both of us bond to each other more than just handing him his bottle and having him drink it himself.

3.  Spoon Feeding.  Most toddlers Levi's age feed themselves.  Parents at this age encourage their children to figure out how to use a spoon and fork.  We are not encouraging him to use a spoon yet.  We don't even put it on his tray for him to use.  I have been trying to spoon feed him at least once a day.  Whether it is cereal, applesauce, casserole, etc. I am being very deliberate about having Levi realize that I provide the food.  Spoon feeding does this much more obviously than just dumping things on his tray.  It is also a chance for sustained interaction and natural eye contact.  Other times, he can use his hands to feed himself.

4.  Forced Bonding.  Okay, maybe that isn't the nicest way to put it, but I have instituted what I call "Forced Bonding Time" every afternoon.  When the three big kids are at school and Veronica and Sawyer a napping (and Levi should be!) I put Levi in my side carrier and we play, sing songs, read books, etc.  When he is in the carrier, he can't escape  explore when his interest in me wanes.  For about an hour he has to interact with me or at least snuggle in.  His interest in Forced Bonding was ambivalent at best when I started this, but now he seems to really enjoys this time together and smiles and laughs through it.  After I let him down again, he voluntarily stays close to me and seeks to engage me in playing.  This is not to be confused with the other times I have him in the baby carrier or baby backpack because I need to get things done or I am just tired of chasing him from one death defying adventure to another.  During Forced Bonding Time, I focus solely on him.

It is so nice to be able to see some positive results from the efforts I have been putting forth.  It is such a weird feeling to be waiting expectantly for your child to like you.

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