ETC Team Note: Holidays and other special occasions often present unique and unexpected challenges for adoptive and foster families. In this story, Lisa provides some very helpful insight into how parents can anticipate these challenges and respond with compassion, understanding and in a way that brings about a deeper sense of connection with their child.
Christmas is one of my favorite holidays and has always been a treasured day for our family. We love a Christmas tree with sparkling lights, stockings stuffed to their brims, meaningful gifts, and lots of special food. But with the addition of our children from “hard places” we have found it necessary to learn new strategies to successfully celebrate holidays together as a family. Last Christmas was a day of extremes which contained so many lessons for me that I wrote them down that night hoping to make a better plan when Christmas rolled around this year. This is how I began.
How many times do I need to remind myself: Children with a history of trauma/neglect must eat every two hours.
I am like a student who needs to write this sentence on the blackboard 300 times before I can join the other children at recess.
Today, Christmas morning, my daughter was playing happily, but as the morning progressed I felt I was watching her inch toward the edge of a cliff. At first it wasn’t too noticeable. She was a little irritable, quick and jumpy in her movements, shouting out what her siblings gifts were as they were opening them, and making us all a little edgy. Her smile was too big, her eyes too bright, her voice too loud. She was on high alert.
Once the gifts were opened I focused on preparing the dinner we planned to eat mid-afternoon. But it seemed Russ and I were continually needed to calm things down, diffuse situations and navigate disagreements. She was moving closer to the edge of the cliff.
I saw it, but I was “too busy” and thought I could prevent her from falling….I would get to her in just a minute.
Then she did it. She ran headlong over the edge. I tried to grab her to prevent the fall, but I was too late. I hadn’t kept her close enough. I had been “too busy” to stop and help her. But God is kind and rather than plummeting to the very bottom, she landed on a small ledge.
She had our attention now. Russ and I scrambled to pull from our “therapeutic toolbox” every tool we could think of. We let down a rope….we let down several ropes…but she refused to grab hold.
Finally Russ lowered me down and I squeezed onto that tiny ledge with her. With a bowl of some of her favorite potatoes, I pulled her onto my lap in our big old rocking chair and fed her, one bite at a time.
As she slowly ate, I whispered comforting words into her ear, like I would a baby. “Come here little love. Take a bite.”; “I know you’re hungry, this will taste good”; “I love you. It’s going to be okay. You’ll feel better in a moment.”
I kissed her wet cheeks. She said nothing, only opened her mouth each time the spoon was offered. Her body relaxed against mine. She sighed. I rocked her back and forth in my arms.
We rested and when she was ready, together we climbed back up the wall of the cliff where Russ pulled us over the edge to safety. We smiled, we hugged.
Then we carried the rest of the food to the table, called the family together, and had Christmas dinner…where she had three more servings.
Lisa Qualls has been married to her husband Russ for over 26 years. They have 11 children who came to them by both birth and adoption. She earnestly believes in the power of God to heal children’s broken hearts and is privileged to participate in the process with her own children. Lisa writes about her life and family for Empowered to Connect (www.empoweredtoconnect.org) and on her blog, A Bushel and A Peck (www.onethankfulmom.com).