Today was farm day! One of my former coworkers had seen our family on Facebook and offered for us to come out to her farm and meet her animals. She had felt a nudge to do something with foster care, and she felt that helping our family and loving our kids might be a good place to start. I didn't argue and brought the kids over the first chance I could.
I'm not a big animal person, but when we go there, I feel a sense of peace, of relief. I don't have to answer the hundreds of questions from my kids because they aren't asking them. They are too mesmerized by the sweet baby chicks and the precious new puppy. They are holding them, petting them, loving them. I feel the sun shining down on my face and suddenly, it seems, I don't have to rush around and complete the five thousand tasks swirling around in my head. I just have to pet the baby goat. I can handle that.
"Where's Taco? I didn't see him." Kendrick asked after going to visit with the goats. Taco, the giant male goat, was his favorite.
"Oh, Taco has left us," Ms. Jennifer said, "He was getting too big for me, so he is now a therapy goat at a boy's ranch in Waco."
She went on to explain that when the boys who live there get upset, they go out to pet, feed, and brush the animals. It brings relief and calms them down.
"It makes sense," she said, "it calms and relaxes me, too."
Even though Ms. Jennifer isn't an animal therapist or an owner of therapy animals, that is how her farm functions for our family. When my kids arrive, their eyes light up. They can't stay away from the chicks. A spirit of tranquility and peace comes over them, and their joy is evident.
In a podcast I recently listened to about trauma through Creating a Family, Dr. Bruce Perry explained that he used to believe that a child's healing would primarily be found through the therapy he provided his clients. However, over time, he has found that what he does is minimal in comparison to what the foster and adoptive parents do. As the counselor, he provides a safe space for the child and educates the parents to provide therapeutic moments throughout the child's everyday life. But, it is the foster, adoptive, and kinship parents and caregivers that provide those healing relationships - through play, movement, gentleness, openness, connection, and love. The more the parents were able to provide these types of healing interactions, the more healing he witnessed in the life of a child.
I used to be so overwhelmed with this (I still am sometimes), knowing that healing was primarily achieved through our day-to-day interactions. I felt like I needed to understand sensory processing, ADHD, anxiety, depression, and dyslexia all at once in order to meet all of my kids' needs. I thought I needed to buy sensory toys and provide rich experiences at all times. I felt paralyzed by the amount of information I didn't know or understand, but Dr. Perry made it so simple (in everything he's ever written or said!). Healing comes through relationships. God made it possible for our brains to rewire for safety, even after experiencing enormous hardship. I didn't need to buy all of the toys; I just needed to show up for my kids. Knowing this freed me up quite a bit and motivated me to truly connect with them in real and meaningful ways, instead of trying to understand everything about trauma and the brain and all of their other needs. While being trauma-informed is important and very helpful in our parenting, we don't have to know everything.
One of my kids woke up this morning earlier than everyone else and saw me on the couch. She curled up next to me and laid her head on my lap, and I rubbed her back and stroked her hair. As we sat there, tears welled up in my eyes. I thought about her little four-year-old self, and deeply wished I could have known her then. In many ways, I grieve the loss of missing those precious years. But, from what I've learned about trauma and healing, I remembered this: I am loving her four-year-old self as I love her current, sixteen-year-old self. For just a moment, I turned back time and offered nurturing love to a younger, smaller version of her in a way that she needed. Turns out, I also needed it. In many ways, offering safety and healing to your kids also offers safety and healing to yourself.
Healing can come through laughter, the trampoline, or a sweet snuggle on the couch. It arrives in small doses, over thousands of (sometimes failed) attempts at connection. Healing creeps its way in after a delicious dinner or a trip to Ms. Jennifer's farm. Through relationship, we are able to create new neuropathways in our children's brains that communicate safety instead of harm and love instead of fear.
This work - of providing our kids with loving, healing spaces - is not easy. In fact, it's incredibly difficult. It requires long fuses and extravagant gentleness and an exorbitant amount of time and personal sacrifice. But to feel the warmth of a child nuzzled in your arm, to receive a kiss on your cheek, to be called Mom and Momma and Kar and Charles, to be entrusted with their stories and their hearts, to be witness to the absolute miracle of healing, to the obvious presence of God in our lives and family? It is an honor. It is a privilege. It is hard. And it is worth it.
And thanks to Ms. Jennifer for being part of our village and bringing light to our family. We love you!