by Liz DeStefanis Rosenzweig
One end of the yellow yarn's tied to Princess Jasmine's turquoise harem pants and the other end's wrapped around a swaddled baby. Jasmine's held up in the air, as if drifting off into the sky, while the baby remains below, alone. During my daughter's preschool years, this play therapy scene was reenacted on a weekly basis—two characters connected, despite the distance between them.
As enacted by her play scenario, connected by an "invisible string" is how my daughter has characterized her relationship to her birthmother. Even though they have never met, she feels reassured by this allegiance, as I have learned to be as well. Recently we were introduced to the children's book, aptly titled, Invisible String, by Patrice Karst. The story is about a mother reassuring her young son and daughter that they will always be connected to her, even though they may be physically apart. The story eases separation anxiety and provides a way for children to feel bonded to their parents by imagining this attachment.
There's no denying the biological bond between mother and child. Adoption, for some, can feel forced, because those bonds are not automatic and need to be earned. There was a time when I could not compete with such a powerful connection—"Jasmine", the represented birthmother, was just too significant. My daughter was conflicted and felt she had to choose between two mother figures, as if we were in opposition to one another. This mandate to choose manifested in other therapeutic play scenes. One involved an orphanage. I would play the role of myself, the adoptive mother, and the therapist played the role of the birth mother. The repeating plot involved our kidnapping and fighting over this desired baby. As my daughter matured, this theme of forced choice evolved into her being a bride and having to choose between two potential husbands. The therapist and I would each hold one of her arms and pull her to ourselves—a literal tug-of-war. We had to earn her affections and prove our worthiness and she delighted in her ability to control who to choose. I began to appreciate how important it was for my daughter to have some say in her destiny.
This appreciation opened the door to therapeutic parenting, which came to mean the ability to set aside personal expectations and feelings, and to approach a child from an observational and objective point-of-view. It requires looking at behaviors in light of posing questions: "Why is she doing that?", "What's the feeling behind the behavior?". In my case, it also required tabling my needs and accepting that I was not the desired mother, and yet at the same time, reassuring my daughter that I wouldn't leave her; that she was "stuck with me"--something I was coached to consistently verbalize. It was a tricky tightrope to walk. Eventually, these themes ended and my daughter's anxiety around choosing faded away. It was such a relief when we eventually forged our own string tying the two of us together.
Strings as symbols and structures of connective forces have manifested both mythically and scientifically. There is an Asian myth called the "Red Thread of Fate". The myth says that those destined to meet have invisible red cords tied around their ankles. The cords, tied by the gods, never break, no matter how far they stretch, or become entangled. This is often referred to in terms of finding one's soul mate, or marriage partner, or in our case, mother/daughter. Our red anklets led us to create a destined experience together.
Scientifically, according to string theory, as explained by the Harvard physicist, Lisa Randall, in her book, Warped Passages, "String theory's basic premise is that strings—not particles—are the most fundamental objects of nature. The particles we observe in the world around us are mere consequences of strings; they arise from the different vibrational modes of an oscillating string, much as different musical notes arise from a vibrating violin string." In more tangible terms, the yarn a cat plays with is made of atoms that are ultimately composed of the vibrations of strings. I may not get this theory from a literal standpoint, but I do get it metaphorically. I like to think that the universe is made up of a myriad of veiled connections providing a grounding structure for attachments.
As for my daughter's attachments, I have come to respect and honor the invisible string spanning the globe and reaching into the country of Bulgaria; "Jasmine's" country of origin. What once was a source of conflict is now a source of comfort, for the both of us. I picture multiple strings intertwining and offering a unified tether that my daughter can grasp hold of as she navigates life's currents.