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Forgiveness with a Side of Chocolate

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Photo Credit: Jenn

Our daughter harbors heartbreaking, heart-aching, anger toward her birth mother.

Thanks to a fun little disorder called RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder, not the cool 80’s “rad”), most of that rage is directed at me. One of RAD’s hallmarks is misdirection of anger toward the person who most closely represents the individual who caused pain. Most children with RAD aren’t aware of what’s happening; it’s not intentional, and it’s important for the “target” to understand that most of the child’s behavior is not a personal attack.

In general, she presents as an almost perfect child and is great at surface interactions. Anyone outside our home or very close inner circle of friends would be shocked that she’s anything but an angel. I did not immediately realize she creates that image on purpose, so was taken aback the day she complained about a classmate who did not like her, stating, “but I’m so sweet!” If you’ve ever seen The Bad Seed (which, in an ironic twist, has always been one of my favorite classic movies), imagine Rhoda. That’s my girl (without the homicidal tendencies, thank goodness).

For much of our time together, she has repressed her true feelings. Sometimes she references “pushing the feelings down” or “keeping myself from coming apart.” Once, she told the counselor that she has “a line,” and she has to make sure she stays “below this line,” tracing a chest-high line in the air. If she feels herself getting “close to the line,” she removes herself from the situation and stays by herself for a while. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, she opens up a little bit; two years ago she told me, “it’s not fair that you get to see your mother.”  This year, her play therapist suggested we try something different. I sat in the waiting room to see if she would talk freely without me. She told the therapist that she is angry at her birth mom. The therapist suggested that she write a letter.

Later that week, Hubby had our son elsewhere, so I asked if she’d like to write a letter. (We’ve made a rule not to discuss the bio family in front of her brother. He’s allowed to bring it up if he likes, but if she references them when he’s present–and not mentally prepared–he has a very negative reaction.) I told her it was just for her, and I wasn’t going to read it unless she decided to share it. She wrote her feelings in large, scrawled letters (she asked me to read it), stating, “I wrote messy because I am VERY ANGRY.”

Several other times, when her brother was away, either she or I have suggested letter writing. The letters have been shorter each time, but still very angry. This past Saturday, in addition to writing the letter, she wanted to talk as we sat in the kitchen. “Why did she get rid of me? Why was she so mean to us?” Still angry, her tone was plaintive. I don’t have good answers. Or any answers, really.

Social services told the kids their mother was unable to provide care because she was “sick,” which then made our girl feel guilty for not being able to be nurse for her mother. On arrival with us, the kids had convinced themselves that social services kidnapped them from their home, had “taken” them from their family. They hated social workers, police, judges and anyone in authority. The few answers I do have are ones I don’t want to give. “Your mother put herself first, neglected and abandoned you, wouldn’t do the few, easy things the judge ordered she must do to keep you and didn’t show up to what she knew was your final meeting.” No. I refuse to break their hearts further. I remained silent and let her talk, praying for the words to help her.

My eyes snapped to the cookbook shelf, and I had an idea. “So, you’re really angry, right?” I asked. “Yes, SO angry. She took my heart and did this,” she said, making a breaking-in-half motion with her hands. “So, do you think she knows that you’re angry?” I reached for my enormous Asian cookbook. She nodded. “She knows.” As I pulled the book down, I asked, “Do you think it’s hurting her back when you’re really mad?” She stood up, always interested in cooking. “Yes. It hurts her. What are you doing?”

I held the heavy cookbook out to her. “I want you to hold this over your head with both hands. Don’t let go, okay?” She took the book, eyeing me with suspicion. “So,” I asked, “how heavy is it?” She shrugged. “Not that heavy. I can handle it.” I smiled. “Great! So, that’s my cookbook. If I held it over my head, it would be heavy, but you’ve got it and you can handle it. Do you think you can hold it up all day?” Her eyes widened. “It might get heavy.”

