Scratching the Surface
The scratches on the back of my hands have been driving me crazy. Maybe it’s because I look like I lost a fight with a cat. Maybe it’s because one of them — right hand, sideways, just below middle knuckle — zings whenever I stick my hand in the pocket of my jeans to grab my cellphone. Maybe it’s because I’m sure people will notice them, and I don’t particularly want to explain to casual acquaintances how I got them.
They come from my four-year-old son.
It’s becoming harder and harder, as he gets bigger and stronger, to restrain him in a way that keeps him safe and prevents him from hurting me when he’s raging. It’s become nearly impossible to keep his brother safe from scratches, since he can go from happily playing to screaming and raging with no provocation.
If I thought, for even a moment, that he could somehow work through his anger and fear by scratching me, I’d let him. It would be an easy choice, to let him transfer his pain to me instead. Any parent would do it, I imagine. But that’s not one of the choices.
We’re working with a new therapist. She thinks that PTSD best fits his symptoms, and certainly fits his history. We had previously assumed we were looking at symptoms of attachment disorder. Though neither diagnosis really changes his treatment, it does change the way I think about it.
I think of attachment disorder as something that happens to children when they aren’t given the love they need during early development. I see myself sitting in a lecture hall, during my undergraduate years, taking Developmental Psychology. We learned about attachment. I see myself sitting in our pre-adoption MAPP class — I think it stands for something incomprehensible like Massachusetts Approach to Partnerships in Parenting, whatever that means — learning about attachment disorder. It’s something I knew to expect.
But when I think of PTSD, I think of soldiers coming home from war. It’s hard to translate that image to my son. He has, however, experienced a very literal battlefield. He was taken from his mother, ostensibly for his safety, and placed in a foster home where he was brutally assaulted.
I’m almost never angry at my sons’ mother. Her own life is very much like my sons’, except she stayed in foster care until she was eighteen. I don’t know how anyone could expect her to be able to give a child the care that it needs. Despite all her failings as a parent, though, she loved her sons. My older son remembers his mother fondly. He has happy memories of things they did together, and he knows that she loved him.
My younger son has none of that. He barely remembers his mother, and only from supervised visits in a sterile playroom at the offices of the Department of Children and Families. If he remembers anything, he remembers the battlefield of a foster home and a daycare that allowed him to be assaulted.
And it makes me so fucking angry.
And that’s what I see when I look at the back of my hands now.