(There is a smidgen of “adult language” in this blog… Just a heads up!)
Today I tell you, dear readers, a little story I’ve dubbed “The Candy Cane Lesson.” This is not a recap of the cute but questionable “origin of the candy cane” story that I got to hear for the very first time last year (Husband was shocked that I’d never heard that story, btw… We were raised so differently!).
No. This is a story of Reactive Attachment Disorder’s associated behaviors, and how those behaviors differ from kids who do not have such a disorder. Come, children, gather ’round while I regale you with a rousing tale of deceit, conflict, and love…
Last week was the last week of school before Christmas, which means it was a week full of trauma behaviors. Last Wednesday, Middle hopped in the car after school, and within a few seconds she popped something in her mouth.
“What you put in your mouth?!” Little demanded.
Middle didn’t answer.
“WHAT IN YOUR MOUTH?!”
“A candy cane.”
Husband, who thankfully does the picking up of the children, asked her to spit out the candy cane because we don’t allow the kids to eat in the car willy-nilly (this is because of Oldest’s tendency to choke when she eats… I insist on being aware when children have food in their mouths in our vehicle!). He was telling this story to me while the kids changed and I went through backpacks. I found another candy cane in Middle’s backpack and put it away.
When Middle emerged from her room, she started digging through her backpack. “WHERE MY CANDY CANE IS?!” she demanded (and this was my first clue that something fishy was going on… Her grammar gets ridiculous when she is triggered).
“I put it up.” Middle went to grab it. “NO,” I said. “You need to wait until snack time. Right now it’s time to do homework if you are up for it.”
We started her homework, and she was making little mistakes… LOTS of little mistakes… Mistakes on things she “mastered” a year ago. Mistakes on things like writing the letter “e.” She was “playing the game”… she was screwing up on things she knows, and repeating those mistakes even after I intervened. When Middle plays this game, that means something is triggering her.
“Hmmm…” I said. “Looks like something is bothering you. Maybe homework is not such a good idea today. What’s going on?”
“I just want my candy cane.”
“You’ll have to wait.”
“But can’t I have it now????”
My RAD-parent brain kicked in right about here. I’ll bet she stole those damn candy canes.
Now, I knew I could not say that out loud to just anyone, because I knew how crazy it sounded. If your kids never experienced early-childhood trauma and don’t have “RAD behavior,” or if they DID experience trauma but you somehow avoided the insanity-inducing behavior that can stem from such trauma, I know I often look like a paranoid, over-involved, overly suspicious mother who should probably be evaluated by DSS. And I am thankful that most people don’t understand me, because that means that most kids do not carry the deep scars of early-childhood trauma with them for years or decades or forever after they are removed from the traumatic environment.
But, if you are raising a child with trauma issues, you get it.
You get it.
And I’m sorry.
But anyway. There we were, Middle pleading for her candy cane, me getting more and more suspicious of these candy canes.
“Gee… Where did you get that candy cane anyway?”
No response. I asked again. “My friend gave it to me.”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you get them in class?”
Dad jumped in here with, “I thought you got them from the library?”
“No…” Middle said.
“I’ll just message your teacher to find out about the candy canes.”
Middle went back to her room, with the instructions to lay down and read. I messaged the teacher, the teacher told me she had no idea where the candy canes came from but that she would check with the librarian (who told the teacher she had not given out candy canes to any students).
I checked on Middle, and she was NOT doing what I asked. “So, what’s going on in here?” I asked.
“I JUST WANT MY CANDY CANE!!!”
“Your teacher says she doesn’t know where those candy canes came from. And, since they seem to be causing you a problem, I think we will have to wait on that candy cane until we get to the bottom of that.”
Now, right here I want you to think back to when you were younger and tried to take something you shouldn’t have. Didn’t you try to keep your procuring of the forbidden item on the “down low”? Did you keep it somewhere your parent wouldn’t stumble across it? Or use/dispose of said item before your parents could even lay their eyes on it? THAT is what typical limits testing or even just plain childhood greed looks like… Take the stuff and enjoy it before I get caught. But with my kids, it seems to be different. They take things… And then make sure I notice they have taken something they weren’t supposed to take. I’ve actually told Middle that she couldn’t take a certain toy to school, and then on the way she started playing with it and holding it up in the rear view mirror, or dropped it and then said, “Hey, Mom, I dropped that thing you just said I couldn’t bring with us. Can you get it off the floor for me?”
Anyway, after a couple hours of asking for the candy cane every time she opened her mouth, she eventually told us that a friend of hers took the candy canes for her when she asked him to. Even if that is not entirely accurate, she wasn’t supposed to have the candy canes, and she knew it, so she got them through illicit means.
Of course, I knew this within minutes of her arrival home, and I told her as much.
“How did you know?”
“Because you are a good person. And when good people do things that are wrong, they feel guilty. And if you are feeling guilty, your behavior tells everyone that something is bothering you. I’m upset with taking the candy cane, I’m angry that you lied, and I’m sad that you’ve spent two hours throwing a fit about this candy cane when we could have been having fun.”
“So, I think we need to throw away this candy cane because it’s making you feel so badly. What do you think?”
Now, what would you expect here? I know I certainly expected another meltdown. Even well-adjusted kids with no trauma history will have a meltdown if their parent throws away candy, right?!
And therein lies the danger of expectations.
“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” she said.
Then we hugged it out and moved on with the day.
And so goes another day full of trauma drama.
And man. I’m so tired of it.
But, hopefully, she will remember… That I know she is a good person.
She’s not fooling me with her obnoxious behavior. And, I hope I never fall for her trick. Because she needs me to see through all the bullshit she throws at anything and anyone in her path, to see past the lying and arguing (OH GOD THE ARGUING) and destructive behavior and strange things she does, to dig through the rubble and find the little girl who just wants to be loved but doesn’t know how to accept it.
So I’ll keep trying.
Every single day.