“So, you’re holding the cookbook. Is it heavy for me?” I asked. She looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. “It’s not heavy at all for you; you’re not holding it.” I smiled. Maybe this would work. I pulled out one of her Christmas stocking gifts, a sealed plastic candy cane full of chocolate kiss candies, and placed it on the table. “Okay. You can have as many of these as you want.” She gasped happily (candy is usually well-rationed at our house). She started to put the book on the table, but I held out my hand. “Wait. You can have as many of these as you want, BUT you must keep both hands on the book.” She narrowed her eyes, determined. “I can do that.”

I let her try for about two minutes. She attempted to use her elbows, her nose, her mouth. Finally, frustrated, she said, “I have to put the book down.” I smiled. “So. In order to get to the candy, you have to let go of the book, right?” She nodded. “I just said that.”

“Before you put it down, tell me this. Does it affect me one way or another if you’re holding the book?” Slyly, she said, “I can’t give you any candy unless I put the book down. So I should put it down and give you some candy, right?” I laughed. “No, I can get the candy, because I’m not carrying the book. So does it matter to me if you hold the book?”

I reached for the candy. Now she was annoyed. “No. It doesn’t matter to you if I’m holding the book. Are you going to eat my candy? That’s not fair.”

I didn’t want her to lose focus on the idea, so I said, “Okay. Put the book on the table.” As she did, I asked, “So, now you can get to the candy, right?” Ripping open the plastic cane, she said, “Yep.” Praying I wouldn’t lose her to the chocolate, I said, “You know, when we hold onto anger, it only hurts us. When you held my book, it didn’t make a difference to whether I could get the candy. It only kept YOU from getting the candy.” Her eyes held a spark of recognition. “You’ve been holding a lot of anger against your birth mom. Who is it affecting?” Her mouth dropped open. “Me.”

“Is it affecting her?” Mouth full of chocolate, she shook her head. “When we hang onto anger, it hurts us and keeps us from getting to the love,” I pointed to the chocolate kisses, “but it doesn’t affect the other person. It can make us have bad behavior, though, and sometimes we find someone else to treat badly when the person we’re really mad at isn’t here.” She squinted at me, not getting it.

“When you first came to live here, were you nice to everyone?” She nodded enthusiastically. I ask, “Were you nice to Daddy?” Nod. “Were you nice to your brother?” Nod. “Were you nice to me?” Nod–then, “Not really very nice to you.”

“Why do you think that happened?” Eyes wide, she said, “I was mean to you, but I wasn’t mad at you. I was mad at her.” Completely floored she made the connection, I continue, “Right. And I always knew you weren’t mad at me. That’s why I didn’t get mad back.” (Honesty here: even knowing her motivation, it was definitely a lot of work not to take it personally, and sometimes I still did, but I worked hard not to react.)

“If you keep holding the anger against your birth mom, will it hurt her?” She opened another chocolate, one eye on me. “No. It just hurts me.” She slid a foil-wrapped kiss my way.

“Right. That’s why God tells us to forgive. Forgiving is deciding to let go of the anger, like deciding to put the book on the table. He doesn’t want us to forgive so the other person will feel better. He wants us to forgive because holding the anger keeps us from being able to get–and give–love.” I picked up the chocolate. “Could you give this to me while you were holding the book?” She shook her head.

“Forgiving is hard. People have hurt me, too, and when it’s a really big hurt, I think about what happened and get mad all over again. But I have to decide to forgive them over and over, because if I don’t, I can’t love others the way I should, and I can’t get the love I need. You don’t have to forgive her today, but when you’re ready to decide to forgive, I know you’ll feel better.”

“I don’t know if I can forgive her yet,” she said, thinking (and unwrapping more chocolate). “I know,” I say. “Sometimes it takes time. But now you know what you can do to feel better.”

***

The next day, she hugged me. “Can I write a letter to tell her about what I got for Christmas? I’m not going to write a mad letter this time. I forgave her. I’m still a little mad, but I feel better.” I hugged her back, tight.

Blogger JoyRoses13 has a great quote, which I’m stealing: “Bitterness is the poison that we drink ourselves, hoping to kill our enemy.”

Who do you need to forgive? It’s time to put the cookbook on the table.

