It is funny how life experiences change you…
Changes the way you look at things, changes the way you handle things, changes the very way you see things.
Adoption has changed me.
It has changed how I see the world.
It has changed my priorities.
It has changed the way I parent.
It has even altered the way I see holidays.
I have always loved holidays. I was raised in a family where holidays were magical. I had parents who invested time and creative energy into making memories. Holidays were something to look forward to. They were a break from normal life. They were a treat. They were a celebration.
Those feelings from childhood carried into adulthood when I left home, married and had children of my own. It was only then that I realized not everyone’s childhood holidays were the same magical experience mine were.
Then we adopted two little boys whose early years were filled with trauma, not magic, and I learned a profound lesson.
Holidays can hurt.
Holidays can represent loss.
Holidays can bring bad memories, sad memories, even scary memories.
The very thing I love most about holidays:
the chaos, the fun, the lights, and sounds, and the break from routine
are the very things that make holidays hard for a child who has been traumatized.
For my boys Thanksgiving, birthdays, Christmas, and any other celebration usually brings forth emotions and challenging behaviors that lay dormant during the rest of the year.
On these days they are faced with memories of people who are no longer in their lives, lost traditions from their childhood, and feelings of sadness over the life that was stolen from them. They struggle with feelings of resentment over the magic that wasn’t there when they were small, and anger about the unfairness of it all.
They also struggle with the magic I try to create for them today, now that they are part of our family. I see the guilt they feel about being happy now, as though today’s happiness is a betrayal to their birth parents. They struggle with feelings of unworthiness… feelings that they don’t deserve anything good. Then there is testing. They test whether this is their reality and whether it will remain their reality by doing those very things that are meant to push us away.
Then they struggle with the mix of emotions that simply come with the holidays, those same emotions we all deal with…
Excitement, joy, fatigue, anticipation, and disappointment.
It is time when all emotions are escalated.
But for a kid that has been traumatized those emotions can be paralyzing.
I can appreciate the struggle, now that I’ve lived with it for a few years. I recognize that our holidays will never be the same as they were before. The holidays are no longer the break from the tedious living of everyday life but rather a wild wave of emotions that must be ridden to get to the calm that can only be found on the other side of that holiday. Holidays are hard and tiring and emotional triggers for deep hurts.
I now know that this is my reality,
and I’m ok with that.
In fact I’m more than ok with that.
I am grateful for the chance to love these kiddos through the tough stuff because that is the love that has depth, the love that has staying power, and the love that will outlast all else.
I will hug them through the hard stuff until their broken pieces stick back together.
The last two weeks in therapy have been spent preparing the boys for the upcoming holiday. Knowing their minds were already playing the movies of past Thanksgivings, we opened that door and began a dialogue, allowing the boys to share their memories of past Thanksgivings. They shared the happy memories, the favorite traditions, the tastes and smells and sounds that remind them of their biological homes, stories of past foster homes as well as the stories abuse, neglect and dysfunction that permeates so many of their holiday memories.
It was during this therapy session that Ozzie opened up and shared memories of his biological grandmother and Thanksgiving at her home. He remembers the feel of her hugs and the way she would defend him from his father’s anger. He remembers the smells of her kitchen and the foods she would make. He remembers the day he was told she had died and the sadness of not being able to attend her funeral or say goodbye. He has happy memories of his grandma and spoke of the food she made for Thanksgiving. He shared how he loved that she served cake for dessert instead of pie.
It was that sharing that led to two desserts on our table this Thanksgiving…pumpkin pie and cake. 🙂
We have tried hard to incorporate the holiday traditions that are special to adopted boys into our already existing family traditions. On Tyler’s first Thanksgiving with us he expressed a desire to have fish sticks…a memory from childhood, so at our first Thanksgiving with Tyler we had a tray of fish sticks sitting side by side with the traditional turkey. We now have a new Thanksgiving tradition…cake!
Which is great for me. I hate pie. 😉
This Thanksgiving was a quiet holiday at home. It was just what we needed. Our weekend was spent at home cooking, eating, watching the parade, doing crafts, decorating for Christmas and resting. The flu hit our house Tuesday and worked its way through the family. Thanksgiving day everyone was well but every other day someone was down with fever and vomiting. I luckily have avoided it so far. Even with the plague taking down people left and right it was a blessed holiday spent with people I love.
You can’t ask for much more than that.
Here are some pictures from our holiday at home.
Christmas decorating has begun and “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!”
We have so much to give thanks for!