Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A cat named Cat: an attachment story

Here's Trixie, the real deal

Here's Cat, with Ban Lu

Somewhere in my pre-adoption reading, I came across an explanation for why children have loveys - toys or objects that they project their feelings of attachment onto. For instance, the security blanket that Linus is so attached to in Peanuts. The book mentioned that adopted children who struggle with attachment issues may not have enough feelings of attachment for a lovey. They're working so hard to form attachments to their adoptive parent(s) that they have nothing left over for the toy or blanket.

Okay, fair enough. But we bought a few Beanie Babies for AwesomeCloud just in case. In case he needed something soft to hug. In case he found it easier to bond with the toy than with us. In case he happened to like stuffed animals.

Well, he didn't. We brought the calico cat with us to China. We chose it because it resembled our cat Trixie, who, we assumed, would be a fixture in his life when he got home. He wanted nothing to do with the Beanie Baby cat, and after all our cajoling and patience, the toys he responded to were made of hard plastic and had buttons that beeped or played tunes.

I understand why some people gripe about electronic baby toys, but for us, they were the only toys that would draw his gaze. Eventually, he also grew to like plastic trucks and matchbox cars. Soft toys, toys with faces, and especially stuffed animals repelled him. Sometimes they terrified him. To this day he still has a little problem with puppets.

He learned to like real cats; however, Trixie died two months after he met her. She was very good with him, but she lost her vision, and then her balance, and then she was gone. (So, as most people reading this know, we got two more cats! But neither of them are calico, so the Beanie Baby no longer resembles a household member.)

Cloud's Early Intervention teacher went to work on his phobias. She brought in all sorts of toys he was afraid of, and put them away when he cried. I was almost amazed that he didn't develop a phobia of her, she did it so frequently. But, nope, he grew to like her. He really dug her. And one day she invented a game so irresistible that he didn't even mind that it involved the calico cat. See, she started playing a wonderfully silly song about cats running around in a circle. And then she made our two Beanie Baby cats run in a circle. After a few runs, Cloud even wanted to hold one of the cats himself.

I don't know what happened to the leopard-print cat. The calico was his preferred Beanie of the two. He called it "Tat." We started calling it "Cat."

He started taking it in the car with him once in a while. Sometimes we'd bring it back into the house, and sometimes he'd realize he wanted it and we'd go into the car to fetch it for him. One day he brought it into a store. Sometime later, Daddy let him bring it to church. He began asking for it as "Tiy tat." (Kitty cat.)

His k sounds are improving, and sometimes he calls it "Cat" now. Recently, he has begun taking it to bed with him. Several times, when he lost track of Cat, he began to cry.

We bought a spare.

We're not going to do anything elaborate, like secretly switch the cats so they age similarly. No, he's already seen that Beanie model in the store, shiny and new, while he clutched his dirty old one. In fact AC Moore carries hem, and he likes to bring Cat into the store to say hi to all the other Beanie cats. Someday, if he loses the original Cat, we'll pull our replacement Cat and tell him the truth about it. Then he can make the hard adjustment in his own time.

I don't know how amazed I should be that this has happened. I don't know what the statistics are for attachment-challenged children growing into the ability to keep a lovey. I do know that not every child with healthy attachment engages in this behavior - 'normal' does not necessarily mean 'universal'.

But I'm glad that he's growing and learning and developing a personality. I'm glad that he's mindful of his surroundings. I'm glad that he's doing things that almost any mom can totally relate to, even if her kids' circumstances were nothing like mine's.

One think I am most definitely amazed about, though, is the Kid's ability to keep track of Cat. Admittedly we live in a small house, and there are only so many places he can leave her. But today in Trader Joe's, he showed remarkable mindfulness. He was pushing one of the kid-sized carts, and when we emptied our groceries onto the register, he announced, "Cart back!" I encouraged him to go put the cart back and then return to our register, and as I watched him, the lady behind me observed, "He put his stuffed animal in the cart. Will he remember to take it?"

"Oh yes," I assured her. "And if he doesn't, I will."

Well, I didn't. He lost sight of me on his way back - he got caught behind a cluster of other customers - and I was waving so hard I forgot to notice he didn't have Cat with him. No matter! He realized it right away, ran all the way back, and had an easier time finding me the second time.

I should probably put our phone number on her tag, though. Just in case. He can remember her just in time 30 times in a row, but it's that one time he completely forgets that matters.

Still, I was impressed, and so were the lady and the cashier.

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