My 4-year-old lost his favorite stuffed animal today, a floppy elephant named Ellie.
He sat dejectedly on the couch a little while after we got home. My husband sat down next to him and asked him how he was feeling.
“I miss Ellie.”
“Aww, man,” said my husband. There was a pause, then he asked our son again how he was feeling, going through specific, named emotions that time. Our son responded “no” to each one.
After a bit, my husband asked again, “What are you feeling right now?”
And after another pause, our son added, “Maybe someone will find her and bring her to our house.”
Ellie has been his constant companion almost from birth. She’s been sleeping with him for years, acting as a pillow most of the time. She’s his comfort when he’s upset, sad, scared, or hurt. She’s been a toy thrown back and forth like a ball. She’s a friend and playmate for pretend play. She’s currency for Mom and Dad when he makes poor choices. She’s been on trips, airplanes, long car rides, to the doctor, the dentist… all of it. Needless to say, she was special.
We think he left her on a bench outside a shopping center when he went to check out a fountain while we were running errands as a family today. We went back as soon as we realized she was missing. It was less than 45 minutes later, and we were still out. I walked around everywhere near that fountain looking for her. I went into the 3 closest businesses to see if anyone had turned in a stuffed elephant. I even checked the surrounding trashcans. Nothing.
I’ve already looked online, and it looks like a “new” Ellie could actually be procured. But the question my husband and I found ourselves discussing tonight is, should we?
Or is this an opportunity for a lesson in loss? Or about being responsible for our things, especially the most beloved ones?
Contrast all of the above with my 13-month-old, who in recent weeks has been expressing her own version of very strong attachment. In her case, the thing she’s incredibly attached to is… me.
I can’t be in a room or around her, especially at home, without her wanting me to hold her, or have her in my lap, or in some other way be fully engaged with her (on the floor very nearby, for example).
If I dare stand up and walk to another other room, she starts wailing and follows me. She will crawl over to me, reach up and grab the fabric of my pants at the knees (sometimes grabbing my skin underneath too… owww!), stand up holding on, and just stare up at me screeching her displeasure at the top of her lungs.
I’m starting to go a little crazy, feeling like I can’t get anything done if she’s awake and around me, unless I’m willing to just let her cry. And that’s hard to take for very long.
This is where adoptive parenting can start messing with your head.
Our son never did anything like this. And while I understand that every kid is different, with biological children you at least don’t have to play the guessing game about what might be in their DNA.
And I’ve been letting my mind wander in recent weeks into some places that maybe it shouldn’t. Not because they are bad, just mainly because they will lead to dead ends, places where I will find no answers. Asking myself questions like…
What kind of experience did our baby girl have in utero? We know birth mom did not receive proper prenatal care. But we do know that she went to the emergency room 40 times in the 6 months prior to giving birth. If her arm hurt, she went to the ER. So that was sort of a form of prenatal care… I guess. I mean, they would’ve known she was pregnant.
But if she went to the ER for every little thing, what was she mentally and emotionally thinking and feeling? What kind of stress was she under? What impact did that have on her baby?
How attached is our daughter to us? Does she feel secure, safe, loved? Since she doesn’t understand most words, what would reassure her?
This could also just be typical 13-month-old behavior, and her experience in utero and ever since has been perfectly delightful. Though in adoption scenarios, as one of our caseworkers once told us, there is almost always some degree of dysfunction by sheer virtue of the fact that an adoption is taking place.
Some people might even go so far as to say we are just experiencing the differences between boys and girls [eye roll, but whatever].
I know all kids can be different, it just seems doubly so in adoption. You have that many more considerations that could be at the root of any physical, mental, or emotional hiccups you might encounter.
So how will we handle each of these attachment scenarios?
With my son and his elephant, perhaps we wait a day or two and see how he takes missing his favorite stuffed companion. Maybe he won’t miss her at all. Maybe he’ll be heartbroken. Either way, as much as it saddens me, and as much as I want to (as a mom) sweep in and make everything okay and get Ellie back, maybe this really is an opportunity for his first life lesson in loss.
With my daughter… no matter how we work to be physically and emotionally present, maybe she’s feeling the effects of loss herself. I don’t know. We are a work in progress.