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Friday, November 22, 2013

Why my First grader has Long Fingernails today

I'm not going to pretend I know everything about children and the attachment process, but I do know we have reached another milestone- and it would probably go unnoticed by most if I didn't mention it. But to me, it's a big thing. It's a very big thing.

Today is Cam's 7th birthday. When John took him to school this morning, he took with him a batch of homemade football themed cupcakes and a supply of juice boxes for his classmates. Tomorrow we will celebrate at the park (if the weather cooperates) and enjoy some football, pizza, and one of Aunt Mimi's famous cakes. Seven is an important year for children, I know this from my 14+ years in children's ministry. Seven is a year developmentally when children begin to understand the differences between fantasy and reality. Many children will make a decision to be baptized at the age of seven, or will choose to join the church or make a profession of faith. I say this based upon years of watching this phenomenon take place. First and second graders were always my favorite age group because they were independent enough to take care of many things for themselves, and yet still vulnerable and tenderhearted enough to participate in fun activities, enjoy a good story, and believe in magic. Seven is really a wonderful age. So tonight, in honor of Cam's seventh birthday, John is going to build a bonfire in the backyard (Cam asked for it) and I'm going to do something I've never done for Camden before . . . I'm going to clip his fingernails.

Yep, I know. That's an odd one. But here it is:

Last week I was talking to Camden at bedtime. He was sitting on my lap and holding my hand. If you know much of Cam's history, you know that in itself is a landmark. He came to us with virtually zero ability to trust another person, especially an adult. He was loud, bossy, violent, accusatory, and frequently vulgar. He would rather hit me than hug me, and he often revolted from any form of affection. Slowly, we began the painstakingly long process of unraveling his wounded heart, by far the hardest task I've ever undertaken. Thankfully, my husband is my partner and we are a team committed to our children and their welfare. Our commitment to Camden began the day we brought him home, and although it has been hard, we have worked together to teach him these simple things:
1. You are a child
2. We are the parents
3. Your job is to be a little boy, go to school, make friends, play, and be happy
4. Our job is to take care of you, protect you, feed you and provide for you
5. Relax, you are finally home.

So, as Camden sat on my lap holding my hand last week, I looked at his fingers, entertwined with mine. In astonishment I noticed his nails were longer than mine. His fingernails were long and healthy, the skin around his nail beds was completely intact. In utter amazement I realized, he has stopped biting his nails.

Yes, my nailbiter has let go of one more vice. In the beginning, I would clip Cole's and baby Lizzie's nails, holding their tiny hands in mine, careful not to clip their tender skin. I would ask to see Camden's fingernails and they were always chewed down to the quick, red and sore. "You don't got to cut my nails," he told me once, "I just bite em off." And although I told him it was a nasty habit, he persisted. He chewed his toenails too. It grossed me out, but we were fighting so many battles that I didn't have the energy or time to die on this mountain. At night before bedtime, I would go into his room and he would sit up there on his top bunk, chewing his nails and spitting them out around the room. It was always at bedtime, or any other time his nerves were raw. On the way to court, I could see him in his carseat through my rearview mirror as he bit and chewed the nails, turning his fingers to get another piece in his mouth. In the courthouse waiting room, or when we waited for a transporter to pick the kids up for a court-ordered visit, those nails were being punished.

But apparently, that has all stopped. I don't know when, but I know that the nails are healthy and long now. He is too busy being a little boy that he doesn't have time to worry about who is going to be taking care of him and his brother and sister. He is too busy being protected and loved and cared about to sit up in bed worrying about tomorrow. Hopefully now that he doesn't have to worry about parents getting into fistfights and being arrested for drug dealing, he has time to dream about being a professional football player, or about racing a car, or learning new skateboard tricks. Hopefully now, he can just be a boy.

All of this makes me realize how fortunate I was to live with a mom and dad who both worked hard for the best interests of me and my two sisters, who were committed to each other, and who worked through their difficulties as adults, not allowing those too-heavy burdens to be placed upon my little shoulders. I had time to dream about riding horses, wearing beautiful dresses, and singing on a stage. I had time to laugh, play, dream, pretend, wish, and hope. But I never had time to bite my nails.

So, Happy Birthday Camden Winn. May the rest of your childhood be charming, and may the rest of your life be safe and secure. I love you with all my heart, Mom