When my little boys came home from Haiti at the age of 4.5, neither had a concept of what makes a Mom. Nor do they have memories or understandings of their birth mothers. While they loved a few women caretakers within the orphanage, it was clearly not a mother-son relationship.
We understood that our boys would not understand what makes a Family.
I underestimated just how lacking their knowledge of what makes a Mother truly was. I assumed that giving out love, attentive care and building attachment would create a conscious understanding of what a mother is.
Yet, months after living with us, their true understanding of "Mother" was nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. It wasn't negative. It wasn't positive.
It just wasn't.
Loving care wasn't enough to build that understanding. After all, attachment is a complicated dance, and on my worst days I absolutely suck at it. On my best days, we are slllooowwwllyy working towards a healthy attachment.
To help my boys consciously build a working knowledge of "Mother," every day for the past 12 months I have been purposefully running an on-going, never-ending monologue for my boys to hear:
"Mom is a good Mom."
"Mommy's a good Mommy who gives your owies kisses."
"Mommy gives her boys hugs and kisses because I'm a Good Mommy who loves her boys."
"I'm a good Mommy. Good Mommies give their boys yummy, healthy food."
"I'm a good Mommy. Good Mommies tuck their boys into bed and make sure they have lots of warm blankets. Mommy is a good Mommy who keeps you safe at night."
"I'm a good Mommy because I wash these very handsome clothes for you."
"I'm a good Mommy because I read books to help your brain grow."
And so on and so forth. All of those little facts and bits of info that our bio kids internalize and just know naturally, I had to repeat out loud to teach my new boys. One huge-o case-0 of "I'm a Good Mom" diarrhea of the mouth, really.
At first I felt very silly and stupid. Then it got to be tiring. But then it started to click. I even noticed the bio kids listening in. I saw the safe and proud feelings it brought all the kids.
Now, if one of my boys is starting to act out or be unsafe, I can say to them: "Why does Mommy say, no fingers in the outlets?"
And they will tell you, without pausing, "Because you are a Good Mommy who keeps me safe."
"And why does Mommy want you safe?"
"Because Mommy Loves Me."
Bing-0. It's working. I don't do it as often, but on those off days, I still find myself reinforcing the Mommy concept quite a bit.
This week, however, it occurred to me that I now need to add a new dialogue into our home.
The "Mommy is a person and needs to keep her body healthy, too," dialogue.
Because I have been giving my all in my taking care of others. But not myself.
The past week was a bad week. For a multitude of reasons. I completely bottomed out into depression and despair mid-week. I knew I had to make some changes. And the first one was taking care of my physical health.
I haven't run since mid-September, when I jacked my right shin and couldn't put any pressure on it. Being sick for the entire month of October and first two weeks into November just pushed me further into physical lethargy.
Eventually feeling healthier, I knew I needed to get working out back into my schedule somehow. Despite my many attempts to "work out" at home, I never made it into the basement without finding myself sidetracked. Given the fact that I still cannot go to the bathroom for a mere two minutes without at least two little people knocking on the door, hollering, "Moooooooommmmmmmmmmmyyyyyyy!!!" I was probably a little unrealistic in thinking that I could actually exercise uninterrupted for 45 minutes.
The Mister knows that I've been trying, and he's been encouraging me to join the gym that is literally two blocks from our home.
I haven't, because usually I feel really guilty spending money on myself like that.
But this past week, something clicked (or maybe snapped) and I realized that I MUST start taking care of myself.
I went downstairs in my gym clothes, and Paloma instantly crowed, "Let's go exercise downstairs!" and tore off her shirt (the girl doesn't grasp the concept yet that only boys go shirtless. Life with 3 older brothers will mess you up like that.)
"Oh no," I said, watching her freeze. "Mommy is going to work out at a gym around the block."
Instant disapproval. And objections. Children pointing out to me the things that they wanted to do, or had planned to do, and the fact that I wanted 60 minutes out of the house did not coincide with those plans.
"Listen!" I announced. "Mom is a GOOD Mom and makes sure that you all have lots of chances to exercise. You all dance. And swim. And tae kwon do. And sled. MOM NEEDS TO TAKE CARE OF HER OWN BODY TOO. Because if Mommy's body isn't healthy, Mommy can't take care of anyone."
I then realized that I had my new mouth diarrhea monologue for the next year: "Mommy needs to take care of her own body. She makes sure that everyone takes care of their bodies. She gets a turn, too."
As good as it is for my kids to know that I am a good Mom who keeps a safe and healthy and loving house for them, they also have to realize that I am not an auto-bot here to serve them. I need daily maintenance too.
I'm proud to say, I don't feel guilty about that. Not one little bit. Instead, what I am feeling is about 30 muscles that I completely forgot I had. 30 muscles all hollering out in agony because I put them to work after a long autumn nap. 30 muscles reminding me that I need to take care of myself.
And better late than never, that's exactly what I intend to do.