August 13, 2009

Puppy's Goodbyes

The lovely mama2roo asks ...
"Puppy does have an unusually strong reaction to people leaving. Or really to anything going away." I'd like to hear more about this as it echoes in my ears as I think about Woob. I want to know I'm not imagining things or making things up.
I'm not sure how to describe it other than to say when we have special visitors, he gets terribly sad when they leave. Almost distraught. He buries his head in our legs and sobs like his heart is breaking. Sometimes it lingers for a day or two as him being a little "off." You can see a lot of it going on in this old post written after one of Ray's visits.

My brother was in town for just one day the other week as part of a business trip. He and Puppy always have a great time together--Justin is incredible with kids and Puppy oozes affection right back. We had dinner together and they played and played. When we left Puppy did his usual falling apart at the thought that Uncle Justin was going back to New York. It was the first time my brother had witnessed it. It shook him up so much he brought it up with my mom the next day on the phone. "He was so sad," he said.

It's not separation anxiety. He's fine leaving us when he needs to, has no problems transitioning at the babysitter's house or at the church nursery or what have you. He's always been a bit of an explorer. This is about people coming to him and then leaving. And it's not just people. We pulled out a small bush in our yard that he's never so much as glanced at and suddenly he's crying, "I always loved that bush." That sort of thing.

The common thread is always someone or something going away and him being very sad about that loss of presence. It's also very important for him to know people miss him. He often asks if I missed him after he's been at the babysitter's or even when he and Todd just go off to run an errand.

Here I'm tempted to speculate about what's going on for him, but I'll refrain. Sudden mood swings are completely normal for an almost-four year old. It's the outsized nature of the swings when it comes to saying goodbye to certain people that has my antennae pinging. I could certainly imagine reasons for why that happens, but I'm not imagining that it happens. Is it about adoption? Maybe. Maybe not. I don't really buy into the idea that adoption can be separated out from the rest of his identity--it is part and parcel of who he is. I'm clinging to Dr. Pavao's notion that adoption is always going to add a certain complexity as Puppy works through the usual developmental stages--and that that complexity is healthy and normal. Adoption isn't something our kids work through separately from everything else that is going on for them cognitively and emotionally. They do it in bits and pieces and always in tandem with whatever else is going on in their amazing growing minds.

So we sit with him while he cries. We acknowledge his feelings. We emphasize the permanency of things that are permanent. We talk a lot about loved ones who live far away, trying to establish for him that those bonds still exist even when we can't be together. We model missing people and trusting that we will see them again just by talking about our own emotions in front of him. We don't "make it about adoption," and yet we do, because we include his birth parents in the constellation of loved ones who come and go; we acknowledge that they aren't present and let him be sad about that when he is. For now, it's all we know to do.


Amy said...

Poor little Puppy. I hope you all can find a way to help him ease into saying "goodbye" without falling apart so completely. That must be rough for everyone involved.

Anonymous said...

It sounds to me like you're handling this as well as anyone can when there's a very sad little Puppy. I've written about some of my partner's quirks that I think are related to her abandonment/adoption history (being over-excited to meet new people and loving them immediately, needing tons and tons of reassurance whenever she does anything) and the "model and accept" method has pretty much been my approach too. I know there are lots of differences between a 40-something and a 4-year-old, but I think you're on the right track with Puppy and I'm glad you're not looking at this as something you have to fix but as something you want to help him learn to live with or overcome as best fits the boundaries of who he is.

mama2roo said...

Thanks, as always, Heather, for explaining things in a way that just makes sense. There are just times when my mommy heart sees Woob's emotion as more than a typical 3-4 year old's tantrum--that there's something deeper going on. Its hard to hear, when I feel that way, that its just "typical three year old behavior"--not that there's something WRONG with him, but that he's feeling things at a different level and from a different perspective. We also, do a whole lot of talking about missing people, and loving people and distance and so much talk about feelings. It does seem to help to directly address what's going on as opposed to brushing it off as three year old stuff.

anyway...rambling...but thanks for addressing that for me.

Jamie said...

you are a wonderful mommy ~ i can just "tell". :) he is so fortunate to have a mommy who is sensitive to his needs and feelings.
just thought i would throw in a little info.......i have a nephew (biologically related to his parents) who is 5.5 years old. for the last year he has demonstrated very intense feelings about saying good bye to people/things just as you are talking about in your post. his parents have no idea why he feels such intensity toward this, but they are working through it with him also. i just thought i would share that with you :)

Heather said...

This sounds kind of like my bio daughter. She is categorized as a "highly sensitive child" and has her own history of loss.
Her bio dad left when she was six months old and we then moved over 6 times in 4 years.
Now she shows fear and worry whenever ANYTHING changes. She has had anxiety problems and we struggle to reassure her.
We model and discuss and hope someday things will be better for her.
I think the recurring theme of loss is just hard for all kids that have experienced traumatic loss, even if the person they "lost" is still available in some ways.

luna said...

this is so interesting, and sad. what a profound sense of loss he feels. I think normalizing it and explaining how absence doesn't have to = loss is a great thing. thanks for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is helpful or not, but my second son (bio) has always had a really hard time with goodbyes. He is a sensitive child and, given our international nomadic lifestyle, has had more than his fair share of goodbyes. He's 12 now and it hasn't gotten much better. I think you are right to look at Puppy's goodbyes, and adoption, as a part of who he is in all his wonderful complexity.

cindy psbm said...

Sometimes I wonder if my son feels upset after visits with me.

Feeling emotions is good and healthy, sounds like you are showing your son that being sad sometimes is ok, good job!!

Megan said...

You and Todd never fail to impress me when it comes to your parenting instincts and behaviors. I am always in awe. Just wanted to share that.

Miss Begotten said...

Heather -

Realize this old, but I would assume you're still experiencing this aspect of Puppy's personality in new ways. I'm an adult adoptee (closed - thank you 1970's) who had some of the same quirks and my parents assumed it was an abandonment issue.

My son is about Puppy's age. He's never known anything but two parents, center of the universe, adored only boy in the extended family. But goodness if he isn't just like Puppy and just like I was. He melts down when people leave. He hyperventilates. He becomes overly attached to animals. We stopped by the mobile pet wagon when he was four to play with a dog. We have a dog at home. But he still (2. years. later!) refers to the dog we played with as 'his dog's sister' who we 'left behind'.

It may not be an adoption thing. Just saying :-)

You're an awesome mom, btw; you inspire me.

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