The first few months home, discipline was not an issue. Sleep was our most daunting task, or rather, surviving without it. SS was pretty good at understanding where she could touch and go. We had not even set up gates and it was not a problem. An ottoman, with plenty of space for her to sneak out, was enough to keep her where we needed her. Ah, those were the days. :) The only exception was our laptops and cell phones. SS has been around mine since the day we met, and she stills must push her luck. After giving her enough rope adjusting and that sort of thing, we introduced SS to the magical world of time outs. Not as a sport, give us some credit, only when needed. It was not needed often.
We started by using her playpen, and that did not last long. It has cute little fishes painted on its sides. That was enough to make SS feel like she was being treated to a dip at the Steinhart Aquarium tropical fish tank. Our baby was in fish heaven, giggling, happy, tracing the colorful fish with her fingers; and not getting the whole time out concept.
Next was the naughty step, and that worked for a little while. Initially, SS felt that she did not have the ability to get off the step. But that quickly changed, and it became another party place for SS. It also has a very low light switch that kept calling her name.
Our last try was the ottoman formerly used as a gate, because we suck at this parenting thing. Once gain, SS foiled our inept attempts at discipline by honing her toddler stunt skills. She got up on it, she did some weird break dancing on it, she even tried to stand on her head. OK, that one scared me so much, that I did not even think about taking a picture first. Who am I kidding, I considered grabbing the camera, but only for a second.
So last month Taun, Eric, P and I are discussing discipline and I mentioned the time out issue. Taun looked at me, like only someone who knows my dense moments could, and said "have you thought about placing her in a corner facing the wall?" Well, how rude of her to ask, knowing that would be something responsible, knowledgeable parents would do? P and I were rather mortified, because once again, we missed the obvious. I must say in our defense, that it is not our fault that we were perfect children, and never needed time outs.
Two days after our long weekend, SS was really testing boundaries. And while that is her job, my job is to reinforce those pesky boundaries. We gave her a pass that Monday, because we knew she was exhausted and overwhelmed. By Tuesday afternoon, I noticed a clear change from tiredness to plain naughtiness. So time out it is my precious SS, and facing the wall, in your very own special corner.
I walked over to the kitchen, fully expecting her to turn around and flee. Anyone who has met our daughter, or has seen her videos realizes that she is one active little bug. SS is perpetual motion, the cutest little blur passing you by. But she did not move, did not even turn around. That puzzled me and I should have checked on her right away. Then SS whimpered, which is a common tactic to get out of time out. I thought she had experience with a corner, and that is why it seemed to be working.
After two minutes, I walked over to do the whole explaining-why-she-is-in-time-out-say-sorry-to-Mama-hug-I-love-you-just-did-not-like-your-behavior-routine. Gosh, it's exhausting just writing it. But my SS was not really there, when she turned around, her eyes had a look I had never seen in her before. There had been glimpses here and there, but not like this. When we had tried to place her in her playpen at night (next to our bed), SS became hysterical and reached a state that made us uncomfortable. It took us a while to get her back to making eye contact and stop crying. The rest of the night was shot, because she would whimper through the night and just plain wail. That is when we decided (as much as we loathed the concept of co sleeping) that we were not willing to let her get past that point. SS was truly scared and we needed to show her she would be safe with us.
Then how the heck did this happen? We do not yell at her, we do not use corporal punishment, WTF? I tried talking to her in a soothing, calm manner, and nothing. She stood there, like she had turned into stone, and would not move. P was running an errand, and when he arrived home he looked over at us, and thought SS was merely being stubborn. He walked over to "mediate" (heh) and he saw her lost, not there look. Once P became concerned, I realized I was not making this up. Standing in that corner triggered something in her. We do not know what, we will never know what, but we know it was dark, and it made a heck on an impression on her 15-month old brain (when we met). Our virtual motion child was scared of her wits and did not move for almost twenty minutes. We are sure SS would have remained much longer. We wish she had the ability to articulate what happened, and where she went, so we could make it better.
The hardest part for me was that I have seen that look so many times. Saw it in adults and children, but with these non relatives, I had some history about why. Here is my daughter, and I've got zilch, just an aching heart and a lot of what ifs. Whatever higher power is out there sure has a sense of irony. The rest of the evening was not fun and included a phone call to Michelle, hoping that she would tell me that I was crazy. Michelle is such a sweetheart, and she did not even make fun of us for not trying the corner first. BTW, Michelle has over 15 years of experience with preschool children, and her beautiful niece was adopted from China. And Taun, I'm glad we used the corner, because if not now, it would have happened in preschool or daycare, and much later.
We are not slamming the SWI or accusing them of purposefully hurting SS. She is home with me all day, with a Mama who loves her to death and waited years for her, and she tries my patience. That is what children do, and when you have a lot of them with limited resources, stuff will happen. We also do not believe that this was a one time, harmless incident. It was enough to trigger something powerful, nine months after leaving the SWI. SS is too young for play therapy, but we are looking at other options. One thing we are certain about is how her demeanor has changed. She goes from charming to furious in seconds, and her aggression has increased. SS has stopped using some of her words and signs and now opts for fits if fury. Sigh, baby steps, baby steps.
SS, your parents are going to make sure that "nobody puts Baby in a corner," ever again.
This was not a fun post to write, but we knew we had an obligation. We owe it to Ms. M, and to SS's China sisters and brothers. Sorry that it is completely all over the place.