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Adoption = Progress, Part 1

Our last five years in about five minutes (each).

Year One

I sit, chin in hands, watching as the tiny five year old builds a…something…out of the two disassembled captain’s chairs in the corner.

The old green dining room carpet, pilled and nubby under my feet, needs a thorough vacuum. I’m too exhausted to even consider cleaning. This undernourished creature and his sister, age seven and waif-like, have lived in our home for five days.

She does not fall asleep each until after midnight. He awakens most mornings at 3 am, screaming curses. I am working full time on fewer than three hours of sleep. I have no idea this will continue for almost a year. My oblivion is fortunate. If I knew what was coming, I might have a nervous breakdown.

We have survived three school days. Social Services insisted that we register them for school immediately. They arrived Wednesday at 4 pm. Thursday morning, we deposited them in their respective classrooms. And then Hubby stayed with the girl and I stayed with the boy. To keep them from wailing.

I’ve been at school the last three days, working with his teacher to keep him in the room. We’re asking the social worker to approve a behavioral aide. This child needs more help than he’s been getting. So far, she’s fighting me.

That’s okay. I’m stubborn. Vigilant, even. I will make sure these babies are no longer overlooked.

I gaze in wonder as he constructs some kind of bridge from the pieces of leather and wood. For a moment, it stands in precarious glory. His sister walks past and the slight floor vibration sends the creation tumbling to the carpet. He wails. I hear something else behind the frustration.

I hear a wild animal.

Scooping him up, I carry him to his room and perch on the bottom bed, trying to balance him without hitting my head on the bunk above. I can’t quite get far enough in and the mattress slides back; metal bed rails bite the back of my legs.

He screams and screams. I’ll be deaf, I’m sure. I hold him tight, attempting to soothe. He clings like a monkey, wrapped against me. Still top volume. While shushing and rocking, I say, “It will be okay. I love you.”

He rears back and looks me full in the face. “No you don’t!” he spits. He is rabid with rage. “You DON’T!” He pushes away from me. I reach, but he throws my hand away. “Don’t touch me!” He screams.

I stare at him.

Year Two

I sit, chin in hands, listening to the Principal.

“I’m not sure we can keep him here. He slammed her head into the cinder-block wall. She was just walking by, and he grabbed her. He’d been fine all morning.”

We were two weeks into the school year. He’d already been suspended off the bus; now this.

After begging, pleading, arguing and threatening, I’d managed to convince social services he needed a behavioral aide at school last year. She was approved in December and spent the second semester in his Kindergarten classroom. His self-control wasn’t fabulous but school officials conceded that, in her presence, his wild behavior was restricted enough for him to stay in school for full days. 

The aide had taken another job over the summer; we were already on replacement number two. The first hadn’t lasted a week. This time, they’d sent a young man, with the explanation that maybe he needed a additional male role model. I read between the lines: “he needs someone strong enough to restrain him if necessary.” 

I gave my boy a little card at the beginning of the week, “I love you,” printed in Sharpie marker. He was beginning to allow that maybe I did, but still never responded when I spoke the words. “You can keep the card with you as long as you behave,” I told him. “If you’re misbehaving, you have to give it up.”

He really liked the card, so for the first few days worked very hard to keep his disruptions to a minimum. I told the new aide to take the card if the boy was acting out. He was a young guy with a degree and the firm belief that I couldn’t possibly know how to handle this child—hence, his presence. He didn’t take the card.

Our guy’s behavior began to spiral out of control with the aide: screaming in the cafeteria, running around the classroom, pouring glue on his desk. Minor, compared to last year, but I was concerned about escalation. 

I bring my thoughts back to the principal’s concerned face. “Where is he now?” I ask.

“Library.” She says. “We couldn’t keep him in the classroom after that. She’ll be fine other than a bruise, but the little girl is very upset.”

I walk around the corner to the library and stop short, stunned. The boy is in the middle of the library, holding court on a special rocking chair. The “cool” one the librarian lets them use if they’ve had stellar behavior. Flipping my card through his fingers, he gazes, stone-faced, at his aide.

