The Moral of the Story - Part 1
Each June, in the middle of the month on a Saturday morning, my heart would swell with love and excitement because my Grammie was back to spend the summer with us! Grammie would arrive from her job in Boston by bus late Friday night, and we children (all six of us) would be asked to give Grammie a little space to rest after her long journey to our home. That was a really hard task, as we hadn’t seen her since Christmas! Grammie’s summers with us were a special time. She was an incredible cook; listener of Red Sox baseball games on the radio; master of ironing the multitude of clothes in this huge family (yes, ironing was a definite thing back then); and, most of all, Grammie was a wonderful storyteller.
Saturday morning I’d wake early. Excited yes, for the coins she would have saved to give us so we could walk to the store with her and buy treats, but more so for hearing the stories Grammie would tell, over and over. These were stories about our favorite subjects as young children — us! Grammie would tell each of us stories of our antics when we were younger — things we no longer remembered but were funny, endearing and made us feel special. My personal favorites, of course, were stories about me. They were important to me because they spoke to my central need to know I was a person of value and I belonged in this family. She told how my older brother pretty much ‘wished me’ into existence, and she knew this because he proudly announced, before anyone knew this to be true (including my parents 😊), that my mom was pregnant, and he would have a little sister! It was astonishing to the adults at the time, (though this was likely a reflection of his desire to have a little sister and a lucky guess!). But, to me, when I would hear this story, it said:
Look how much you were/are loved, hear how much we all couldn’t wait for you to arrive, and please know how joyful we are to have you in our family”.
Grammie would go on to say, “And the day your mommy and daddy brought you home from the hospital, we placed you on the bed and took your clothes off down to your diaper, and we marveled at how perfect you were”. My heart to this day still sings when I recall those words — the words that said to me: “In our eyes, in our hearts, in our souls and in our family, you are precious, perfect just as you are, and you belong.”
Grammie would tell us these stories repeatedly. They were the thing of family legend. Grammie’s gift was this lovely story telling ability that was so simple, and pure, beautiful, and necessary for us children to hear, so that our belonging, our preciousness, our enormous value to our family was known by us deeply. This was a huge part of the foundation for us of self-worth — a foundation for building attachment.
A recent interaction in my counseling office reminded me about this gift of storytelling my Grammie had and the importance this had in my feelings of positive self-worth. I met for the first time with a mom who was describing the moment her now adopted son first came to her foster home. She described in detail about how she had received a call from a DHHS case worker early in the day, asking if she would consider having a two-year-old boy placed in her care. She shared with me how she waited anxiously for his arrival all day, going out and getting all the things one would need to care for a little child, preparing to care for his every need to the best of her ability and from the bottom of her heart. She said the day grew into night, and she had all she could do to stay awake until, at last, he arrived at 1:30 a.m. She said the case worker brought him into her living room and set him down, and there he stood, in the middle of the living room, frozen — statue-like — with his head turned away from her as she approached him gently asking, “Are you hungry? Thirsty? Can I get you some water? Are you sleepy?” With each question being answered in the same way — no answer. He stood there very still, not moving an inch, not turning his head even the tiniest bit in her direction. This mom’s eyes filled with tears as she recalled this moment, where she knew this little one was so afraid, and she was desperately trying to comfort him. She told me she finally just scooped him up and gingerly placed him in bed, rubbing his back soothingly, and he began to cry, and cried himself to sleep.
I know she has told him affirming parts of this powerful story — the story of when she first met him. In fact, she was sharing this story with me to let me know it’s not easy for this little one to meet new people and he might not look at me when we first meet. She shared that she can now gently remind him, “Remember the story of how you couldn’t look at me when we first met?” when he struggles to meet new people. With this small nudge reminding him of this moment in his life … I wonder if he then, in a matter of moments, has an inner awareness, “Oh yes. My mom has told me this story. The story of me, being so scared I wasn’t able to even look at this stranger, who is now my mom. I learned from this story that I can be scared and yet have courage. I can lift my head in the stranger’s direction and say ‘hello’. I know I am safe, and I can trust. I can meet this stranger. I know I am worthy of others wanting to know me and of being known. I am precious and I belong to my family. I know I belong in my school, and with my friends, on the playground, and in this world because I know deeply that I belong with my mom and our family … and my value to them is immeasurable.” Then, he can lift his head in the direction of the stranger, and perhaps give a quick eye-glance, and a maybe even a little smile.
I am certain his mom has told him this story and many others that are vital to his positive feelings of self and belonging: “I couldn’t wait to meet you. The moment I laid eyes on you I knew you were special — wonderfully you.” And he is growing every day in belief in the story of his worth. This story, that he and mom share together, assures him of his connection with mom. His safety and security now developed over the years that she has seen, heard, and known his worth. He will always belong with their family. With that assurance, he can meet people, as well as meet other challenges in life, with the foundation that fosters healthy attachment with self and others — positive self-worth.
Not all children come to families by way of birth, with mom and dad bringing baby home to adoring Grammie, who then tells the story of the day this little miracle came to be in this family. Some children come from some very challenging places or circumstances, and can no longer live in their family of origin. Still, each child can be told the story of “the first time I laid eyes on you” from their caregiver — whether it be foster mom or dad, grandmother, teacher, or coach. Someone can and must tell each child — each incredible human being and little wonder full of greatness — the story: “I knew you were precious from the moment I saw you” standing in the living room, or seated in the classroom, or on the bench ready to come to practice for the first time. Children need to hear their stories told to them, over and over, that say:
I saw you, I heard you, I valued you and loved you, for the beautiful, unique human being that is you — exactly how you are”.
The moral of this story is … our children, all children, benefit from hearing their story — the story of their wonderfulness, the story of their preciousness. Here is the foundation of attachment, loving, belonging, and positive self-worth. Please tell your child, foster child, grandchild, adoptive child, student, child you coach on your team: “You are loved.” That they belong. They are worth every bit of everything that life has to offer that is good, and beautiful, because they are themselves, and perfectly so.
Written by Debra Levenseller, LCSW, RPT-S
Clinical Director at the Maine Children's Home