One of the major areas I have been working with Cava on is in the area of self-defeat. This is a struggle that comes from having spent eight years of his life never being told he was smart or talented or of value. He has spent eight years either hearing nothing positive about himself or being told he cannot do something. This self-defeating attitude pops up every time he tries something knew and finds the task difficult. Much of this difficulty comes from the fact that he wants whatever he's working on to look exactly like the example he sees whether it be in a book, online, on the packaging or in school. For me, I am trying to help him understand that his doesn't have to look like someone else's, that it doesn't have to be "perfect" because nothing we create ever will be, and that what is inside of him is special and unique.
Recently, Cava has shown an interest in Legos. He doesn't have very many so his options for building are limited, still he limits himself because he only wants to build what is shown in the instructions, very much like Emmet in one of Cava's favorite films The Lego Movie. Cava is very much an Emmet in that he had never heard that he is "the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe" and that he is "capable of amazing things" because he, like Emmet, is "the Special." That can take its toll on anyone and make them very angry. It also means they have low self-esteem, poor self-image, and struggle with anyone telling them that they are special or loved.
When I asked Cava to build something with his Legos using only his imagination, he became frustrated and angry. "I can't do it!" he declared and stormed out of his room.
After calming him down, I looked him directly in the eyes. "Are those Lego bricks smarter than you?"
He just stared at me blankly.
"Are they? Did those Lego bricks read six Magic Tree House books already this summer? Did those bricks get a certificate for reading from the library and was one of the first to do it? Did those bricks create all the crafts that you have this summer? Or have any of those bricks put together even one of the puzzles you've put together since you got here?"
Sheepishly, he replied, "No."
"No, they didn't and they can't. And do you know why?"
"Because they are not as smart as you. So, if they aren't as smart as you, how can they defeat you? They can't. Cava, there is no right or wrong way to build something with Legos. You just put bricks together however you want. If you like it, great. If you don't, take them apart and start again. But only you can build what you build. Just as with crafts and with drawing, only you see the world the way you see it. You are smart, you are talented, you are special, and you are unique. No one in the whole history of the world is just like you and there will never be another Cava like you. God created you as a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. He made you special. He made you unique."
He nodded but I could tell he was hearing but not listening to me, so I stopped and asked, "Did someone back in Ukraine tell you that you weren't special? That you couldn't do it?"
Sadly, he nodded, "Yes."
"Well, then, are they here now?"
"No, they're not. You know why. We left them back in Ukraine just like you should. Who did we bring home with us?"
"Yes, you. And why did we bring you home with us?"
"Because I'm smart."
"Well, you are smart, but that's not why. We brought you home because we love you. And we love you for being you. Not for being someone else. And despite what anyone else has ever told you, you can do great things if you are willing to try and work hard at it. These things may not be easy at first, but, like the puzzles you love to do, it just means you have to keep working at it until you find where all the pieces fit. Do those pieces just go wherever or do you have to work at finding where they go?"
"Work at it."
"Same with Lego pieces. It's all trial and error. If a piece fits together with another piece and you like it, great. If not, try another. You will be amazed with what you can do. But first you have to get past anything inside you that tells you that you can't, because that is a lie because look at all that you've done already. Look at how much English you have learned in such a short period of time. Look at how well you are reading now. Look at how well you are doing in math. There are so many things you have done, but there are even more things that you are going to do. You will amaze us all."
Sitting him in my lap, I whispered in his ear, "So, what are you?"
Despite the traces of tears still in his eyes, he smiled.
"Well? What are you?"
"Exactly. Is there anyone else like my Cava?"
"Can anyone else build what my Cava can?"
"No, they can't. Not me. Not Mommy. Not Benjamin. Not Chloe . . ."
He laughed at the mention of our dog.
". . . because none of us are you."
I took him back to his room, snatched up the instructions, and told him, "Now let's see what you can build."
Then I left him alone. Sometimes he would come out and ask me to help him put a couple of pieces together that he had a hard time with, but I showed him and let him do even those.
It's a long hard process to get him past the, "I can't do it," stage. He has had years of reinforcement that he is not valuable. We are having to replace that message with one of grace, peace, love, and acceptance. We are having to mirror God to him. As his family, we have to love him and nurture him so that he will see that he is wanted and that he has infinite worth. Just this morning, we went to the store to buy groceries. As we were getting out of the car, Cava started to do a joyous little dance. When I asked him why he was dancing, he replied, "Because God is awesome and He loves me enough to save me." That made me do a joyous dance because I am seeing him, slowly begin to understand the truth after being fed so many lies.
Yes, it is a challenge to get him to see past his past so that he can understand who he really is and to see all the potential that is stored up inside of him, but when he does, even it's momentarily, it is so incredible and makes all of the work worth it. Cava is an incredible, resilient, and amazing kid. He is a gift to us from God because, as we are teaching him, we are teaching ourselves the same lesson.