So, yesterday was another day of undefinable mood for our Marti.
And yes, many days with any teen girl are days of undefinable moody mood….but this one had a different tone. Some of the clues, right away, that we were gonna have “one of those days” were that she got dressed in a gray sweater dress, despite temps starting in the 70’s and said to rise into high 80’s. I told her that it was warm and gonna be hot, but there was no changing. So, sweater dress it was. Saturday also was a foreshadowing of the day; with double naps. Naps are one of the ways that she copes and pulls in when she is blue (Not a terrible coping mechanism; quiet but oddly disconcerting). Another, now classic, sign was that her hair was slicked back tight against her head; a sure sign of some dis-regulation and blue or black mood descending or already in.
Seeing these signs, right at the start of the day were clues. Tom and I went kind of automatically into mood-day mode and knew to let much slide, not make too many demands, make sure food was set out and available as soon as we got home from Mass and tried to keep to as standard a Sunday routine as possible. Now, the day could’a gone way way south, and might have in months past. This one was just very very quiet; with an obviously blue Marta. She was aloof and yet shadowing us around too; which is this whole contradictory head-spinning quiet hard behavior; so I figured it was better to address it all head on instead of pretending that it was just a regular Sunday.
One of the tools that a dear friend has suggested to me is a “Grief Box.” She came across this in one of her Hague training videos and mentioned it to me, weeks ago. I finally went and watched the whole grief training video last week. It is a good video, worth watching, especially if you are new to the older child adoption world or the world of grief in our children. So, seeing as it was a Sunday afternoon, with time a plenty, I thought of the grief box.
Now, I know, a lot of these sort of suggestions need to be done with a proper licensed therapist. Well, we don’t have one for Marta at this point; it’s complicated tremendously by her lack of language and cognition. So, with that, it was just us and we were winging it as usual (hopefully not to anyone’s detriment – but really ya never really know in all this, flying blind and all).
Anyhow, I sat and talked with Marta about her feeling sad. I asked her if many days she feels sad and she agreed. I asked her if she was “afraid she would forget the sad things?” She agreed again. I talked with her that sometimes when we have many things that are sad and hard it can feel like we have to hold on tight to them all, every day. I acted it out, she nodded. I said, “Would you like to make a box, a safe box to keep, that we could write down all the sad/hard things and put them in your box? So you can keep them safe; not forget. And if you wake up feeling sad, you can open the box and think about them, or show me? “ She said yes.
So we picked out a shoe box. I pulled out a small pile of construction paper and helped her cover the box in the colors she picked out. She wrote “Marta’s Sad Box” on the top. Then we sat and made a list of the sad things she holds onto, her losses (the one’s she willing to try with this). We talked about each one of them. She talked, I listened. Her list was what you’d expect from a child who lost her culture and family: parents, home, country. One of her items surprised and yet, didn’t at all: English. Yes, english is one of her “sad’s.” Because it’s hard. And she can’t speak it yet, not really. And it’s very hard to learn under the best of circumstances. And she has that deck stacked against her. But if it’s a grief thing, it can go in the box. It’s her box, her pick. I wrote each thing simply on a slip of paper, and she drew a picture of it on the back of the slip. Then she put it in the box. Then we closed the box up, lid on. Then I told her she can keep it in her room and we can talk about it or about anything at all, ever. Hard, sad, angry, bad things, good things, old, new.
She went to her room for a short bit, again. I went in, after a little bit, and told her again, that she can talk to us, me, dad, about anything, any time. That I was different than her first mom. But that I loved her and have big ears to hear and will be here. She hugged tight and smiled. And last night, well, it was still a smiley good day sticker, not a “hard day” claimed. Though I pointed out to her that in truth it was hard, and that was ok. She shook her head and hugged us tight.
So, I’m wondering, have any of you, with kids from hard places or hard starts, have you used a “Grief Box” and has it helped you? If so, please leave a comment, tell me how it worked for you. If not, have you used something else? Some of these “hards” are so very hard. Especially without the language to process it all, how to you help your child to acknowledge it, process it, and move beyond it into a healthier place? I’d love to hear your ideas.