It is no secret that Cava loves Spider-man. From the time he got here, he has only wanted to be Spider-man. There is something about this web-slinger that Cava not only identifies with but wants to become. For awhile, he would tell us that he wasn't Cava, he was Peter Parker Spider-man. There is something about Peter Parker, an orphan who was raised by his aunt and uncle, who has super powers thrust upon him by the bite of a radioactive spider and, while struggling with his daily life, battles powerful villains. Spider-man looms large for Cava, who struggles with his daily life and, while he didn't have super powers thrust on him, he did find himself suddenly plopped down in a new country and a new family.
Cava has struggled and continues to struggle with both self-esteem and self-acceptance. With self-esteem, Cava doesn't believe himself to be smart or lovable. In regards to self-acceptance, he is unable to accept all facets of himself (the good and the bad). Both are something we have been working on with him, both at home and with his psychiatrist and play-therapist. All of us know that, while Cava sometimes makes bad choices (don't we all, really?), he has a really good heart.
Not having grown up in a family where a child can learn to accept himself through acceptance by parents, Cava sometimes has a difficult time accepting himself or that we do. Parents are what often help a child see themselves in a certain way: smart, beautiful, good, etcetera. Without that, he has grown up under various care givers who have not helped to give him a sense of self. He has told me numerous times that he did not get any positive feedback from anyone until he got here. How damaging is that to one's self to never hear "Great job" or to be told one is smart or funny or good?
Yesterday, he started talking to me about an episode of Spider-man where the villain Mesmero switched the minds of Peter Parker and Hulk so that Peter was in Hulk's body and Hulk was in Peter's. Chaos ensued as they both struggled to be in another form.
"I didn't like that," Cava told me.
"Why not?" I asked.
He told me that Peter Parker should stay himself and Hulk should stay Hulk.
"So you wouldn't want to be in big, old Hulk's body?"
"What about in Peter Parker's?"
I was waiting on Cava to tell me that he did want to be Peter Parker since Peter is Spider-man. Instead, he replied, "No, I don't want to be Peter Parker. I just want to be Cava."
"I'm glad," I told him and I really was. "Because I love Cava. Cava is awesome!"
"I love Cava, too," he smiled. Though he admitted that when he was in Ukraine, no one did.
"Well, that's definitely not the case here, is it?"
"No," he beamed even bigger. And we both began to list off people who loved him.
I couldn't help but feel joy in that this was a small moment but a huge step for Cava towards self-acceptance. He, at this moment, wanted to only be himself and not change places with his favorite super hero.
We can't undo Cava's past, but we can help him in the present. We can continue to convey positive messages about himself and let him know that we love him whether he's been good or bad in his actions. The more we do this, the more he can learn to accept himself .