Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Practicing on the cat

I've been reading books: "Attachment in Adoption" which I borrowed from my local agent, and found it a very difficult read¹ so I returned it after reading the first few chapters... and "Parenting the Internationally Adopted Child" which is more generalized and is excellent in many ways.

In fact it was recommended as critical reading by several moms on the mailing list I belong to. I will second that - yep, critical reading.

"Parenting" puts forth a parenting style that is starkly different from any parenting style popular in the general community. After a while, you can switch to something more normal and healthy, but for the first several months to a year, your child is grieving and traumatized, and if he's not being obvious about it, you have to figure it out and help him heal in spite of himself.

Oddly, instead of terrified by this idea, I'm actually growing more confident. I can do this! I'm reasonably empathetic. I can feel AwesomeCloud's pain, even if he's not advertising it to the world. Even if he internalizes it and goes through the motions of coping, I'll be on top of things and ready to guide him, willingly or unwillingly, to a healthier state of mind.

In fact I've already started noticing some of the poor coping behaviors in my cats. Trixie is a Dizzy Performer type. (All the types have nicknames.) When she's nervous, which is most of the time, she'll circle around, jump on things, and try to get the attention of any people who are present. She's attached to me, but she'll perform for anybody. When she does that... well, she's a cat, so the solution may be different. When she's circling around nervously, I just let her. I know she's safe. At this point, she'll never change, and I don't have to worry that the wrong approach now might turn her into a maladjusted teenager later.

Melody is a hider. Her Fight-or-Flight reflex strongly favors flight. But this morning, she decided to be a Stunned Ragdoll, just sitting there in terror as the builder noisily bumped around outside.

The routine is supposed to be: feed the cats before the builders show up, and then herd them into the bedroom and close the door. This morning, I was late. The builders showed up, THEN I fed them, and Mel was too frozen in place to eat her breakfast. So Trixie ate it for her. Then Trixie darted into the bedroom, like she should, and I closed the door behind her.

I looked at Mel and thought, You stupid cat. Now you've missed breakfast AND you're stuck out in the open.

But "Parenting the Internationally Adopted Child" says that the frightened child forgets the routine and falls back on old, unproductive survival mechanisms. When he does, you shouldn't blame him for being bad. You shouldn't punish him or let him suffer the consequences for choosing unwisely. When he freezes up and fails to make the right decision, you make it for him. Over and over and over and over for months and maybe even years.

So I scooped up that cat and brought her into the bedroom. Then I poured some fresh crunchy cat food and put it in the room with her. She immediately felt safer; and, feeling safer, she ate.

I win!

I'm going to be all right at this. Someday. When I get the baby finally.

¹ It was difficult in that it covered very serious and disturbing attachment issues that are probably far beyond what AwesomeCloud is likely to experience. I know how to read, thank you very much! If I'm wrong about AwesomeCloud, I can always get the book again.


  1. Hey--you are! you let go of your expectations and judgments to do what was right for the cat. Seriously, that's worth something. I am a terrible, terrible letter go-er. Thanks for the reminder (and I have the book, and sometimes I just want to say--but what about the times when they're just OK WITH THINGS? That is one serious-ass book.

  2. We'll see if I can keep this up with a real kid! And even then, I'll just have the one. If I had four... well, I'm picturing going from 0 to 4 kids all at once, and that, of course, would be a horrible horrible mess.