When Matthew came home, I did my best to be sympathetic to all that he was going through. Notice my wording there–I did not do THE BEST, I did MY BEST, and there is a difference there. I am no saint or hero, but I tried. I excused behaviors in him that I would not necessarily tolerate in Isaac or in any other child. I would remind myself when my frustration level mounted, “what do you expect? Of course he’s mad/angry/sad/insert hard to deal with behavior here. He’s lost everything. Give him a break.” And as much as I knew all of that, it was still hard, very hard to manage.
Months passed. I don’t know the exact amount of time, and one day I woke up and decided, it’s been long enough. It is time for him to fall in line, now. Again, let me stress, I decided that. Because you know, clearly I knew exactly how long his grieving and adjustment process should be. I decided on a no-tolerance policy for defiance. I wanted a “yes ma’am” out of him when responding to me. I wanted him to respond to Isaac’s cheerful “good morning” every day. You don’t have to like it, kid, but you do need to answer your family when spoken to.
I won’t keep you in suspense. None of it worked. What was worse was that I would change tactics every few days after massive failures, probably confusing him more. Because I was done with his attitude, and I just wanted a happy family.
(why are you running away from me with that Mother of the Year award???)
At some point I realized, or rather, accepted that I was going to have to lower my expectations. Really, really lower them. I don’t say this because Matthew isn’t smart–he is. Or because Matthew is an awful child–he isn’t!! I say this because Matthew is a brilliant, loving, and gentle child, but he wasn’t (and still sometimes he isn’t) ready. For any of it. He is not ready to relinquish his control to tell me yes ma’am without an argument. He is not (and may never be) ready to deal with Isaac’s exuberance every morning. He is not ready to “fall in line” yet.
And while that is still hard for me to take, since I have dropped (or even eliminated) some of my expectations about what I want from him, I am able to notice the progress that he is making in his own time.
And he is making progress.
Sometimes I don’t write about the progress I am witnessing because the things that he does that almost knock me to my knees and bring me to tears wouldn’t really seem like that big of a deal to most people. But they are. Here are some of the things that I have been seeing.
Lately, he adds “mama” on the end of what he is saying. Like, “wha dat, mama?”. He emphasizes the mama part and really looks at me, like he cares what my answer is. Like he doesn’t just want to know, but he wants me to be the one to share it with him.
When he first came home, if any adult other than us spoke to him, he would look at the floor and say NO. From an attachment standpoint, that was a good thing, but at some point, I was looking for him to come out of his shell a little bit. When dropping the boys off at school the other morning, he and Isaac got out in carpool line. Different people at the preschool get them in and out of the car each time. This woman was holding Matthew’s hand. As she wrangled the boys and their bookbags, Matthew pulled on her hand and stood in front of her in order to get her attention and make eye contact. When he got her attention, he proudly declared, “Muh Ancy!!!!” (his teacher, Miss Nancy). That, to me, was HUGE. Not just the eye contact but him going out of his way to speak…to anyone, is major progress.
One evening, he and I were here alone and I pretended to cry (there is a long story behind this that isn’t worth telling). I honestly didn’t know what he would do, but I wasn’t prepared for what he did. He stopped playing and walked up to me, put his hand on my back and said “Wha wrong, mama, wha wrong?”. Then I almost cried for real.
The other night when Isaac was sick and threw up, Matthew kept himself busy as Jason cleaned up the mess and I tended to Isaac. It was like he knew it was a mini-crisis and he wasn’t going to stir the pot or be demanding in any way. That alone was a relief, but once Isaac had calmed down and been bathed, Matthew came into his bedroom and said “okay now, Isaac?”.
Matthew is kind of famous for not being a morning person. Now that he is in preschool, I have to wake him up in the morning. That is slowly getting better. Unfortunately, I have to wake him from his nap every day as well (long story, but he stays up so late in his bed at night–he prefers to get all of his sleep during the day). Anyway, yesterday, I went in to wake him from his nap. I always brace myself for tears, but as I slowly rubbed his back, I saw a smile forming on his face. I thought that certainly I was mistaken, he was just stretching and somehow his expression was masquerading as a smile. But he opened his eyes and said expectantly, “School?”. I said no, he had already been to school, and he said, “Play?”. Yes, it is playtime, I answered. And he got up and joined us downstairs with no tears.
By lowering my expectations and letting him do things in his own time, I am able to celebrate the smaller milestones as they occur. I am thrilled every time I ask him to do something and I get “okay” for a response. It’s not yes ma’am, but it’s not a tantrum either. I am encouraged that when he gets into a bit of a funk, I can now–more often than not–talk him out of it. I am relieved to see the sympathy, kindness and humor he carries inside himself come out slowly for the rest of us to enjoy.
Honestly, it’s still not fast enough for me. It probably never will be. I am imperfect and impatient. But I can’t make him be ready or willing–I’ve tried. All I can do is celebrate the willingness he displays as he becomes ready….in his own time. I can rejoice when he participates in something rather than shrinking away from it. I can praise him for responding calmly to me, even if it isn’t the polite response I would prefer. In doing this, not only do I allow him to come around on his own, but I eliminate a lot of the bumps and potholes in my own road on this journey to Normal…..to Settled…..to Adjusted that our family is taking. I make it easier for us all to enjoy the ride a little more if I just stop asking “are we there yet?”.