So, I’d been to many hours of attachment trainings. I’d read the articles. I’d done the research on off-age parenting. I knew that helping an older child from foster care attach to her new parents would take an incredible amount of compassion, care and work. I was willing to do everything from rock my 6 year old like a baby everyday to making a nest of blankets so I could feed her like a mama bird. I carried her on my hip, practiced eye gazing, sang to her and let her touch my face like she was a much tinier child. I knew all this would help her attach to me. And it worked. Relatively quickly.
What I did not know, was that all those attachment practices would not necessarily help me attach to her. For months, this amazing little child who I spent 8 years manifesting into my life, felt like an imposter. Who let her in our house? Why wouldn’t she stop crying? How could she expect me to hold her every second of the day? I knew that newborn babies sometimes feel like aliens to their new parents- Crosby made that clear in the final season of Parenthood.
But no one in our attachment trainings talked about how WEIRD it would be to parent a big kid who acted like a little one. Or how long it might take to connect with the child you bring home and try to make your own. I had no idea I might feel ambivalent for a long time…about parenting and about the kid herself. So, when all these feelings came up, I felt like a truly awful person. Was I just pretending to love this kid? Would I ever really love her? Like, really, really? I expressed these feelings to only a few dear friends who I knew wouldn’t judge or give advice. I needed a million hugs. And lots of trashy television. (See my post on Good Enough Self Care).
Then, one day, about 6 months in…we were going into a playground. The Squirrel was running ahead on the always-uneven Oakland sidewalk. She was holding a lemonade in one hand and a picnic blanket in the other, because she always insists on helping. She tripped. But her hands were full and she could not brace her fall. In a split second, I knew she was about to fall hard with nothing to protect her little face but her glasses. I threw my purse down and started running. I think I even said “F@#k!” under my breath. I got there just in time to scoop her up as she screamed “Mommy!” at the top of her lungs. She cried really hard for a really long time. I held her and rocked her and felt both our hearts racing.
And just like that…I knew it. Something shifted in me. This was it.
The exact moment I knew she was my child.
For more about “off-age parenting” and what we are learning/practicing around attachment, read Learning the Dance of Attachment by Holly van Gulden.