A Little Less Giving, a Lot More Action.
Hey friends, mom of 4 here. You would think that being blessed by God to have lived 30 some odd years on this earth, raising 4 children would make me pretty darn experienced at this thing called life, right? That I would be the one doing all the teaching, correcting, explaining, right? Wrong. No seriously. There are days I get schooled by my 8-year-old in one haphazard look. The thing is, even though my experience has far outweighed my children in years on this planet, my children have had way more critical life experiences that truly solidified my understanding that in many ways, they know more about this world than I do. I think I can sum up just what I mean by this past holiday season but first you will need a little back story.
This past April we adopted our son who had spent his ENTIRE life (minus 7 months) in the foster care system. One of his 11, yes, I said 11, sisters (there is 14 kids total) just moved in with us this past August. These children have moved so many times since being in the system, they never truly felt safe. Things, possessions, words, had no meaning or effect on them. Literally, action is the only thing that they responded to or have emotion to because of being in a perpetual state of fight flight or freeze. So, when you try to provide these children “normalcy” you end up learning that your normal, is FOREIGN to them. These kids have been through the ringer. My education on what life is about for these kids started our first year of having our son.
It was the night before Halloween, and my husband and I were bound and determined to NOT forget to carve the pumpkins this year. A tradition that my biological children cherish. I on the other hand, do not like this tradition as I get grossed out by the mess and arduous task of pumpkin cleaning. Let’s just say it’s not my thing. As we start to cut open the pumpkins to prepare them for carving our 8-year-old’s mouth drops open as he exclaims, “my pumpkin’s broken”. I quickly glance over at him thinking he has dropped his pumpkin on the ground only to find him looking inside the top that his dad has just cut off. I run over, fully expecting to see a rotten and smelly pumpkin. Before I had time to prepare my nostrils for the pungent attack that I just knew was about to take place, my husband asks him: “buddy, have you never seen the inside of a pumpkin before?” When he answered no, my heart went into shock almost instantly. Here I had assumed that all the other families before us had given him the opportunity to experience this yucky tradition most American families with small children dauntingly do every year. I immediately felt guilty for not really wanting to do this with my children. Come to find out, this was only his teenage sister’s 2nd time ever carving one herself. I asked myself, what else have my children missed out on?
Fast-forward to Thanksgiving. My biological child’s birthday usually falls on or right around turkey day. We usually hold a family birthday party, friend party, and a mini celebration on the day of the occasion. Since we have living family on both sides, we tend to travel and so birthday parties sometimes double if not triple. Let’s just say, we love to celebrate life at the Griffin house. Our little guy was getting used to all our celebrating but when our beloved “princess” as we lovingly refer our 15-year-old as, she was less than impressed by all the events. All the families before her never celebrated her life. They rarely did tradition thanksgiving meals. She was used to KFC in her bedroom while the rest of the family divided into their rooms or in front of the tv. The idea of having to eat a HUGE feast in front of extended family and friends was nerve racking. No… it was downright SCARY to her. You see, she has little trust with people and rightfully so. Anyone she has ever loved, who has said they loved her back, or even just taken care of her, has hurt her by not following through with their promised adoptions or kept her physically or mentally safe. So being introduced to “family” is traumatizing. In her eyes, why get close to someone when eventually they will just give up on you and move on? Now, if you are thinking she just came outright and expressed these feelings you would be wrong. It came in her daily actions and questions leading up to the big day. She kept asking why our friends came over. She didn’t understand how friends can be “family”. She would say things like, “Didn’t we already celebrate her (our now 6-year-olds) birthday? Why do we have to do it again?” “I don’t want a sweet 16 party. I mean, there is no one who would come.” Those words liter tore through me like a machete in a recent slasher film. I was gutted ya’ll. She watched us getting prepared for the dinner and made comments suggesting she never wanted to grow up and that we were making too much food. On the actual day of Thanksgiving, she hid in her room. She would occasionally text, asking if people were gone yet. Finally, we made her a plate and she stayed down stairs to eat alone. We let her have her space. She needed it. We decided to force her to come up wouldn’t build her trust. However, when everyone left, she was right by our sides, spending every waking moment of that day with us. She just didn’t want the chaos.
Thanksgiving and our youngest’s birthday was just a mere glimpse at our eldest’s neglect. Christmas shopping seemed absurd to her. The last two years, her agency hasn’t given her the “red bags” (presents the agencies collect for all the kids in care) as they call them, and she hasn’t seen her clothing voucher in months. She is used to having little, expecting little, and wanting little when it comes to possessions. While it bugs me, it doesn’t even phase her. I see it as an injustice, and she just views it as her way of life. I know what you’re thinking, a teenager who doesn’t care about the latest and greatest? You must be lying! Trust me when I say, I was just as shocked as you were. However, Black Friday and birthdays really opened my eyes.
Okay, last flash back and I promise I’ll get to my point. It was during the shopping season on Black Friday, another first in her book, that I realized things just don’t matter but quality time and affection does. That whole night she kept making comments about how people were rude, obsessive, crazy over things that didn’t matter. She was blown away that I had a list and had spent hours mapping out getting the best deal. She just wanted to be with me, but she didn’t want anything. My opinion, my laugh, and her feeling my skin are what mattered to her that night. She has this cute habit of always having to touch me. Doesn’t matter if we are walking or sitting, a part of her must be touching a part of me. Let me tell you, that night, I had a new definition of what claustrophobia was like. I endured because it’s what she needed. She needed me, not things.
After this night, I knew without a doubt presence and touch is so much more important to these children than things. Experiences can be great, or scary. They don’t care about things, they care about life. Literally, they are about felt safety. That literally means they just care about being loved and feeling safe. They just don’t want to worry about their next meal or where they are going to stay next. Things come and go, they can always get new things because things can be replaced. However, feeling safe, and feeling loved, those are gifts they are after because they don’t get them often, and try as they might, seemed too hard to keep. Knowing these lessons from Thanksgiving and Black Friday, we decided to back off and slowly do Christmas. We decided Not to travel so she didn’t have to meet new people. We decided to stay home and just decorate a Christmas tree. She honestly couldn’t believe people really put real trees in their homes, let alone went to a tree farm to cut one down. Plastic is all she’s known. What a great metaphor for how we approached the holidays to how children in care approach them. I guess you could say this tree, summed up what we have learned. While, children that you have loved and raised from the start have felt safety, so they don’t focus on that as a want or a need, they focus on presents under the tree. Opposite of that is what our foster and adoptive children really want and need. I learned that talk is cheap and giving a million experiences and presents aren’t going to help my children but showing them love through my actions is what matters at the end of the day. Things are changing around here. We are going to be focusing more on action and doing around the holidays, rather than gifts. A lesson we needed to learn far too soon. If we do anything, the main theme will be love, each child’s love language, and less focus on just stuff. After all, you can’t take it with you when you die, but you can leave a legacy of love behind.