The aide is sitting on the floor, staring at his own shoes. A teacher, not my son’s, hovers at the edge of the library, hesitant to enter. I mutter, “Are you kidding me?” and stride past the magazine racks and colorful posters.

“HEY!” I say, standing behind the aide. My son hardly reacts; his eyes widen a fraction. The aide, though, almost falls over. “Whoa! I didn’t even see you coming. You’re like a ninja, man. Wow!”

I frown. “Don’t call me ‘man’—especially not in front of my son.” He nods, scrambling to his feet. Furious, I point to the hall and he follows me.

“Why is he in that chair? It’s a reward chair. Why does he have the card in his hands? I told you to take it if he acts up. Slamming another child’s head into a wall is definitely acting up. Why are you sitting on the floor? You are the adult. What is the problem here?” I glare at him, incensed.

Flustered, he wipes his hands on his khaki pants and says, “I don’t really know. I mean, he was sort of cranky this morning, but I got him to do about half his work, so we went to lunch and I bought him ice cream for cooperating—”

“WHAT?” I break in. “Are you KIDDING me? We’ve HAD THIS CONVERSATION. He CAN’T HAVE SUGAR. He gets crazy. You have asked me almost every day if you can take him for ice cream after school, and every day I have told you that you may not. So you bought him ice cream AT school?” I am fuming; I try not to raise my voice but am not successful.

“Well…” he stays, “in one of my classes, we learned that food can be a great reward tool, and I wanted to give it a try with him since nothing else seems to be working.”

I cut in. I’m not normally rude, but right now I can’t even think straight. “Yes, but he’s lived with me for a year, and you’ve known him for four days. I told you he can’t have it and you deliberately went against those instructions. I understand that at some level he is responsible for his own actions, but sugar puts him out of control.

As I’ve said before—if he has sugar, he’s maniacal within twenty minutes. So you thought you’d test it out AT SCHOOL. Maybe he would have slammed that girl into the wall regardless, but I’m betting not.

NOW, I have to deal with the school and a suspension and her parents—very likely because you thought you knew better than the countrified foster mama. Let me tell you something. We live in this county because we don’t want to live on top of people in the city: I’m no country bumpkin. I’ve worked with several levels of special needs children for fourteen years and I have my master’s degree. I have an undergrad in counseling. I’m not an idiot. If I make a request, you follow it. Got it?”

Like I said, I’m not usually rude, but I was P-I-double S-E-D. (Angry, not drunk, mind you. Just to be clear for my international friends.)

Incompetent aide in tow, I re-enter the library. “Let’s go. NOW.”

Meek and obedient, my son hands me the card. “You should take this,” he whispers.

As I sign him out, the principal tells me the girl’s parents have taken her to the doctor to be sure there’s no permanent damage. I grit my teeth, praying she’s fine. What we don’t need right now is a lawsuit. This year has already been Hell on Earth.

I stare out the window.

 

Continued…

 ***

Writing 101 Day 13 assignment: tell a story through a series of vignettes (short, episodic scenes or anecdotes) that together read as variations on the same theme.

10 Things I Hate about Mom, Part 1

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(Photo: Steven Depolo)

This last year with our girl has been H-E-double hockey sticks (or any other L-shaped item). Some is normal kid stuff. Times four thousand. I’m pretty sure some of it is hormones; after all, she’s turning eleven. She is becoming a lady. Or, rather, a LAADI, which involves the following:

  • Lying
  • Awful Attitude
  • Disobeying Intentionally

Annnnnnd, she hates me.

Actually, we all (parents and counselors) know that she harbors an incredibly deep anger toward her birth mom. The spite and hurt are plain in her actions and her eyes. Her oppositional behavior has been escalating. She ignores or does the exact opposite of almost anything I say. She finds underhanded ways to prod her brother into a meltdown. She feels better when he is the “bad one” and she is the “good one,” which is how she sees their places in her world.

She says she enjoys the feeling of “sneaking” or deceiving us. Admits with abandon that she does her two daily chores (filling the dog’s water bowl and cleaning dishes) “in a slow or wrong way” on purpose. And the dishes…I mean, we have a dishwasher. It’s not like she’s scrubbing pots.

