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Hugs and Kisses

Posted By Carol L. Hunter PhD, PMHCNS, CNP, Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Recently, I had a visit with my step daughter and her beautiful family. Her two boys, ages 5 and 3, are exceedingly comfortable in their own little skins. When I kissed the 3 year old goodbye on his cheek, he responded  by pointing to his lips and saying, “kiss on lips, not cheeks!” Not only did I get a laugh out of it but it struck a deep chord within me and I realized I had a goal to achieve in 2017.

It’s a bit odd to want to teach someone in your life to hug and kiss. I’m talking about a two and a half year old boy and he happens to be my grandson. We’ll call him Blaine. You pretty much can’t get near Blaine without him struggling to bolt away. He does like to interact with others and there are no signs of autism spectrum disorder. Unfortunately, the signs more closely point to RAD ( reactive attachment disorder) and there’s a very good reason for that. You see, like so many children of substance dependent parents, he has lost his mommy. He’s starting to make memories and one overriding reality right now is that his mommy is gone. He didn’t get to see his mommy at Christmas time but kept asking his grandpa over and over again, “where is mommy?”  There are few things in life more heartbreaking than a child who has lost a parent, in one way or another, and I have been deeply affected by it.

He started off his life as a preemie, weighing in at 3 pounds, 3 ounces. Because of his frailty, his mother never had that skin to skin contact right after birth or the opportunity to start him nursing. He was in NICU for several weeks, more due to his age and weight than any serious medical problem.  During that time his mother and father visited him and held him but it was hard with all the monitor wires. When he came home, he was on oxygen for several more weeks. I remember months later hearing his mother say that she had never really bonded to him. That failure to feel a strong attachment to one’s child is a very foreign, difficult experience for me to relate to, although I know it happens.

Time went on and mommy was now a full time employee while his father pursued his art at home in his art studio, a separate building.  There was a monitor installed in the nursery but I never liked the fact that here was a baby essentially left alone in a house. It got worse. Somehow his mother found out that sometimes daddy was too busy to stop and feed the baby solid food. Instead, he’d run inside to prop up a bottle. I don’t think I ever saw either one of them cuddling him in their laps for a bottle. Breast feeding had gone by the wayside shortly after his birth. As you can imagine, his weight gain was very slow. His mother liked her job, more than her parenting duties, so she never set things straight at home and covertly complied with this horrific neglect. Despite this nutritional compromise, his development seemed to be coming along on schedule. His motor skills were good, he seemed interested in people and everything going on around him and his grammy was able to engage him and coax him into a smile and then a laugh.

When he began to walk, I really started to worry about his safety. Now he was mainly secluded in his play yard while mommy worked and daddy dabbled in his art projects. Sometimes daddy would bring the play yard into the studio with its toxic vapors. Other times the play yard would be dragged outside and he’d be left with the dogs for company. And as the substance abuse progressed, the household became more and more chaotic. There were arguments late at night and the police were called for domestic “disputes.” Dishes were piled high in the sink and you literally had to step over mounds of clothing, toys and other household items to walk across the floor. The police made a referral to CYFD and I was greatly relieved.  His mommy was mandated into outpatient substance abuse treatment but over the ensuing weeks, it was clear she was not serious in her attempts to become sober. Daddy was also doing his fair share of using illicit substances but seemed to be able to wiggle his way around the system.

Finally, mommy left the household, alone, leaving her baby boy behind. A male roommate moved in with daddy. Mommy’s interactions were spotty and irregular. There was no legal jurisdiction as both parents wanted to avoid it. There was a second call to CYFD by a friend because mommy was supposed to have supervised visitation and daddy was leaving him alone with mommy. Another point of neglect was his hair. Daddy had a long pony tail in keeping with the artist mentality and insisted that my grandson also have long hair. As you can well imagine, this became a nightmare, with his little hands constantly trying to brush stray hairs away from his eyes in order to see. Sticky, dirty fingers were getting sections of hair matted. It was more than I could deal with because I thought it was such a selfish act by his father and passive mother. At the risk of infuriating the parents, I plotted to get him a haircut. After all, I was the first person to take him to get his first haircut so why shouldn’t I be the second. I have included that adorable photo right after his first haircut! My goal was to make him more comfortable. The parents were going out of town and the plan was for his other grandmother to care for him for several days, then hand him off to me for several days. I had it all carefully planned but grandpa accidentally spilled the beans and all bets were off. The parents had a total meltdown from afar and refused to allow me to take him. That was almost a year ago and I have not had the opportunity to care for Blaine since. My poor grandbaby is now sporting a man bun, but it’s always a mess and the strays still prevent him from being comfortable.

So my New Year’s resolution is to teach my grandson how to hug, kiss and love himself and others. Unfortunately, I will need the power of the court to do so and his grandpa and I are planning to file a motion to begin grandparent visitation privileges. As I know so well, grandparents have privileges, not rights. No time in my life have I felt so powerless to help someone I love than I have in his short life time, but I am determined to change that and show that precious little boy that even though mommy is gone and daddy is limited, there are those who will put him first. 

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