Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Back to School: Sauce, Hugs, and Happiness

Things are good.

I'm almost afraid to share because I don't want to jinx it, but I have to tell you all that things are going awesome in the Chapman household and it's been quite a while since I could say that.

Stress ball in hand, happy as a clam!
Yesterday was the first day of school. The most stressful part of yesterday was when I tried to make Swedish meatballs for dinner and the sauce wouldn't thicken! I was actually really stressed about it, but once I got through dinner and realized that SAUCE was the worst part of my day, I was pretty thrilled.

We have seen a good amount of progress over the past month of very intentional, attachment-focused therapeutic parenting. But we were bracing ourselves for what might come with the start of school (as much as I was also so very excited for the 7 hour break each day!!).

Academics are tough for kids with attachment disorders, and in the past school has been a source of strife in our relationship with Joe.

Last year there was an "All About Me" poster assigned the first week of school. Joseph swore he had no homework the whole first week and we didn't find out about the poster until weeks after it was due. And that was the fun homework! He had a school-issued planner that everyone was instructed and helped to use…would. not. use it. He wrote half of what he was supposed to write and conveniently left out (sometimes even erased!) things he didn't want to do.

BUT. Yesterday. Seriously, this is amazing. Joe came home with a fully filled out planner! He TOLD me about all of his homework before we even got home, and then he DID it without any arguing or crying or yelling!

Today, he got this year's version of the "All About Me" assignment almost completely done and it's not even due until Friday!
(Cue the fireworks!)

Something else really awesome happened today.
Joseph gave me a hug, a real hug.

This a really big deal for us. The attachment disorder causes Joe to reject affection from his parents and seek it out from strangers and acquaintances. With the help and advice of our therapist we have been working on this by defining for him who hugs are for (right now we are keeping it to close family), and asking others not to hug him (church friends, babysitters, etc), encouraging high fives and fist bumps instead. This is super awkward to have to say to people, but it is really helping! I have also been finding ways to give him physical touch/affection without making him resist, like lying beside him and talking to him when I put him to bed at night (this has seemed to really make a difference), and also tickling, shoulder rubbing, head scratching, and cheek kisses when I get the chance!

You may remember that we got big, tight, happy hugs when we picked Joseph up in Georgia after a month apart, but after a few days he was dropping to the ground when I tried to hug him. Since then we've made some progress, but what happened tonight literally has not happened for me with Joe ever, that I can remember, in the two years we have been his parents.

Tonight, we went to leave for Meet the Teacher night and he came over and gave me a real hug. It wasn't a hyper, super-tight squeeze. It wasn't a manipulative, "I want something" hug or an awkward, porcupine hug; it was a soft, calm, sweet, natural, REAL hug. I almost cried. I'm really not sure how I held it together.

First Day Decorations! The boys were pretty anxious about
school, so I had them write down bad/nervous thoughts and
then crumple them up and put them in their dump trucks!
Speaking of almost crying, last night as I was washing dishes after dinner I was choking back tears as I was listening to Joe talk to John about his day. He told him about the notes he got from people at our church from Back to School Sunday. He told him about the little monster pouch I gave him to attach to his backpack where I would leave little notes and treats every now and then.

I could just hear in the things he was sharing that his little love tank was being filled up and it was making a difference.

Reading notes from church friends at breakfast.

As I listened, I thought about our church and the incredible support they have been to our family. I thought about all of the people praying for us, and I truly believe it is making a difference. We have put so much time and work into learning how to love and parent this child, and finally, it is seeming to matter. Finally, we are starting to see progress and hope as the icy walls around his heart begin to melt away.

Happy, happy choked back tears.

We are so very thankful for all the wonderful friends and family members who have been supporting us, reading up on attachment disorders, offering to help however they can, hanging out with us when we are stressed and frustrated and depressing to be around. We are so thankful for our church's love and support and the time they have given me to focus on Joe. I am so grateful for the messages of encouragement I have received and all the people cheering us on, some who barely know us or don't even know us at all!

I truly believe that God is at work in all of this, through all of you, to help and encourage John and I, and through us to love Joe and help him heal. I think we are healing too.

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; 
 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." 
- Lamentations 3:22-23

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