Closet Assumptions (Part One)

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At birth each of us naturally counted on our human forms of expression. When we were hungry we'd cry and suck on our knuckles. When we were in need of a diaper change we'd become aggravated and then cry. Basically, we knew what to do for all needs.

When did we stop trusting our natural instinctual ways of expressing our needs? The first time our mothers decided that allowing us to cry ourselves to sleep was better than trying to rock us in her weary arms around the house? The first time we were pushed down on the sidewalk by another child but then told it was our fault for stepping in the way?

We've learned to get our needs met by other means than crying, screaming, or tugging at our mother's pants until she finally hollered, "What???" We've stopped tattletaleing and hitting back when no one is looking, at least we should have. We've learned that sometimes when we ask for things we don't always get them, and we've learned by now that just because we cry doesn't always mean someone will care.

So we've discovered our own ways, created our own patterns, and taught ourselves to express our needs and emotions in ways that we've decided works. But here's the problem: When we stopped trusting our natural instincts we started assuming.

This morning I found my son in his closet, knees pulled up to chest, tears rolling down his eyes. "Brandin, what's wrong?" I ask.
He doesn't respond.
"Brandin, honey, tell mommy what's wrong."
Crying harder now he says, "I'm just sad."
"Why are you sad?" I ask.
He shrugs his shoulders.
"Brandin, you have to tell me what's wrong so that I can help you."
He won't mutter a word.
His big sister walks past the doorway and hollers, "He's wearing dirty underwear!!!"
Brandin clenches his body tight, buries his head in his hands. I ask, "Brandin, is that true?"
Now his crying has turned to extreme sobbing and he cries out, "Yes!"
"Is that why you are sad and is that why you are hiding in your closet?"
His head nods from within his hands.
"Brandin, why didn't you just tell mommy that you were out of clean underwear?"
I have to prod him. I finally have to pull his head out from his hands, hold his face to mine, "Honey, why didn't you just tell mommy?"
His voice is soft, shy, and afraid as he replies, "Cuz I thought you'd be mad that I've been not putting my dirty clothes in the laundry room and I was scared to get in trouble."
I calmly ask him, "Brandin, where are all of your dirty clothes?"
He starts crying again, and points to his bed. I rise, go to his bed, kneel and pulling up the covers from the side I am faced with two weeks worth of dirty, smelly, stinky clothes.
"Brandin, why haven't you been putting your dirty clothes where they go, in the laundry room?"
He wipes his face with the back of his hand, "I don't know."

My son's basic need for clean underwear became a problem because he'd been storing his dirty underwear under his bed. Assuming, after three days of doing it, that when mom saw ALL the dirty clothes in the laundry room she was sure to ask how come there were so many and he was sure to be in trouble. Fear caused him to continue to shove more dirty clothes under his bed. Until finally, all the underwear was gone. So, he panicked. Not only did he fear his assumptions of what the consequences of his actions would be, he felt embarrassed that his sister had busted him.

Obviously this is a light-hearted (though my son would beg to differ) symbolism of the assumptions we make in our adoption relationships. The damage that can be caused when we put things off based on fear, or the sadness we experience when we realize that things can quickly get out of control.

When was the last time you hid in your emotional closet?

The truth is, there are five in my family and I probably wouldn't have even noticed that to everyone else's one day of dirty laundry my son had dropped off three days worth. And the truth in our adoption relationships is that small things only turn into big things when we hide from them.

Think about the last time you did something that you probably shouldn't have done. Remember that guilty feeling? Remember how you were a little afraid of the consequence? If you finally addressed the situation, came clean with whomever you needed to, do you remember how you felt?

"I'm sorry mom," says Brandin.
"It's okay sweetie, I forgive you."
"I won't do it again, I'll remember next time."
"Sounds good."
"Mom?"
"Yeah Brandin?"
"I shouldn't have got so scared, I missed Sponge Bob for nothing."

Getting back to our instincts is a daily task. Having the courage to admit when we've done something wrong, or addressing situations that are not going well, or even simply expressing our emotions takes a lot of effort.

It's called being accountable. Taking responsibility for ourselves, our decisions, our mistakes, and our feelings. It's having the strength and the wisdom to avoid making assumptions at all costs. It's being honest.

Like my son, who wasted the extra 30 minutes he had before school by spending it in the closet beside himself with grief, only realizing later that had he just fessed up sooner he'd have clean underwear and a mommy who still very much loved him ... we often tend to "punish" ourselves to a much greater capacity than the person we're dealing with ever would have.

As I am sure that all of you reading this most definitely have clean underwear, the real matters at hand are issues far more sensitive and important. Some of them might be:

Will my child love/like his birthmother more than me?
Do my child's adoptive parents feel threatened by me?
Are the adoptive parents not sending pictures and letters because they don't want me in their lives anymore?
What am I doing or saying that makes my child's birthmother seem so sad and withdrawn?
Maybe I shouldn't call my child's birthmother, I don't want to cause any more grief.
I really want to visit my child, but her adoptive parents would probably say no and feel angry.
I don't want to say anything to make my relationship with the adoptive parents uncomfortable.
I really don't like the way things are going in my adoption relationship, but maybe if I don't say anything it might get better.

Our assumptions and fears at first might take us off-guard. Then, we think about them more and more and they seem a little bigger. Pretty soon when we think about them we feel a little panicked, or even a little angry. Then, before we know it, we've given in completely to them and are crouched down in our closets, fists balled tightly, with no end in sight.

Next time you feel this happening ask yourself these questions:

1.) Is this a problem that I have caused, or did someone else cause this problem?
2.) Do I know why I am feeling these feelings?
3.) Do I really, honestly know how the other person feels or might feel if I tell them what is going on?
4.) What will I be missing out on by hiding what happened, or by hiding what I am feeling?
5.) Do I know for sure what is going to happen if I admit what I did, or admit what I'm feeling?

Perhaps the only worse problem than creating our own internal assumptions is when we harness the assumptions of others. Our fear of the unknown often causes us to panic, believe things not necessarily true, or to assume the worst ...Continued ...
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