Last night I was on top of the world. I made a playlist for a screenplay I’m working on and I was dancing while I brushed my teeth. Everything was so good.
This morning I was all ready to go to work, and I could not find my keys. I looked everywhere, even outside, in the rain, under the car. It wasn’t even my car. I was going to have to call my friend and tell him I’d lost my keys and the fact I was a flake would be confirmed. I’d be one more problem in his already busy day. My stomach got sick and I wanted to cry. I wanted to disappear.
For parents of adopted children, know it is possible that when seemingly small things go wrong, your child may have a similar response—some form of seemingly inappropriate anxiety or despair. One time when I was a kid I came downstairs, sobbing, to my parents because the Sea Breeze I had used on my face was stinging me. My parents had no idea what to do. Why in the world was I so upset? It was a temporary sensation, and it came in a bottle that teenagers all over the nation were using, smiling into the mirror.
Here’s the thing: many adoptees live on a day-to-day basis at close to their peak capacity as far as anxiety goes and the kicker is that the adoptee, the adoptee’s parents, the adoptees’s teachers, the adoptee’s therapist may have no idea this is even going on. (The adoptee subconscious/conscious brain spin always going of Who am I really? Why didn’t my birth mother want me? What’s wrong with me? What life is this that I am living? Why do I feel so wrong? Why am I not more like my friends?) This exhausts the brain, uses up precious glucose and leaves the adoptee vulnerable to stresses.
Take a twelve-year-old adoptee who would tell you and everyone else he doesn’t even think about adoption, and watch how he deals with normal stress at school. Chances are good you are looking at issues of ADD, ADHD, underperformance, behavioral issues—both bad and good—for the adoptee who performs well may even be in more trouble than the one who excels. Perfection can be a wonderful a suit of armor.
What can be done about this? If you see someone with her arms full, you open the door for her. Think about the adoptee’s brain when you look at the daily tasks he has to do. His brain is different from your brain—the things you can do without even thinking about it (returning library books, writing down assignments, remembering where you put your keys), may well be like opening a door with full arms for the adoptee.
I wrote in You Don’t Look Adopted about the struggle I had as a kid returning library books on time. I would let them pile up in my closet and agonize about what an awful person I was. Last month I went to the Los Gatos Public Library and I walked up to the help desk and told the librarian I had a problem. I told her I had stopped going to the library years ago because I couldn’t seem to get books back in time. We laughed. She told me to set a reminder on my phone. My stomach and head did the rolling wave panic thing, and I told her for some reason that was beyond me. She asked for my phone and set the alarm for me. Then she looked at me and set an alarm for two days later. We both laughed.
I returned the book four days before the due date.
I felt like Super Woman. I OWNED that library.
Brainstorm with your kid, your kid’s teacher, your kid’s therapist. See where he struggles and see how you can help make the path from A to B even easier to traverse. Treat your child like a child for a while (and a while may seem like forever to you, but be patient; he’s been through more than you will ever know and needs more care than a child who stayed with the same mother) and chances are good he will turn into an adult.