When I was pregnant with Mae, my first kid, I was pretty sure that being a mother was going to be like babysitting – kinda fun, kinda boring. Then, (thirteen years ago yesterday, to be exact) she was born. In that first moment I saw her squalling Mae-Mae face, I discovered that, actually, being a parent, particularly of a baby, is like being in the presence of a movie star. Every move, every sound, every glance, magic. Being a mother, it turns out, is falling in love.
Mihiretu and I have been working on our attachment. I consult with Aaron, our therapist, and he tells me how to alter my behavior around Mihiretu. Walk out of the room when he’s misbehaving, check in with him every half hour or so he knows I’m there. Starve the negative attachment, build the positive attachment.
We talk every week, Aaron and I. He’s on the East Coast, I’ve never met him. Mihiretu doesn’t even know he’s in therapy. This last Monday, I took a break from painting our new store out in West Marin and dialed the New Jersey number at the appointed time. I sat outside on an old metal chair in the alley behind the store, plugging my non-phone ear to drown the sound of the occasional car, early spring sun warming my shoulders.
Aaron said something that quietly blew my mind, continues to reverberate in me. He said that I need to open my heart to Mihiretu. When he enters a room, I need to whole-heartedly greet him, turn my body toward him, smile. This is a kid, he said, who’s lived his life on a starvation diet of love. Since his adoption, he’s been pushing away everyone he cares about – testing them to make sure they’ll stay. And so we, his family, have hardened under this constant barrage of little boy abuse. Historically, he’s thrown rocks, he’s hit, he’s kicked, he’s sworn, he’s shrieked, he’s stolen, he’s destroyed. When he walks into a room, we’ve been trained to cower.
For whatever reason, this depiction of Mihiretu, of a boy who’s starving, got me. Because I’m the one that can feed him. I’ve been following all the recommended behavioral modifications for the month that I’ve been working with Aaron, but this week, the therapy entered my heart. It was the key that unlocked me.
And so, when Mihiretu enters a room, I stop what I’m doing, I look him in the eye, I smile and I say, “Hi, Buddy”. Every ten minutes or so I rub his knee or shoulder, tell him I love him. He seems a little bewildered by it, but certainly not unreceptive.
Two nights ago we were lying in his bed. He was telling me about his day, about his friends at school, about his friends in general. He said, “You know who my favorite girl?”
And I said, “Um, no. Let me think. Alana? From school?”
“Nah,” he said shyly, gazing at me from under his eyelashes. “I lookin’ at her.”
If being a mother is falling in love, maybe six years into being Mihiretu’s mother, the love affair is finally beginning. I’m finally feeding my starving child. And this whole time I didn’t even know he was hungry.