Monday, November 15, 2010

The Bottomless Bucket

Of course, the week I got sick, 3 therapy appointments were on the calendar.

The dear Mister took over for me. As difficult as playing puppets for back-to-back 60 minute appointments each is for me (Don't judge me. Very few things are more mind-numbing than playing puppets--and I mean not just playing, but truly actively engaging and attempting to move the story forward with a kid who is more interested in making airplane noises while flying his owl around the room than listen to the storyline), I know the Mister is in even greater agony than me, because half the time the poor guy can't figure out just what the therapist needs the Mister's puppet to say to keep the story line moving forward.

I wouldn't have blamed him one bit if he were to cancel them. But he didn't.

God Bless the Mister.

The last appointment of the week was just a parent meeting, to discuss the evaluations and testing we had done regarding Keenan.

The Mister listened, and took notes.

His notebook contained the following notes:

* "Bottomless Bucket" type of attachment.
Attachment exists, but it's not secure.
Child is like a bucket that cannot fill up.
Demands, time, etc. is not enough.
The more given, the deeper the bucket.

* Healthy, secure attachment creates the bucket bottom.

* Mom needs identity beyond that of mom.
Imperative she gets a break. Maintain own identity.

I cried after reading that list. A big, ugly cry for a good, long time.

Part of that cry was relief. Because "Bottomless Bucket" describes EXACTLY what I am experiencing, yet I couldn't put my finger on it.

Keenan has always been my little buddy. Always by my side, and if not right there by my side, I knew that he'd be popping up every few minutes, checking in, seeing what I was up to.

Already living the polar opposite with his brother, who often goes to great lengths to avoid me and gets angry when he has to check in, I naturally felt and assumed that Keenan's behavior was awesome! Here's a little boy who loves me and always wants to be with me. For whom I'm the central role of his universe.

Slowly though, over time, his neediness has increased instead of subsided. Having just started kindergarten, and truly struggling with learning problems, I just assumed he needed that extra TLC.

And he does need that extra TLC. Because what he is going through is tough. But we need to change how we give him TLC, and how he feels about it. Because we've reached a point where our current system is no longer healthy.

Reading the phrase "bottomless bucket" was a HUGE light bulb moment for me. Suddenly, I discovered many behaviors now fit into this category:

* The child cannot complete a meal unless I'm there to cheer him on. If I won't cheer him on, he'll refuse to eat, or choke, or eat sooooooo sllllloooowwwwwwlllllyyyy that I'm sure to take notice.

* Even if he is doing a simple chore he has done many times, he has to check in with me every 2 minutes. If he and his brother are putting their clean clothing away, he will carry each and every piece to me downstairs to confirm where it should go. If Miles is folding a dish towel that got mixed up in there, Keenan will rip it out of his hands so that he can bring it to me.

* If he has a chore that does not require my supervision, he won't do it until I go in to check on him. Because he wants me watching him.

* If one of his siblings gets attention for a negative behavior, and I sit them down for a time out and then discuss with them the consequences of their behavior, he'll interrupt me multiple times. And within 5 minutes of the end of their time out, 9 times out of 10 he'll commit the behavior, right in front of me, to be sure that I notice.

All of these behaviors, and more, are designed to get more and more and more of my time and energy. Because the love and attention I give him is not enough to fill up the void in him left by abandonment, years of institutionalized living, and trauma.

I cried because this is exhausting. Even though his behaviors are infinitely more pleasant and easier to deal with than Miles, it is exhausting nonetheless.

I cried because, while I do get out of the house, I don't feel like I have an identity beyond being a wife and mother. The confusing thing is, I don't feel like it bothers me. Or that I need one because this is who I am.

A huge turning point in my life--for the far better-- was the day that Hatfield was born. She arrived and I felt like a new person and I never looked back.

Namely, because I really didn't like that person I was before she was here.

So, really, I don't know if the entire identity thing is a problem, especially if I don't feel like it's a problem. But that's an entirely different post for another day, isn't it?

In the end, I feel a lot of hope in this situation. I look at how far Miles has come and it is nothing short of amazing. AMAZING. He is able to control his emotions, talk about his feelings, not act out. There is still a LOT of work to be done. I think we have years of work ahead of us, but the sense of urgency is no longer present. We have a grip on things, attachment is growing in a healthy manner, and we're moving forward.

Keenan will be able to do the same. We have an attachment; now we just need to create a healthier one. We have a great therapist; a great network of friends and people who understand.

Now all I have to do is muster up the energy to get it all done...but first, a nap. This sinus infection has kicked my patootie down the block, and it hasn't come back yet.


bbbunch said...

Oh Sarah...I know what you mean about the mom/identity thing. When I need/crave a break, it isn't from being a mom, it is actually a break from being interrupted, being able to go to the bathroom without someone asking me a question (even if it is "do you see my toesies?") When I need a break, it is to remember that food should be hot, and to - dare I say it? TALK about the kids, etc. I'm good with that. I love my identity as a mom :)

By the way...the thought of Cliff acting out puppets and suggesting things for the puppets to say just had me cracking up. I know him too well :)

Love you and hope you feel better soon!

Amy said...

Wow! I'm so glad you posted this because J doesn't seem to have attachment issues but he has abandonment issues. I see him as a bottomless bucket too. Not at the level that Keenan is but it's there and I had no idea until you posted this. So, how are you supposed to work on this? I am curious. You're right. The identity thing is a whole nother post. Wow. Amy(TN)