Well, today was finally the day. As much as I dreaded it, I couldn’t put it off any longer. Come what may, the twins’ room had to be cleaned.
Our twins, #PrincessAna and #ChickenLittle are 11. Eleven year olds are, by far, the messiest, grossest class of children. Anyone who disagrees should probably be cut out of your life- they’re clearly not trustworthy and may even be a terrorist.
Before I go on, you need to understand the layout of our house. Here in the south, many homes (like ours) have a FROG- a Finished Room Over the Garage. For our friends in other parts of the country, it’s a large bonus room above an attached garage. The caveat is that there is a completely separate staircase that leads only to the FROG- the twins’ bedroom. This means that with six other children in the house, daddy doesn’t visit their outlying room very often. Therein lies the problem.
Hear me, they are regularly sent to clean their room. And they disappear into said room for hours at a time. As it turns out, there isn’t much cleaning going on. This became crystal clear when I ventured up their staircase to wake them up this morning.
DEAR. BABY. JESUS!
The mess and the stench viciously vied for my attention. As I grasped the railing to steady myself, I announced, “Girls, this room MUST be cleaned today!”
Here’s the reality: after being shocked and appalled, I realized that the mess was bigger than they were going to be able to handle on their own. To leave them there to complete the task on their own was going to end with minimal progress and an entire wasted day. They needed someone to guide them.
After they had a nutritious breakfast of cheesy grits (because we’re raising good southern children), I sent them to their room to clean. This time, however, I told them that I was going to come assist with whatever remained after I finished giving haircuts to the boys.
I remember that hopeless feeling from when I was a kid. At some point, enjoying all my toys at once caught up with me and I was left with a massive mess that was insurmountable to me. Ultimately, my mom would have to come and supervise to get my brother and me through the mess and restore order.
As I stared at the mess today, I thought about how childhood trauma is just like their room. It’s huge, it’s messy, and it’s insurmountable to the child. Time will continue to pass, but there will be no progress. They have to have someone guide them through the process and help them sort it out.
This is why having a child welfare system that is trauma-informed is so critical to our children’s healing.
Foster parents must realize and embrace that “traditional” parenting methods don’t work for children who have come from hard places. Research consistently shows us that trauma alters the development of the brain- that’s not something you can just discipline out of a child.
Therapists have to be trained in trauma-focused therapy. Therapy that doesn’t start from a place of understanding trauma and it’s effect on the child’s brain produces limited results.
Case workers must realize the importance of helping our children heal through the trauma while they are in care. Trauma does not just rectify itself without support and intervention.
CASA/GAL representatives need to know how to advocate for the healing our kids deserve.
Judges have to make decisions that address and adequately support our children on their path to wholeness.
Schools must be willing to meet our children where they are -in the midst of the messiness- and see the behavior for the trauma that underlies it. When a child’s teacher or principal can see and care about the child beneath the scowl or the angry fit, they create space for little bits of healing to take place.
We can’t undo Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) anymore than we could rewind time and magically undo the mess that had become the twins’ room. We can, however, guide them step-by-step through the process of making things right again. “Start here. Save that for later. Allow me to help you lift that. You’re making great progress! Great job doing hard things!”
Our children from hard places have heaps and piles of trauma on top of heaps and piles of more trauma. If we, as adults, can pause for just a moment, we’ll realize that it’s not going to be fixed by sending them to work on it by themselves. Ignoring it won’t make it disappear, either. We’re going to have to enter into the mess with compassion and love and empathy and help guide them through the process of healing.
I’m happy to report that our twins now have a clean room. The trash has been removed, the carpets have been thoroughly cleaned, the laundry has been washed and put away, the baseboards have been dusted, and they have fresh sheets and blankets on their beds. It took a lot of work, but we made it through!
When the hard, tedious, messy work was finally finished, the girls remarked over and over, “I forgot how much space our room has! I really like my room! I feel like I can actually rest now.”
Exactly. And EVERY child deserves to know that feeling.