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The Longest Ride
by Lynda Gianforte Mansfield

We're a united front, we parents of attachment-disordered children. We've all survived the same episodes. Endured the same miseries. Celebrated the same small victories. We've leaned on one another. Supported one another. Encouraged one another. When we accepted the responsibility of bringing these children into our lives, we bought an unlimited ticket for the roller coaster ride, just sign right here, ma'am, and go up and down as many times as you like.

We've all had our share of the down times. For some of us, it's been an all-consuming experience. I, for one, have often found it difficult to focus on anything else when my eleven-year-old adopted son declares, I was born to a useless woman; I'm doomed to be useless, and proceeds to flush his 130+ IQ down the toilet. When he's in this frame of mind, he feeds on bad decisions, finds some sort of bizarre sustenance in them. At these times, he is a child sentenced to a purgatory of his own creation.

And I watch. And I ache. And I try to understand. Mostly, I feel utterly helpless because only he can stop the downward spiral. Sometimes, he has to hit rock bottom before he looks up and discovers he doesn't really want to be there. I'm not sure what the fall feels like to him. To me, it all happens in slow motion, an agonizing descent that seems to go on forever.

But you probably know this saga. You've been there. Done that. And odds are you don't appreciate the fact that I've just reminded you how godawful it is. Mea culpa. But let me try to save myself with a story. A true story. One that's guaranteed to make you smile. I promise.

Meet Ty, that eleven-year-old I told you about. He's profoundly analytical, distractingly attractive, and too intelligent for his own good. He's the only kid in his school who gets Ds and Fs on his report card, yet participates in the gifted and talented program. Ty is the sort of kid who doesn't do his homework, doesn't cooperate in the classroom, and rolls his eyes when I spout Foster Clinisms like, 'Gee, you're lucky, Ty, 'cause fifth grade will be there for you again next year. Like he really cares.

Two weeks ago, Ty was invaded by the body snatchers. They took away my I-don't-care-about-anything son, and left in his place a model of responsibility.

He came home from school with a note from his teacher stating that he had done all his homework during free period, had completed several past due assignments, and was exhibiting a new, positive attitude. That evening, he decided to write a 200-word, extra credit essay on Isaac Newton. His rationale was that he could bring up both his language arts and science grades with this double project. The next day, I received a note from the teacher saying that she had given Ty an extra A and B for the report. And, by the way, he'd had another great day.

This behavior has continued without interruption, with one positive note after another. It carries through at home, too he volunteered his landscaping services to a neighbor whose lawn and garden had gotten out of hand. I don't need money, he said to her. It just makes me feel good to get things cleaned up. (She paid him $20 anyway.)

One afternoon, he impulsively threw his arms around me and squealed, I'm so happy! Although his actions caught me completely by surprise, I knew he meant it. And I knew it had surprised him, too. I grinned down at his face and saw that his cheeks were a little pinker. His eyes were a little brighter. And his smile went on forever.

Now, I've been on this roller coaster far too long to think that all the scary twists and turns are behind me. But the ride is slowly changing as the years slide by. The distressing parts are getting shorter. Further apart. The fun parts crop up more frequently. They last longer. And they feel more real. For all of this, I am grateful.

The lesson to be learned is that there are good times in store. Not just times when my child makes it through an entire week of school without getting even one citation, but times when he actually looks his life in the eye and says, Yes, this is good. And I deserve every ounce of joy and satisfaction you can dish out. So let's get moving, I have a lot of catching up to do.

And me? I'm going to be right there catching up with him.

Lynda Gianforte Mansfield is a professional writer and mother of two, including one incredibly neat son who is recovering from his past. The 11-year-old in this article is now nearly 15, and remains on a positive track. Ms. Mansfield has co-authored a book on attachment disorder with therapist Chris Waldmann of Evergreen Consultants in Evergreen, Colorado. "Don't Touch My Heart" is a loosely disguised fictional account of an adopted child with attachment issues, and is published by Pinon Press.


"Men can only be happy when they do not assume that the object of life is happiness."
         George Orwell

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