Thursday, May 24, 2007

winds of change

There is a little girl in M's school (one of the aforementioned purse holders) who appears to have had a rocky road in her three years. She's been living with her auntie for the last year and a half while her mom has been away (either rehab or jail, haven't quite understood which). She only sees her mom very sporadically, every few months for a day or two (some sort of visitation). Lately when I drop M off or pick her up D runs to me and hugs me, and not only hugs me but holds on tight and I have to pry her fingers from around my neck when it's time to go.

It's interesting watching M in those moments, she watches D fling herself at me and sometimes then needs to be held as well, other times watches silently, and sometimes reacts strongly, telling D that this is HER mommy. Mostly though, she just watches.

Her auntie walked two days ago when D was clinging to my neck. She saw D in my arms and paused, then said quietly that D's mom was getting custody back in a month and that it was a very difficult time for everyone. I can only imagine what that must be like for D, her life has undoubtedly been uprooted before, and now after so long, she's facing it again.

As I untangled D's arms from my neck she looked at her auntie and said i want to go home with her. I want to go home with her NOW. She started crying and wouldn't go to her auntie and I saw tears in her eyes as well. I am not a significant person in D's life, I've done little more but hold her when she asks me to. And I don't have a relationship with her aunt.

It was awkward, and me being new at all of this said something about them coming over soon so M and D can play. Her auntie agreed, we are both aware of how close the two have become. But D was adamant. It needed to be now. It didn't seem to be about playing as much as coming from a place of sadness and uncertainty. Of wanting, maybe, to hurt her auntie because she is feeling confused and scared (see. Jen. project.) In the moment it continued to be awkward, but we left with a plan for them to come over.

Yesterday when I dropped M off D ran to me and clung. She said again that she wanted to come home with me, and put her head on my shoulder. She didn't move for several minutes, and the day care person finally came over and tried to take her, and there was an awkwardness again as if she didn't want D to impose on me. I told D in front of the day care person that I could tell she has a lot on her mind, that a lot was happening in her life right now. And that sometimes we need extra hugs and that was okay. She continued to hold on.

I feel for her; the confusion and uncertainty must be driving this, but as I am not friends with her auntie I am hesitant about what to do. I am sure it's a very difficult time for her, too. I am touched by the little person, her quiet eyes and sad embrace. I have invited them to come over, but I know it's short lived; once her mom gets her back all of this will disappear and D will be thrust into a new world full of changes. And she has no say in the matter. I might be looking for someone to save me, too.

I don't have any experience with this outside of the families I've worked with over the years, and in those cases my role has been defined. Here it is not, so I don't know what the best way to treat her and this for the next few weeks is. I am not trying to sound plaintive so much as asking for thoughts from those of you who've been through big transitions with toddlers (that aren't your own). It seems like an opportunity to do something right.


Julie Pippert said...

Jen, this is so tough.

At different times since becoming a parent, I've had kids---troubled kids---see something in me, my kids, my family, something they crave. They cling.

You feel like a life vest. You want to swoop in.

I've had experience here, but I don't feel okay coloring yours.

I think you need to follow your gut and heart. See where it goes.

You've got a good gut and a good heart. Lots of luck (and support).

There is nothing so wrenching as a child like this.

thailandchani said...

I can't say I have any experience with this but believe it's probably not all that different than helping anyone through any kind of transition. The principle is the same.

Trust your gut. That's the best you can do. Something like this can't be planned or orchestrated. It just .. is.



KC said...

It's unchartered territory. And she senses in you love, support, a true mother-figure. I tend to think what you're doing is right...not becoming entangled outside of school. She needs to attach emotionally somewhere but I hope it is to her mother, to her home.

There may not be right answers in this situation- I'm totally not talking from any kind of authority or experience. xo

Bon said...

all your reads on the situation ring pretty honest and true to me...especially the one about how it's so much harder to deal with things when you don't have the clear mask of work on your face, when your role is undefined.

my half-brother has informal custody of his own two children, thanks to a weird, messy situation, though his own is not much better and he & i are not close. but when i see my nephews, i get much of the same reaction. and a small part of me wants to take them home, to 'save' them. but i know it's not in my power, and that maybe me being the white knight isn't really what they need...that maybe it's me projecting. ;) so instead, i am just as steady and loving as i can be in the rare times i see them, and i listen to all they have to say. because i remember being a little kid, and that outside person who really treated me like my feelings mattered...that person helped me.

i don't know if any of this helps you, though...every situation is different. i feel for you, and for that little girl.

