"Music to My Ears"

My daughter's Reactive Attachment Disorder made it hard for her to connect with anything. Then she started playing the violin.

Reactive Attachment Disorder

There we were, on our winter break vacation, driving to our hotel after a day of skiing.

“I miss my violin,” Julia sighed, gazing out the window at the frozen landscape, not really talking to either my husband or me. Just thinking out loud.

“Really?” I said, whipping my head around to the backseat.

“Yeah, I should have brought it with me,” she lamented. “I miss it.”

A smile spread across my face. Angels were singing. Julia’s words were nothing less than music to my ears.

Julia is good at playing the violin, and getting better all the time. Is she destined for Lincoln Center? I doubt it. That’s not the point. The fact that she was missing her violin was not about future musical accomplishment. Hearing that she was “missing” something was what made this a screech-on-the-brakes moment. It’s not like Julia to make a deep commitment to something, to anything. She’s innately intelligent, so she pretty much gallops by at whatever she does or has to do.

But showing passion, this was new.

Julia uttered this comment around the time of her tenth Gotcha anniversary. She was eight months old when we adopted her from Siberia. Though she was young, Julia had trouble attaching to anyone, or anything, from the moment we brought her home. She never laid claim to a teddy bear or a favorite blanket or toy. She didn’t attach to me or my husband, or to other caretakers. She never made a good friend. She was like a drifter, taking what she needed, passing through. When we learned the name for this behavior–Reactive Attachment Disorder–we made it our life’s work to pull Julia out of her dark tunnel. By the time she was four, we fully understood the syndrome, which is caused by early separation from a birth mother. Babies who aren’t nurtured and loved subconsciously learn that it’s better not to attach to anyone or anything, because everything, especially love, is ephemeral. A harsh lesson for an infant.

Still, that is what they learn, and such children have a crafty way of keeping their distance, of making sure that nothing matters too much. The behavior reminds me of someone who’s been burned by divorce and decides to close her heart.

At 10, Julia is fully attached to my husband and me. We are a solid forever family, the three of us. But our daughter is still reticent about investing passion elsewhere. There are no posters of Justin Bieber in her room. There is no friend from school she calls her BFF. Not one thing that really, really matters.

Except her violin?

She took it up in fourth grade. She didn’t show any particular talent or interest in the instrument. She never practiced at home, but she coasted through the year-end performance. I thought that was the end of that. Then she went to a sleepaway camp for the performing arts. I had expected her to be in one of the theatrical shows, but, when we arrived on visiting day, she played violin in a string concert. A music teacher had found and mentored her.

When she returned home, I hired a private music teacher. Magical things happened. Julia loves Karen. Karen adores Julia. Julia is getting good on the violin. She practices every day for 30 minutes. She shows commitment. Passion, even. Music has led to her taking a chance on loving something.

A week ago, I told Julia we were going to her grandmother’s for Passover. Grandma was expecting 15 people.

“Can I bring my violin and play it for everyone?” she asked.

“Please do,” I replied.


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