by Lansing Wood
Recently Lucy, our pet goldfish, had a noticeable behavior and appearance change. Instead of her characteristic friskiness, she lay listless at the bottom of her bowl, swimming to the surface only to nibble a little food. Her bright orange color seemed dimmer and we detected white fuzz on her fins and tail. She seemed to have tiny red spots on parts of her body. Feeling responsible for her plight, (I had recently introduced a new plant to her previously healthy environment) I searched the pet shop shelf for a remedy. Miraculously, I found one. In just five of treatment with Maracide (one drop per day) Lucy’s usual spunk and color had returned. Once again she engaged in her endearing goldfish antics.
Lucy’s quick, easily observable recovery brought more satisfaction than one might have expected in connection with a thirty-nine cent goldfish. Perhaps the timing was right. The simplicity of her "cure" contrasted starkly with the complexity of our efforts as parents, particularly with one of our children.
I was reminded of our decision over seven years ago to bring a school aged child into our family, to include him in the health of our environment and, to be honest, to expect this Emerson to "cure" him of the effects of a very rocky first six years of life. Although we knew our son had moved at least eight times (birth parent, foster homes, adoptive homes) we still felt confident that our family would make it with this little boy and, of course, that he, in turn, would make it with us. After all, he needed and deserved a permanent, loving family, and we were experienced parents who enjoyed parenting and family life. In addition, our three birth children were eager to have a new brother and seemed particularly sensitive to his difficult life experiences.
Seven years later our son has the family he needed and deserved. Unlike in the story of Lucy, however, there has been so miraculous "cure". As our efforts to draw him in and to become important to him seemed at best to be only superficially effective, we sought information and support, often through FAIR family contacts, workshops, and P.S. (parent support group.) We learned and are still learning new parenting and management techniques which don’t depend on the desire on our son to please us. We have had to expand our understanding of love and what that means with this particular son. We have become more aware of the need to be united as parents and to be available to one another for support and respite. Our awareness grows daily concerning the effects on our other four children of our decision to become parents to this boy.
We are currently working with a therapist to find ways to break the cycle within the family which tends to recreate the isolation (rejection, abandonment) our son has experienced throughout his life. It is true that our boy brought with him the effects of previous inadequate family experiences. Now that he is a part of our family, however, we must be aware of interactions and patterns which are either helpful or not helpful for him, other individuals, and the family as a whole. Other children in the family are receiving support to maintain their own health and to be empowered to insist on their own safety and rights. We parents struggle at times with the same feelings with which our son is so intimately acquainted – helplessness, anger, and hopelessness.
No wonder the quick fix of Lucy’s medicinal drops was so satisfying. Yet there are days when I am convinced that something significant is happening – that after years of consistency and commitment to this boy he is more able to trust, to experience intimacy and caring, and to make healthy choices for himself. I am still convinced that our family, not because it is such a great family, but simply because it is his family, is the key to our son’s growth.
In spite of the absence of dramatic remedies a very basic goal of our adoption decision has been reached. Undoubtedly he has become a part of us and we of him. Thanks, little Lucy, for the lift of your recovery, and thanks, dear son, for the gift of you presence.