NotSoSage said...

Good advice, already. And I, too, think your instincts are right.

Maybe your playdate will help you figure out what small part you can play in this without disrupting anything.

Oh, The Joys said...

I'm with Julie, Bon and Sage. Jen you are the sort of person whose heart should be listened to. It will lead you to the right path with D.

I'll be thinking of her.

QT said...

How sad, Jen, and how hard it must be for you - knowing how much you want to help people.

I can't offer anything better than what has already been said, especially trust your gut. I feel for you, sister.

Anonymous said...

I experienced this a couple years ago when my son was 2. I've always been a kid magnet. A girl in his preschool class has many emotional, behavior and social problems. She has been the most challenging child in this daycare which has been in business for 26 years. For some reason when she was 2, she chose to cling to me, hands griping, head on shoulder legs completely wrapped around me, never letting go without a real struggle. I would hold her for about 10-15 minutes every morning and every evening. I felt for her, wondering if this was the only love she knew. Who else held this traumatized child? Did anyone else show her love? Oh, the questions and concerns went on and on. My son at about 2 1/2 reacted the exact same as your daughter for the first 3-6 months. It eventually became a real problem for my son. I started backing off a bit to about 2-3 minutes every morning and night spending time with Kassie. For both of these children, I had to. When my son would see me, he would push Kassie away and tell her "THAT IS MY MOM...MINE, NOT YOURS! GET AWAY FROM MYYYYYYYYY MOM!" I saw the jealousy and eventually evaluated the situation over tears, sleepless nights and countless hours. I decided to let my son know he was first in line, would receive the biggest hugs and more of them because I am HIS mom. At 3 he could only understand that he gets more but it is OK for me to still love and hug on Kassie. I would also assure him he is loved, loved, loved and more kisses and hugs every day for him. Eventually after his hugs and kisses, he would tell Kassie, "OK, it's your turn now." Today at 4, Kassie has hit, kicked, bit or spit at every teacher at the daycare. My son is her only friend. Kassie has treated me with respect ever since. Stick to your gut. I did and it has worked out just fine. Kassie hasn't sought me out for about 1 year now. Every child deserves to know their loved and I'll be there if nobody else is but I've learned to evaluate how it affects my kids and I pay attention to that as well.

meno said...

I have a friend who became a mother one weekend to a 9 month old boy, her step-grandchild because the mom was zoned out on drugs, again, and her 4 boys needed homes.

My friend kept and loved that boy for two years. Then the state, in all it's wisdom, decided that, although the mom wasn't exactly stable, they would try and reunite the family.

Heartache all around.

All you can do is offer the incidental support that you have already done.

But it just sucks!

flutter said...

Bless you for letting her hang on. I just can't imagine what some people put their kids through, without thinking of the consequences

Aliki2006 said...

This is a tough one--really tough. You want to avoid creating a dependency in D., one that perhaps can't be fulfilled because of he own family situation--it would be terrible for her to feel abandoned on different levels--through no fault of your own of course.

Trusting your gut/heart would probably serve you well, since you seem to be very in tune with yourself and what's the right thing to do.

By the way, there's a little boy in my son's school who rushes to me when he sees me. Strangely, he also bullies Liam, which is difficult. I think he does this out of some type of jealousy, but it makes things awkward.

Momish said...

My heart breaks for this little girl! I am sure whatever you do it will help her through the transition. Just by letting her know she is good enough and loved enough for you to care about her everyday will give that child strenght. Now and in the future.

slouching mom said...

there's a little boy in jack's preschool who does this to me...

jack hates it.

the odd thing is that he is a very well-loved and well-cared for little boy, whose mother is a teacher at the school.

his motives are inscrutable to me.

here, though, her motives seem relatively transparent, and i agree with all the others -- let it happen, and you will know what to do.

Anonymous said...

Jen, having spent a ton of time around a ton of children in play centres, I offer these wee words of wisdom...

HUG BACK. Screw the awkwardness...SHE instinctively knows the love you emit, and wants, NEEDS a part of it. Due to her bouncing back and forth, her healthy boundaries towards strangers are next to nil...and she WILL seek what she needs, again instinctively, which is to be accepted, and held and soothed by a MOTHER (not that her aunt doesn't give that, I'm just saying.) It may seem like a huge're not saying as much, but there are no coincidences why this has happened.