This year has been American Water Torture (since we’re in America, that seemed like a more appropriate title). Not waterboarding. I’m talking about that drip-drip-drip landing on the forehead. The insanity of waiting for the next drip to drop. Some of the issues are very small, but they are CONSTANT. I’m exhausted and irritated.

On vacation, the kids—who usually get along pretty well—fought every morning. On the third morning, Hubby and I realized we could solve this. “You stay in your room until we come get you.” Morning four, I woke before seven a.m. and didn’t release the hounds until after 9 a.m. Two hours of blessed peace. It was amazing.

Until then, I was unaware how much I needed a break. I gained new perspective. Our girl has been getting incredible amounts of attention for her shenanigans. We talk to her, try to reason with her, try to dig out the impetus for her behavior. And sometimes we yell, like when the dog’s water dish is empty and it’s 97 degrees outside. Not proud of it, but hey, I try to be real.

Here’s the epiphany I reached while walking on the beach. (Alone. Ahhh.) She will continue to make these choices as long as she perceives some benefit (attention).

Hubby and I discussed. Here’s what we told the kids:

  1. You are 9 and almost 11. It’s time for you to be more responsible.
  2. We should not have to ask you whether you washed your hands (with soap), brushed (with toothpaste) or are wearing underwear. We also should not have to stand over you OR go behind you OR encourage you during your chores.
  3. A responsible 9 or 11 year old deserves a later bedtime.
  4. 4 year olds require someone to watch them every minute and tell them what to do next.
  5. 4 year olds get an early bedtime. Really early.
  6. You decide (via your actions) whether you are 9, 11 or 4. Once you make that decision, your bedtime that day will be adjusted accordingly.
  7. If you act like a responsible 15 year old, you will get a responsible 15 year old’s bedtime and possibly some privileges (not including learning to drive) on non-school nights.

Our son took this to heart and has been doing things like holding the driver door open for me, making sure my feet are in, then closing the door. We just returned from vacation, so we all had extra chores yesterday to get the house back in order. He did his in record time.

Our daughter has not, thus far, decided to act like a 9, 11 or 15 year old. Luckily for her, we had to be somewhere last night and tonight which means she hasn’t suffered the bedtime, but tomorrow night we have nowhere to go, so…

This morning, en route to the counselor’s office, I felt like smashing my head against the steering wheel. Many times. I just want her to be a happy and successful kid. It’s a team effort, and she’s NOT PARTICIPATING.

During vacation, Hubby tried to help her grasp the idea of “thinking of others.” It didn’t go well.

“I think of others all the time. I think about whether they’ll like my shirt, or whether they’re going to talk to me, or…” She just didn’t get it. After several tries, he suggested that she make a list of the ways she knew I thought of her and cared for her. She actually came up with a decent list, which encouraged me. It’s progress. Then he asked her to make a list of the ways she shows her care for me.

Zip. Nothing.

He then asked for a list of the ways she shows the opposite of care. “I lie to Mama. I do the opposite of what she says. I’m rude to her. I do chores in a bad way so she’ll do them over.” (That last, for the record, does not happen. She’s hoping.)

The list kept growing. I’m glad she acknowledges the issues, but it also concerns me that most of this is conscious. There were a couple people who experienced my pre-teen rebellion, but it was rarely directed at my mom. In my pre-teen hormone frenzy, I probably didn’t always treat her right, but it was generally not intentional…she fed me (her chicken tetrazzini, probably misspelled, was AHHHmazing). I knew better than to bite that hand.

So, back to the counselor’s office. On arrival, she was out of sorts before we entered the building. She realized the conversation that was about to happen. (I was hoping the counselor would leave me in the waiting room to read blogs on my phone, but no dice.)

We settled onto the cliche—I mean, the couch. The counselor prodded, our girl evaded. I mentioned she’d been asking about her birth parents over the last few days. Suddenly, she said, “Well, the reason I’ve been disobedient is because I keep thinking about my birth parents and then I get angry and then I don’t want to do anything so I take it out on Mama and Daddy.”

