Israel has spent the first 8 weeks in our family smiling and laughing. Look at his pictures, all smiles, displaying not a hint of his previous life.
Every person that meets him asks if he’s ever unhappy. They wonder if he is over the moon happy, because he’s been adopted and now is seeing all new things and experiencing a family. The sad reality is that he is still in survival mode. In his little mind, we did not rescue him from a terrible orphanage situation, we actually took him from the only security he’s ever known. He has lived for four years in the same building without leaving. His world has been a tiny, glass-walled room with little stimulation. His entertainment has been whatever games or activities he could create for himself in his crib. He has received attention and food by being charming and smiling….get it? He is now surviving by smiling and being charming. He calls me mommy, but that is just a name. He has no concept of mommy or family, and that’s where we are beginning. We are realizing that he is like an infant, learning to call out for a mommy or daddy and they respond each time.
I’ve read that attachment for infants is like a string between a mom and baby. The baby cries, laughs, babbles. and this pulls the string attached to the mommy and the mommy responds. Israel’s string was broken a long time ago. When he cried, no one came. He lay in a crib as a newborn without a consistent mommy on the other end of the string. He has learned that the only control he had in his world was with indiscriminate affection. If he was cute and loving, he might be able to pull the string and receive attention or food. This is why we have asked everyone to give him high fives or handshakes. He will hug or kiss any random person and this is not good for his attachment to his family. The hugs and kisses he would give a stranger are a mode of survival, he doesn’t know if you might be able to provide the next meal or security in a scary situation. This is also why we have provided a basket within his reach of unlimited food. He can eat whenever, wherever and whatever he wants out of the basket. It is “Israel’s food” and he has full access to help negate the feelings of deprivation. The fact he has carried a spoon all day, every day for the last two months is not lost on us.
A letter to Israel,
My beautiful son,
I’ve written this down so that I can look back and remember how far you have come and how God has restored what has been stolen. I want to remember these days of fear and hunger. This desire to fill a hole, that you don’t quite understand. A desire for something you can’t even express. Oh my child, we see underneath the facade to the deep scars. Under the survival mechanisms, we see the sad, scared boy peeking behind the veil. You will suddenly lie upon the floor and weep great tears of weary sadness and fear. And then the veil is closed again and the smile returns. But slowly we have been chipping away,…chink,…a small piece falls with the nightly routine of prayers and kisses…chink, a bigger chip falls as you are swept up into a kiss after an “owie”…..chink…..a chip releases as your siblings share their toys and laugh with you,…chink…food is always available,….chink…..you scream at me in rage and I let you finish your angry fit, and then kiss your sweaty, tear streaked face…. We chip away and you are afraid. So desperately afraid that we will fail and leave you. Scared to trust and share who you really are…. Oh my little boy, it’s okay to not smile, it’s okay to spill food on your clothes and get your face dirty. It’s okay to lift the veil and let us see the darkest hurt. My Israel, be a little boy and know that you are loved for every lump, bump, smudge and scar. Lift your face and gaze upon a mother who will fight the battles with you and a daddy who will carry you when you’re burdened and weary….because that’s what having a daddy and mommy is all about….My Israel, I too have walked this path and I know you can be strong by letting go…..I know that weakness is in fact strength and a broken heart is exactly what our Savior can use.