Playdate - awsome idea! You may want to read/seek social worker advise on how to handle the scenario (she may cling, she may not, there may be signs of jealousy even...and I agree with all here, follow your gut too.

Where ever she goes, can you and M try to stay in touch if you form a relationship or would that be too hard for you? What words of wisdom does J offer?

Will you keep us posted, please??


Lawyer Mama said...

What a tough situation. She sees your relationship with M and she wants that. Who wouldn't in her situation?

But I think your instincts are right on. Offer her what you can. Maybe even those brief hugs at daycare or playdates will help get her through this rough time. From what I've seen, you have such a good heart & children always sense that.

kristen said...

I can't offer any better advice than you've already received my friend. It has to be a heartwrenching situation and I guess the best thing you can do is trust your instincts - you'll do the right thing for you and your heart. xo

Christine said...

Isn't it so, so hard to see a little child suffer in ways they cannot understand? I think it is wonderful that you let her hug you and hold you. Keep hugging back, sounds like she needs it. And i agree with everyone here, follow your heart. I know it is not very concrete advice, but in the end it will lead you to the right palce.

Kyla said...

Hold her as long as you can. And follow your instincts, we all know they are great.

Redneck Mommy said...

My heart just breaks for that little girl. I have no words. I would just continue to offer the hugs as needed. Sometimes that can be enough.

Good luck.

(And beautifully written post by the way...)

The Expatriate Chef said...

When I was 17 I dated a guy who was 20 and custody of his three-year-old daughter. Her mom would come every other weekend to get her, and the girl would cling to ME and not want to go, calling me Mommy. All I did was hug her, help a bit. Her mom didn't do much of her care. It was awful. Not much I could really do at 17.

I don't have advice, other than a thought from the Beatles, "the love you take is equal to the love you make." Keep giving hugs freely. We'll all send our love to you in return.

theflyingmum said...

Oh, your big, big heart! I don't know, that would be too heartbreaking for me. Im like what others have said here - especially the person whose son was in a class with "Kassie..." enough love for everyone, right?

crazymumma said...

You are beautiful. Inside. and that little girl smells it. With every fiber of her being she is looking for a way to survive to make it good in a world of uncertainty.

What would I do? I would keep just being there, in whatever capacity you can. But I think you are going to have some tears.

shit. this makes me sad.

luckyzmom said...

In addition to the hugging I would tell her positive things that may stay with her her whole life. Something than conveys to her that she is precious and dear. "You are wonderful and have such a sparkling smile," or some such.

Beck said...

Poor baby girl.
I have had so many damaged little kids in my life - kids who have been in and out of the foster care system, kids from families that were damaging them horribly - and I never know if I'm striking the right balance, if I'm bringing good things into their life. So that's not helpful, I guess.

mamatulip said...

The love you have for others is so clear through your writing.

I would continue to do what you've been doing. Reach out to D when she needs it, hold her, hug her and talk to her the way you have been. I too think you should follow your heart with what you feel is right at the time.

Peace, friend.

Tabba said...

How difficult to see this poor little girl navigate these emotions and huge changes.
Clearly, attachments are an issue for her....and with good reason.
Certainly she feels a warmth and caring in you. A safe haven in a sea of storms.

This really is a tough one. And I say go with your gut.
If you feel it in you to try to get the girls together, that just may be an open door for something. And if tried.

Karen Forest said...

I don't know what to say, other than this seems to prove how intuitive children are.

Even as a toddler, this child knows that you, a virtual stranger, have a kind heart and are deeply understanding.

Much more so than the common mom at the daycare.

Gwen said...

You can't hug the girl too much.

And I'm impressed that M doesn't seem jealous of that.

Laurie said...

I agree, just hug her back. I have to think it's what she really needs at this point in her life.

You really are a sweetheart and I imagine that is why she is drawn to you.

tracey said...

What a tough situation for all involved. Can you find out from the aunt where D's mom intends to live? Is there any chance you can help foster a relationship in the future between the girls?

I feel for you. I hate watching things like this play out.

liv said...

Exactly what julie said. Pray on it, meditate on the situation, and I have great faith that you will figure out what to do.

karrie said...

Wow. She's so very small.How hard it must be not to just stuff her in your pocket and take her home with you.