Over the years of raising attachment-disordered children (our oldest four children, in particular) I have forgotten just how nice attachment can be between a parent and a child. And, I suppose, how natural attachment is for many parents who raise children with that innate capacity not having been destroyed by early years of neglect or abuse.
Today I took three of our kids, Mercedes (13), Leon (14) and Ricardo (15) to our church parking lot, where they met a group of teenagers and parents who are on their way to Kansas City. There they will be engaged in mission work together for about a week's time. Over the years I have taken many of our children to such settings, and I have learned to be careful not to excessively embarrass them. Our older children seem to have had the more significant attachment issues, and I learned in those early years of parenting to keep my distance in public situations. I always made sure to bid them goodbye and pat them on the shoulder or whatever, and almost always with no reciprocal response and never at their initiation. I became accustomed to this unusual way of saying "goodbye," always hoping that my consistent efforts to express affection would pay off one day. To date they really haven't. With our older, attachment-disordered children it is still painfully awkward to express or receive emotion. I have pretty much given up on that after all these years.
So, this morning before we left the house I made a point of hugging each of the three kids going on the missions trip, telling them that I was happy they were doing something good and that we would miss them in their absence. I wanted to make sure I had a moment for connection if things at the church became too busy or awkward for that to occur. We loaded into the car and set off for the parking lot.
Arriving there they unloaded their luggage and gathered with other youth and parents. I had to make a quick trip to the ATM for cash for my young missionaries and joined them a few minutes later. I joined the casually gathering circle of humanity when I felt a warm body cuddling up to mine. Expecting it to be our daughter Mercedes (who is quite affectionate at home and in public) I glanced down, having to make a second glance. It was our newest son, Leon, clearly desiring to be close to me in the moments before his departure. I stretched my around his shoulders and hugged him close (but not too close, since I didn't want to embarrass him). His body eased into my side, as natural as sunshine in the morning. He was content to stand as close to me as he could, my arm around his shoulders squeezing his tanned neck as an act of parental affection. He didn't move until he had to, when our youth pastor invited the youth participating to move to one side of the circle and the rest of us to the other. And even then he was reluctant; it was obvious that he preferred to stand close to me in those waning moments than with his peers.
I couldn't believe it. I have a kid -- a fourteen-year-old boy, at that -- who is attached and who loves his dad (he loves his mother, too, probably a little more than me). It was a very fulfilling emotional moment. I have waited years and years for one of my kids to initiate any indicator of healthy attachment, and reality arrived early this morning on a humid, rain-spattered morning in a church parking lot.
It's strange how adoptive parents learn to value the things that many "ordinary" families take for granted. Like a child-initiated hug in a church parking lot filled with peers and parents. Attachment. It's a very nice thing.