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Mt. St. Helens erupting

Yes. I know. National Adoption Month is officially over. But… that’s okay. I’m continuing the theme through the weekend. I’ll draw for the books on Sunday. It’ll be Advent gifting, how about that?!

I’ve read that when Mt. St. Helens erupted, volcanic ash was found as far away Colorado. One map even shows a pocket of ash found in Oklahoma.

For families who adopt children who’ve lived in institutional settings or been neglected most their lives (no matter how seemingly short their little lives may seem to us), coming home can be a lot like finding volcano dust on the furniture from a catastrophe that happened thousands of miles away.

My friend, Candy, calls it orphanage dust. This is what she shared on her family blog in January:

Do you see that? It’s orphanage dust. It’s blowing through our house again. Every time I think it’s gone for good it comes back and I am unprepared. This time it’s a small dusting but it still caught me by surprise. It’s more manageable than previous times but I desperately want it to be gone forever. The supplements have made a huge difference but some triggers to the past are so strong… it’s really hard to put it all into words…

Candy and her husband, Rob, adopted their son, Igor, from Russia when he was 3 years old. He is eight now. Prior to being adopted, Igor’s only home had been a Russian orphanage. His infant and toddler days had never known the loving embrace of a devoted caregiver.

Orphanage dust can be nearly impossible to clean. Moreover, as Candy mentioned above, just when you think you’ve caught it all, something’s disturbed and more dust is revealed.

Candy goes on….

Tonight Igor was so angry he pulled his pillow and blanket off his bed and crawled under his bed to sleep. This broke my heart. To most parents this makes no sense, they think Igor is being defiant. But I flash back to 2005. I remember the first few months Igor was home. He would not sleep in a bed. He would only sleep on the floor. There was something about sleeping in a bed that scared him. For months he would fall asleep with me next to him on the floor in his room. Before Rob and I went to bed, Rob would pick Igor up and put him in his bed. In the morning we would peek in on Igor and he would be back on the floor asleep. We finally decided to let Igor sleep on the floor until he was ready to sleep in the bed.

When I see Igor as an eight year old boy crawling under his bed for safety, I see a frightened 3 ½ year old boy we brought home from Russia and I want to scream – DO NOT GO BACK THERE! You are safe with us. But I don’t because Igor cannot really hear me and I don’t think he remembers much about his first year with us. Igor’s mind has gone somewhere else. He is scared and confused. His body tense with anger…he is looking for his safe place under the bed. I let him go there for a while. Then I pull him out and put him in our bed. He is growling at me, refusing to use words. His body language tells me he does not want to be in my room, in my bed, his force shields are up but I wait it out. A few minutes later he gets closer to me. Soon our legs are touching and then Igor puts my arm around him. Igor is relaxed now. He drifts off to sleep. I get out of bed and he calls out, “mom…” He wants me to come back but he cannot or will not say the words. I sit with him until I hear the deep slow breaths of sleep.

The selfish, ugly side of me is so tired of orphanage dust. I think – you’ve been home with us for FIVE YEARS! TRUST US! I’m tired of not knowing what will trigger Igor to go back to his fight or flight ways. I am tired of my son not trusting me in every situation. I am tired of Igor thinking he MUST protect himself because we might not.

I’m plain old tired.

I pick up a book Rob bought me for Christmas – Bringing up Boys. It has nothing to do with orphanages or orphans. I read this:

Chronic neglect of boys and girls during the first two years of life is devastating psychologically and neurologically. The brain is a dynamic and interactive organ that requires stimulation from the outside world. When Children are ignored, mistreated or shuffled from one caregiver to another, terrible losses occur in thinking capacity. The more severe the abuse the greater the damage is done.

It was if God put that paragraph in the book just for me. While this was not new information, it was a great reminder of what happened to my son before we brought him home. I am reminded when Igor was 1-3 years old, his brain was being wired for survival… he was building a force shield to protect himself physically and emotionally. For the last 5 years, we’ve been earning Igor’s trust. We’ve been trying to develop new neuro-pathways in Igor’s brain to help him better react to hunger, fear, frustration, anger, etc.… but it’s been a long road.

After reading the paragraph in the book, I’m not so tired. I know that Igor has come so far from the 3 ½ year old boy we brought home…I know that I am being refined as a mom by God’s own hand. But some days the refining process is a little overwhelming and I’m tired again. Then I am reminded that we are refining Igor, helping him rewire his brain and I realize he must be tired, too.

I’ve witnessed much of what Candy shared about Igor, in my own adopted children. While their ‘fight or flight’ behaviors aren’t as severe (at least not now) – their orphanage dust not as thick – they both came home incredibly wounded from lives of starvation and neglect. Both are emotionally under-aged. One of them by at least 3 years. I hate seeing them (especially my son) devolve into victim mentality when they don’t get their way. I choke when I witness one of them instinctively manipulate others or undercut a family member out of some deep-seeded need to watch out for themselves, because somewhere deep inside, they still believe no one else will.

But… there is hope. As Candy suggested, a re-wiring is happening. And re-wiring takes time and patience (ugh – that word!). Something – by the way – no one is born with, but is refined in us, as we surrender to God’s will and live looking upward… believing with hope.

Coincidentally, since the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, local glass blowing artists have been using the volcanic ash to produce stunning works of hand-blown glass art. Also interesting to note, soil that has been exposed to volcanic ash, over time, becomes incredibly fertile – perfect for large varieties of plant life to thrive.

Tomorrow, I’ll share the ‘glass-blown art’ and ‘fertile soil’ side of orphanage dust.