Wow.

Adoption = Forgiveness with a Side of Chocolate

Our daughter harbors heartbreaking, heart-aching, anger toward her birth mother.

Thanks to a fun little disorder called RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder, not the cool 80’s “rad”), most of that rage is directed at me. One of RAD’s hallmarks is misdirection of anger toward the person who most closely represents the individual who caused pain. Most children with RAD aren’t aware of what’s happening; it’s not intentional, and it’s important for the “target” to understand that most of the child’s behavior is not a personal attack.

In general, she presents as an almost perfect child and is great at surface interactions. Anyone outside our home or very close inner circle of friends would be shocked that she’s anything but an angel. I did not immediately realize she creates that image on purpose, so was taken aback the day she complained about a classmate who did not like her, stating, “but I’m so sweet!” If you’ve ever seen The Bad Seed (which, in an ironic twist, has always been one of my favorite classic movies), imagine Rhoda. That’s my girl (without the homicidal tendencies, thank goodness).

For much of our time together, she has repressed her true feelings. Sometimes she references “pushing the feelings down” or “keeping myself from coming apart.” Once, she told the counselor that she has “a line,” and she has to make sure she stays “below this line,” tracing a chest-high line in the air. If she feels herself getting “close to the line,” she removes herself from the situation and stays by herself for a while. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, she opens up a little bit; two years ago she told me, “it’s not fair that you get to see your mother.”  This year, her play therapist suggested we try something different. I sat in the waiting room to see if she would talk freely without me. She told the therapist that she is angry at her birth mom. The therapist suggested that she write a letter.

Later that week, Hubby had our son elsewhere, so I asked if she’d like to write a letter. (We’ve made a rule not to discuss the bio family in front of her brother. He’s allowed to bring it up if he likes, but if she references them when he’s present–and not mentally prepared–he has a very negative reaction.) I told her it was just for her, and I wasn’t going to read it unless she decided to share it. She wrote her feelings in large, scrawled letters (she asked me to read it), stating, “I wrote messy because I am VERY ANGRY.”

Several other times, when her brother was away, either she or I have suggested letter writing. The letters have been shorter each time, but still very angry. This past Saturday, in addition to writing the letter, she wanted to talk as we sat in the kitchen. “Why did she get rid of me? Why was she so mean to us?” Still angry, her tone was plaintive. I don’t have good answers. Or any answers, really.

Social services told the kids their mother was unable to provide care because she was “sick,” which then made our girl feel guilty for not being able to be nurse for her mother. On arrival with us, the kids had convinced themselves that social services kidnapped them from their home, had “taken” them from their family. They hated social workers, police, judges and anyone in authority. The few answers I do have are ones I don’t want to give. “Your mother put herself first, neglected and abandoned you, wouldn’t do the few, easy things the judge ordered she must do to keep you and didn’t show up to what she knew was your final meeting.” No. I refuse to break their hearts further. I remained silent and let her talk, praying for the words to help her.

My eyes snapped to the cookbook shelf, and I had an idea. “So, you’re really angry, right?” I asked. “Yes, SO angry. She took my heart and did this,” she said, making a breaking-in-half motion with her hands. “So, do you think she knows that you’re angry?” I reached for my biggest cookbook. She nodded. “She knows.” As I pulled the book down, I asked, “Do you think it’s hurting her back when you’re really mad?” She stood up, always interested in cooking. “Yes. It hurts her. What are you doing?”

I held the cookbook out to her. “I want you to hold this over your head with both hands. Don’t let go, okay?” She took the book, eyeing me with suspicion. “So,” I asked, “how heavy is it?” She shrugged. “Not that heavy. I can handle it.” I smiled. “Great! So, that’s my cookbook. If I held it over my head, it would be heavy, but you’ve got it and you can handle it. Do you think you can hold it up all day?” Her eyes widened. “It might get heavy.”

