My daughter, Lydia, had some very serious problems when she started the second grade. School was never too smooth for her, so on the first day this year I was encouraging her, saying, “This year is a new year for you.” I had high hopes.
A Difficult First Day
I dressed Lydia in her uniform-yellow tights with a blue jumper and a long sleeve yellow shirt. She didn’t want to put on her blue tie. But we came to an agreement. As we approached the school, Lydia started crying, holding onto a metal railing and refusing to go inside. “It’ll be OK,” I told her. “You look so beautiful.”
In the cafeteria where the noise was tremendous and everyone’s moms and dads were looking for the new teachers, quite a few children were crying, so I didn’t feel as bad that my baby was in tears.
Her teacher, Ms. Thomas, had short black hair and looked very quiet. I knew by her gentle face that Lydia would like her. Ms. Thomas told me I could walk her upstairs to the classroom. Lydia did not let go of my hand, but when she picked out a desk, Lydia finally calmed down and I gave her a last kiss goodbye.
‘I Will Behave’
But Lydia’s fears did not go away as the year went on. She was having a major problem dealing with the other kids, especially two boys who she said called her “stupid” and “chicken leg.” And she kept crying and not respecting the teacher’s rules. Her attitude seemed to be that she runs the show. I was embarrassed when I heard about her behavior.
The teacher began calling to say Lydia was throwing herself on the floor and not doing her work, poking kids with her pencil and threatening kids with scissors. That was very scary. My husband and I were very upset. We took everything fun out of her room and made her write in her punishment book, “I will behave.”
It didn’t help. Soon the school counselor was calling me to say that Lydia’s attitude was not good. She was always fidgeting and not in her seat. In about three weeks the school called at least six times and we had four conferences with the school counselor, principal, parent coordinator and teacher to discuss Lydia’s behavior.
I blamed myself because soon after Lydia was born I relapsed. Because of my drug use, Lydia spent three years in care. But I also felt angry at Lydia. I felt she could do better and I didn’t raise her to misbehave.
She Needed Help
In our house, everyone felt full with anger and disappointment. I felt stressed out and lost.
Lydia was getting so angry sometimes she would kick the wall, throw her toys everywhere in her room, tear things up, and do other destructive behaviors like that. She would even tell me she wished she was dead and she hated herself. She needed help.
I decided to call a mental health hotline. Because of her anger, her self-destructive behavior and her history in foster care, they advised me to take her to the emergency room so she could get a psychiatric evaluation.
When Lydia and I got there, we were sent to the adult psychiatric ward. I felt nervous for our safety. Everybody was in pajamas and some of the men seemed drunk or were talking to themselves. When we sat down, they all stared at us, especially Lydia in her braids and pink jacket. Immediately, she started crying and said she wanted to go home. She told me she would behave in school.
“I’m sorry, but this is what we need to do because you need help. You need to see a doctor,” I told Lydia.
Earning Stars and Rewards
Finally, we met with a psychiatrist who advised us to start therapy and introduced us to a very nice therapist. I explained Lydia’s behavior and the therapist said it sounds like she’s having separation anxiety, probably because of her experience in foster care.
The therapist told me not to punish Lydia as much for her negative behavior but to reward her more for her positive behavior. By focusing on the positive things she does and encouraging her to do good, we can help Lydia feel better about herself and less fearful, frustrated and angry.
The therapist gave me a chart where Lydia can earn stars for the positive things she does. At the end of the week, if she has enough stars, she can earn a reward.
‘Not a Baby Anymore’
The child psychologist also noticed me calling Lydia “Little Mama.”
“Why are you doing that?” she asked.
“It’s just something I call her,” I said.
“No, Mom, do not do that,” the psychologist said. “Mom, you need to call her Lydia. She’s not little anymore, and she’s the child.”
“Ever since she was a baby I called her that. That’s just how it has always been,” I protested. But I said I would try.
She also told me I need to let Lydia grow up in certain ways. I have to stop getting her dressed, tying her shoes and cleaning her room. That is a tremendous change for us. Treating her like a baby allows her to act like a baby, she said, and that’s part of why she has tantrums.
Playing Catch Up
The next morning when I took Lydia to school, I stopped by the parent coordinator’s office. “Little Mama will be starting therapy,” I told her.
She politely asked me to stop calling her Mama. “When you do that, you’re treating her like a baby. She’s a big girl!”
That advice made me feel sad. I know she’s a big girl, and I don’t want to hurt her development in any way. But I also fear that her growing up is coming too soon. I feel that I missed out on Lydia’s early years, so treating her like she is still small is a comfort for me. When I hug and kiss her, dress her and just wipe her tears away, I feel like I’m playing catch up.
I Want to Protect Her
Plus, my own growing up was so terrible that I want to protect Lydia and keep her by my side always. I was only 5 years old when my mom and dad left my brothers and me alone in the streets. In my adoptive home, I was abused and beaten. I never had a birthday party or person who hugged me or truly loved me.
I suffered so much hoping all my life to see my mom again. When I was a teenager, I ran away looking for her. I needed a mother so bad. Even today I still feel like I need my parents. I wish I had a mother to love me and to help me raise my daughter. I wish I had my dad to hold on to me and protect me and let me know everything is going to be all right.
I love holding Lydia’s hand as we walk and just being with her, letting her know I will always be here. I truly feel empty from my childhood, and I don’t want her to feel empty or alone.
Over the last month, Lydia and I have both been trying hard to follow the therapist’s advice. Lydia goes to therapy every week and talks about being in foster care, missing her brothers, her fears about school, and her progress at school and at home.
We have a chart for the house activities and her teacher also has a chart with stars so we can see her progress at school. Everyone at the school is seeing how the therapy sessions and the charts are helping her. The teachers are giving me positive feedback
In the house Lydia is doing so well. She now makes her bed and cleans her room. She usually respects Mom and Dad and does her homework with no attitude. In the morning, she gets herself dressed for school and ties her shoes. Every night she reads at bedtime with me. I am so proud of her and I always tell her that with hugs and kisses.
There are days when she doesn’t do what she’s supposed to, like listening to the teacher or doing her work in class. Some days I feel a constant guilt that she’s having problems. I think to myself, “If I didn’t use drugs and abandon her she would be different.”
But I am beginning to see that Lydia and I can still be close as she gains more independence, and I feel proud of how much we’ve accomplished together. Little Mama-I mean Lydia-is growing up.