There's never a bad time for an underparented child to enter a permanent, loving family. There are, however, various times in a child's developmental timeline that are more fraught with the possibility of emotional or psychological disturbance. Unfortunately, The Boy seems to have hit each and every one of these time posts for his cognitive development around object permanence.
(Object permanence is the understanding that objects and people continue to exist even when one cannot see them. Development begins at about four or five months of age and lasts until age two.)
At around six months The Boy was temporarily removed from the orphanage for his lip-repair surgery.
At around eleven months he was permanently removed from the orphanage to be placed in foster care.
At twenty-three months he was adopted.
It is our best guess (and this with the help of our beloved therapist) that The Boy had been on the verge of finally understanding and accepting that his foster mother (among other people and objects) was truly permanent when we came into his life and she (without explanation) exited. Hooray! We figured out a key to The Boy's lingering separation issues. Darn! We're the cure and the cause.
The Realization was made during a conversation about the infamous Winter Concert and The Boy was talking about how much he and his classmates practiced for the event. Every day, they practiced. Bit of luck, there, because it was the perfect opportunity to make the connection between an abstract concept (object permanence) and direct experience (practice at school).
To make the bridge, we first explained how babies practice understanding that even though their mom is out of sight, she's not gone forever. Then, we explained how The Boy could practice that same thing, just like he practiced for the Winter Concert. Now, instead of simply saying "good night" or "good bye" as we part from our beautiful child, we "practice."
We practice that mama or papi goes away at bedtime and comes back in the morning.
We practice that mama goes away at the classroom door and comes back when school is over.
Whenever we part from The Boy, we're practicing.
When the separation anxiety takes hold, as it still does, we talk about letting his heart teach his head. "Does your heart know that we'll always come back? Good. Then let your heart teach your head. Don't let your head trick your heart."
I must admit, when I was first told that it was important to Practice with The Boy, my initial thought was, "What the [bleep] do you think we've been doing for the past three years?!" I mean, come on!, three years of always being there, of loving unconditionally, of drying every tear, listening to every rage. Three years without a moment alone with my husband — not a single babysitter. What on earth more do you want me to do!?
But, it was made very clear that the concept and language of "practice" was very important. So, we practice.
So far, practice is making an impact. Imagine that you've held a belief your entire life and someone comes along and challenges it. Like, there is no God or the earth is flat. You know, something small like that. Well, that's how it's going in our house. We've challenged one of The Boy's most deeply held beliefs and he's acting appropriately. Sometimes accepting, sometimes rageful, always loving.
Practice. It may not make perfect (the Winter Concert is proof of that). But, it's sure to make for some strangely beautiful music.