Thursday, May 3, 2012

Big Girls Should Cry

There are qualities in our children that I think we take for granted, things that we just expect to be part of the makeup of each child.  I thought this, unknowingly, until we met Aria.  There has been a certain aspect to Aria that has been "off", a part of her that I haven't been able to make sense of.  She is a mystery, this child, and unlike with my other children (or even others who I have been entrusted to care for), I cannot figure out why Aria acts the way she does when she does.  There seems to be no rhythm to her days, to her moods.  The word "mood" itself implies emotion, and that is exactly the piece that Aria seems to be missing.  Emotion.  Not all, but certainly some.

Emotion is something we take for granted.  When a child is tired, we can guess that emotions will run high that day.  When a child is angry, we can foresee a tantrum coming.  When a child is having fun, we expect to see giggles and smiles.  Some of this Aria falls into, some of it she does not.

I think that is the biggest mystery of who Aria is... this child that when she first entered our family, would often show little emotion at all.  Just a blank, lifeless stare.  This took place especially when I would have to put Aria on a time out.  She seemed like she could stare at the wall with a cold, blank stare all day.  It made me wonder if she had.

Aria has slowly come out of herself.  Out of all the emotions we see from her, it's been happiness we see the most.  The giggles, the smiles, how quickly she entertains herself and finds entertainment in the things around her.  The emotion I see the least?  Sadness.  At least not sadness as children (or many people in general) seem to show it.  When Aria is sad, there comes the emotionless face.  She looks cold, perhaps even angry with a mouth that naturally curves downward.  But if you ask her, she is not.  If you ask her if she is sad, she says yes.

Aria has had a lot of difficult behavior this last week.  I have no idea what has triggered it.  When I think I've gotten through to her, I see how I have not.  And her emotionless, cold face as I speak to her is one of the most frustrating things I have encountered with her.  When her face, when her entire body language looks as if she doesn't care or has given up or just is trying to tune out and go deeper inside of herself, it is an obstacle that seems overwhelming.  I know she is not "dead inside", but that is the appearance she gives.  And talking to her, trying to get her to share what's on her heart, is like trying to talk to an 18 month old and trying to find out what's on his heart... you don't get far.  It's so hard, and I can't just ignore the behaviors that facilitate these conversations.  I can't just ignore the thrown toys in anger, the mean words to siblings, the blatant disobedience.  I can't.  And yet when the day goes with too many of these episodes, Aria goes to that cold dark place.  And I feel like there is no way to get through to her.  Sometimes I see watery eyes in her empty stare, but nothing further.

After a long day like that yesterday, today was beginning much the same way.  I finally got to the point where I felt nothing I was doing was working.  And so, talking to my very young four year old, I told her... "I don't know what to do anymore.  Where do we go from here?"  And as I told her the realities of her behavior and the consequences they bore (like being mean to siblings means you don't get to play with them), I saw the eyes become watery again.  And as she and I reconciled to the broken trust in our relationship, I could tell that crying was just under the surface.  I asked her if she wanted to cry (I've done this before), and expected her to just let the tears roll down, perhaps make a muffled sound as she suppresses it all.  But today?  Aria actually cried.

And as Aria cried I encouraged her to cry more, to let it all out.  And she did.  She cried and cried as I've not heard her cry before.  This wasn't terrified, angry screams as she cried that first day we met her.  This wasn't a cry of pain, as she does only when she gets really hurt.  This was a cry of emotion, of letting suppressed emotions out.  As she cried, my heart that has felt so much frustration in the last couple of days became very soft over this child.  She is so clearly broken, and I wish I knew what in her past makes her so easily go to that cold, hard place.  Perhaps it was all of it...

I held her as she cried, and realized how much of a baby she still is in her development.  Chad and I have asked her before if she wasn't allowed to cry in China.  She doesn't seem to remember.  But if I had to guess, many of her cries went unanswered in those first developmental years.  Why cry when it's pointless?

I hope this was a step towards healing today.  Every piece we unlock, every tiny glimpse of growth, is like an incredible treasure.