Friday, March 27, 2009

Paring Away at Separation Anxiety

When Kittyboy was coming up on his first birthday, he had me spoiled. Since he was not yet moving around all that well, I could put him on the floor with toys in the living room and do dishes in the kitchen, I could go to the bathroom, I could fix a bottle or fetch something I needed, and he was fine with that. Mommy go away - Mommy come back - it's all good.
Then, one morning in December '07, all that changed. It happened quite literally overnight. The previous day, he was fine - that morning, I set him down in the living room as I always did, stepped into the kitchen, and he began bawling. Crying and crying and crying, as if something were terribly wrong. I ran back in and NOTHING was wrong, he was fine, he had toys, nothing was wrong. I held him, I set him back down, I showed him his toys and made sure they were RIGHT next to him, and stepped away. I had not reached the door when the shrieks began again.
I set him down in the nursery and went to get a bottle, thinking he was hungry, and he screamed, hysterically. I fixed the bottle as fast as I could, ran back, and he had actually managed to drag himself to the nursery door, he was that frantic. The rest of the day, I would hold him for a while, then sloooowly ease him to the floor, then sloooowly step away, and if I did it slowly enough, I could then move around the same room. I just couldn't ever, ever step towards the door. We had a developmental therapist who was a Godsend and patiently answered every e-mail I sent, and I e-mailed Rhonda that afternoon to ask what on earth was wrong. She said he might have suddenly realized how big the house was because he was able to roll and scoot more, and to just roll with it for now. He should start regaining his confidence in a few days. When she and the PT came next, I stepped out of the room and once again he cried and cried - even with these women he'd been seeing weekly for months. Husband reported that he'd tried playing peekaboo with Kittyboy around a door frame - the result being screams. Their conclusion, when it was apparent this would not be a fly-by-night phenomenon, was that for some reason incomprehensible to us, his world did not feel safe to him - he was not secure in his world. And all we could do was just make him feel safe, whatever that took. Every week, as I tiredly apologized for the house, they assured me - "You can do housework when he goes to school."
What "making him feel safe" meant, for the next year, was never being separated. Ever. Fortunately Magic the kitty helped with nights for a while (see A Boy and His Cat), but during the day, unless Husband was home, I couldn't even go to the bathroom by myself. We made a play area in the kitchen so that something could occupy him while I fixed food. There was no more handing him off to someone during church, so I stopped chanting entirely, because he was getting too active to be held up at the chanter's stand, and he wouldn't go to anyone else (even in church, his "happy place"!). Baby gates were used to keep him out of rooms or provide cats with a refuge, but he couldn't be on the opposite side. He would scream for as long as he had any barrier between himself and a parent. The "unsafe feeling" was identified in April '08 as being caused by his sensory issues, so I've been hoping... and hoping... and hoping... that as we progressed in OT, it would get better.
And it has been, slowly. First he got to where he would leave the room I was in of his own accord and play elsewhere for a while, even though I was not "allowed" to leave the room myself. Then he got to the stage he's been at for at least a couple months now, where I could come and go and he could come and go and everything was fine so long as no one closed a door between us (or put up a baby gate, or so long as I was not on the other side of a mountain of laundry, etc). You can imagine the comments I've been getting on how I've "caused" this by never "letting" him be by himself! I have friends with whom I've limited my time because I just wasn't going to get into it with them about how I was coddling and encouraging his clinginess and how a few hours in a play pen would "teach him better". No, a few hours in a playpen would be hell. Pardon my language. We weren't going to get anywhere with encouraging his independence and helping him feel safe by himself if we gave him more reason to feel insecure. I'd tried every technique there is, and he would NOT stop crying after 10, or 15, or 20 minutes, or even half an hour - only a couple months ago, he cried for 45 minutes straight because I put up a baby gate. He only stopped after I took it down and held him for probably five to ten minutes. This was not a problem to be dealt with by letting him "cry it out".
Then, the last few weeks, I've actually gotten to close the door to the bathroom a couple times. Woohoo, feeling like a HUMAN! Then last Saturday, we went to a party and Kittyboy went down in the basement with his older friends while we adults sat upstairs and talked... no problem. Tuesday this week, we went to Walmart with my friend Alley, and he sat quietly in HER cart while I was all the way across the store temporarily. And he was fine. And naturally, I have praised him out the wazoo, gushed and cooed and generally went nuts over what a BIG BOY he's been.
This evening, he topped it all. We went to church for the 4th week of the Akathist service, my favorite service of Lent. I had been moping about not being able to chant it this year unless Husband had a Friday night off, and I just absolutely love the Akathist. So this evening, as Husband was working until late, we got a ride from Kittyboy's Baba Susan, and I remembered the Walmart trip as we walked in. I set all his things in the pew beside Susan, I told him, "You can sit with Baba Susan, can't you? Yes you can! You're Mommy's big independent boy!" I set him down on the pew, took a big breath, and walked up to the chanter's stand, just waiting for the wails. Nothing. Got up there, turned around, looked back, he was sitting there quiet as could be. Okay, worth a try...
He was good the WHOLE SERVICE. He spent the whole service down in the pew, not even the first pew but about halfway back, he didn't cry, he didn't fuss or whine, he played quietly the entire time. Oh my gosh, I could not believe it. I kept peeking at him, I didn't want to be too obvious in case I would "remind" him that "Holy cow, Mommy's all the way over THERE, this can't BE, WAAAH..." and he was perfectly happy.
Thank you, God! Thankyouthankyouthankyou.... and thank you Panagia Theotokos!

1 comment:

Pres. Kathy said...

Thank you Panagia for everything!