“So, you’re holding the cookbook. Is it heavy for me?” I asked. She looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. “It’s not heavy at all for you; you’re not holding it.” I smiled. Maybe this would work. I pulled out one of her Christmas stocking gifts, a sealed plastic candy cane full of chocolate kiss candies, and placed it on the table. “Okay. You can have as many of these as you want.” She gasped happily (candy is usually well-rationed at our house). She started to put the book on the table, but I held out my hand. “Wait. You can have as many of these as you want, BUT you must keep both hands on the book.” She narrowed her eyes, determined. “I can do that.”

I let her try for about two minutes. She attempted to use her elbows, her nose, her mouth. Finally, frustrated, she said, “I have to put the book down.” I smiled. “So. In order to get to the candy, you have to let go of the book, right?” She nodded. “I just said that.”

“Before you put it down, tell me this. Does it affect me one way or another if you’re holding the book?” Slyly, she said, “I can’t give you any candy unless I put the book down. So I should put it down and give you some candy, right?” I laughed. “No, I can get the candy, because I’m not carrying the book. So does it matter to me if you hold the book?”

I reached for the candy. Now she was annoyed. “No. It doesn’t matter to you if I’m holding the book. Are you going to eat my candy? That’s not fair.”

I didn’t want her to lose focus on the idea, so I said, “Okay. Put the book on the table.” As she did, I asked, “So, now you can get to the candy, right?” Ripping open the plastic cane, she said, “Yep.” Praying I wouldn’t lose her to the chocolate, I said, “You know, when we hold onto anger, it only hurts us. When you held my book, it didn’t make a difference to whether I could get the candy. It only kept YOU from getting the candy.” Her eyes held a spark of recognition. “You’ve been holding a lot of anger against your birth mom. Who is it affecting?” Her mouth dropped open. “Me.”

“Is it affecting her?” Mouth full of chocolate, she shook her head. “When we hang onto anger, it hurts us and keeps us from getting to the love,” I pointed to the chocolate kisses, “but it doesn’t affect the other person. It can make us have bad behavior, though, and sometimes we find someone else to treat badly when the person we’re really mad at isn’t here.” She squinted at me, not getting it.

“When you first came to live here, were you nice to everyone?” She nodded enthusiastically. I ask, “Were you nice to Daddy?” Nod. “Were you nice to your brother?” Nod. “Were you nice to me?” Nod–then, “Not really very nice to you.”

“Why do you think that happened?” Eyes wide, she said, “I was mean to you, but I wasn’t mad at you. I was mad at her.” Completely floored she made the connection, I continue, “Right. And I always knew you weren’t mad at me. That’s why I didn’t get mad back.” (Honesty here: even knowing her motivation, it was definitely a lot of work not to take it personally, and sometimes I still did, but I worked hard not to react.)

“If you keep holding the anger against your birth mom, will it hurt her?” She opened another chocolate, one eye on me. “No. It just hurts me.” She slid a foil-wrapped kiss my way.

“Right. That’s why God tells us to forgive. Forgiving is deciding to let go of the anger, like deciding to put the book on the table. He doesn’t want us to forgive so the other person will feel better. He wants us to forgive because holding the anger keeps us from being able to get–and give–love.” I picked up the chocolate. “Could you give this to me while you were holding the book?” She shook her head.

“Forgiving is hard. People have hurt me, too, and when it’s a really big hurt, I think about what happened and get mad all over again. But I have to decide to forgive them over and over, because if I don’t, I can’t love others the way I should, and I can’t get the love I need. You don’t have to forgive her today, but when you’re ready to decide to forgive, I know you’ll feel better.”

“I don’t know if I can forgive her yet,” she said, thinking (and unwrapping more chocolate). “I know,” I say. “Sometimes it takes time. But now you know what you can do to feel better.”

***

The next day, she hugged me. “Can I write a letter to tell her about what I got for Christmas? I’m not going to write a mad letter this time. I forgave her. I’m still a little mad, but I feel better.” I hugged her back, tight.

Blogger JoyRoses13 has a great quote, which I’m stealing: “Bitterness is the poison that we drink ourselves, hoping to kill our enemy.”

Who do you need to forgive? It’s time to put the cookbook on the table.

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