I crave predictability. I always have. There is comfort for me in knowing what to expect. I don’t particularly like surprises.
I also hate this about myself.
I hate that others can say “You’re so predictable” about my preferences or about how I’ll respond to a certain situation. I hate that what feels most comfortable to me (knowing what to expect) is often perceived as my need to be in control or micromanage.
I’ve also wrestled many years with trying to “let go,” “loosen up,” “learn not to care.” That hasn’t worked out so well for me. In fact, I think that the stern inner voice I often use to push myself to be better in good ways has found the perfect niche for turning abusive. I can berate myself for not being flexible, for not being spontaneous or fun, for running “too tight a ship” or having hard and fast “rules” for how I want to structure my days, have relationships, or organize my kitchen cabinets. Notice all the ways I tell myself that I am “not” – with no mention of what I am. After a while, hearing the constant “I’m not [fill in the blank]” self-talk makes me feel as though I’m constantly failing.
I have always been failing at trying to be unpredictable.
Which is funny. Because of the son I now have in my life.
I am Mami to a little boy who desperately needs predictability. Not only because of all the upheaval he’s been through in this past year, but because of the way his nervous system processes sensory information (feelings, sounds, sights). And because all that he knew before joining our family was the very predictable life of an institution. A predictable rhythm to our days is essential for him. Who comes and goes, when we eat, how (and where) we get dressed every day, where his toys live. Predictability is a healing rhythm for him. When something upsets that rhythm, it can sometimes feel catastrophic to his body, to his mind, to his emotions.
To the families who love us so much and want to see us more: it is very hard to upset the predictability of JM’s world. It is even more difficult to describe what happens when the predictability is upset. Tantrums, irrational fears, defiant behaviors, disruption in eating habits. Whether or not these sound like “typical four year old” behaviors is beside the point. Our child hasn’t (and won’t) live a typical life. He isn’t even cognitively four years old in some developmental areas. Sure, other families see what we see with their children too. But likely the behaviors another family sees in their normal four year are not connected to fear issues stemming from the loss of a birth family or a brain injury that dominates how we do even the basics of life: like zippering a jacket or taking a sip of water. So, while the external behavior may look the same in many ways, they are often coming from very different internal causes.
Children who test boundaries within the confines of a safe and trusting environment are normal. Children who test boundaries because they are used to being self-sufficient and don’t understand how to trust the authority of the grown-ups who love them are dealing with issues of a different kind. Not worse or more important. Just different.
Within the past few months I’ve come to understand something foundational about myself: I try to disappear as much as possible. I want to quietly go about my business, avoid intruding on others, and be self-sufficient so as not to inconvenient those around me. My counselor calls it “taking up as little space as possible in my world.” Over the years as this desire grew in me, it sounded lovely, and humble, and appealing to stay out of the way. But it isn’t healthy.
Actually, this is isn’t just unhealthy, it is really destructive. Because it means I grow silent when I need to speak. It means I hide when I need to wave an SOS flag. It means that what I need or want consistently takes a backseat to the people around me. And inside I die just a little bit more each time I shrink away from taking up the space that was granted to me simply because I live.
And then my son enters my world. And he takes up a lot of space.
We make plans only to break them a few hours later when he encounters something unpredictable and disrupting. We try new things only to have them backfire and we rush home to huddle in predictability and routine, letting its healing rhythm sweep back over us while we ask God to help us learn how to do it better next time.
I’m the Mami, so it is my job to carve out and maintain the safe space my child needs in this season and for however long the need for predictability will last. But this is incredibly stretching for a person who wants to take up a very small amount of space in her world. To answer “This isn’t a good time for a visit” when you ask is very hard for me because it means disappointing you; even if it is what we need to maintain balance. Telling you what is best for us at risk of hurting your feelings is a terribly painful experience for me, even when you have grace for it. I am working to undo years of believing that in order to be loving, gracious, and servant-like to you means that what I need (or what my son needs) is ignored.
But it’s a lot harder to ignore the needs of my son.
Suddenly I realize that in all of the ways that we thank God for doing his redemption work for JM, I am also seeing the way God is doing redemption workin me because of my son’s incredible story. Redemption work He hasn’t yet attempted because I would ignore myself for others. Now I have an “other” who needs me to pay attention to him – and thus to myself too. Redemption work God probably couldn’t start or finish is actually becoming a reality in my heart. All because my son is in my world.
One day I will take my son out to coffee and, through happy tears, I will thank him for allowing me to be his Mami. He could’ve said no, you know. He could’ve rejected us. He could’ve refused to partner with us in all of the attachment work we’ve been doing. But he didn’t. He embraces us. He signs “I love you” to us. He’s choosing to be part of our family in his own four-year-old way. And because he does, his healing story heals mine too. Thank you, son, for being mine. Not only did our really Big God heal your brain then, he’s doing it now – and as he does, He gets to heal Mami too. Thank you.