It really depends on what definition of that name I’ll end up going with.
In a sense, Bella is me. In a much realer sense, Bella is also a spunky 4-year old struggling to adjust to her new, much happier home. But Bella is also millions of other children, each with their own story but all sharing the same common denominator. I’ll paint you a quick picture of what that denominator looks like: it’s draped with the dulling red of growing up without the surefire love of a parent, watching people walk in and out of their lives without warning, and the drab gray of learning early on what it feels like to be left alone, in a much grander sense of the word. In short, their childhoods were anything but easy, and each of these children have had a much tougher road than kids that are born into the bright light of a happy family and raised with an innate understanding of how to maintain a positive attitude.
I met Bella during my training to become an ADHD/Life Coach and I immediately fell for her toothy grin and earnest laugh.
As I said before, Bella and I share many commonalities, even to the point of specific details from our upbringings. Bella’s birth mother struggles with drug and alcohol addictions; my birth mother struggles with alcohol and gambling addictions. Bella’s mother’s parental rights were revoked; my birth mother left me at an orphanage just days after my birth. Bella struggles with anxiety from having faced abandonment, and I too have experienced these struggles firsthand. The parallels do not stop there, but to say that our immediate connection was encouraged by more than just the smile of another affectionate child added to my caseload.
Bella’s adoptive parents are loving, caring, bubbly, professional individuals. Yet Bella was still struggling with a number of transitions that most would deem too complicated for a young mind to fully comprehend. Her biracial background kept her from fully understanding the scope of her cultural identity, and the early abandonment she experienced at the hands of her birth mother was clearly making her transition from one family to another even tougher.
Most days, Bella would bring her favorite, ragged doll to our sessions; this doll was essentially a fifth limb, as she was faithfully by Bella’s side at the park, at each of her swim lessons, during bath time, and tucked in by her side every night.
When, during our sessions, I watched Bella become overwhelmed with the grip of anxiety, I worked to coax her out of the hole she dug into her subconscious, the one that existed in her mind yet still left her as trapped as she would have been behind physical bars. Despite the challenges she faced as a small child dealing with these bouts of anxiety, she took to my coaching with the smile that had come to define my memory of her. There were so many techniques and tools I brought to her attention, each with an element of playfulness and fun that captured her attention in a way that only young children can truly appreciate. I watched as Bella learned how to ease her anxiety and just breathe! One day, Bella arrived at our session, trembling from the tears spilling down her cheeks. She laid down in my office, and I reached for Bella’s beloved doll. “Take a look at your doll, Bella,” I said while placing it on her chest. “She is going to fall off!” Bella curiously looked at her doll. “Together let’s teach your doll to stay on your chest. To do that, we must be take deep, slow breaths. Here, let me show you.”
We took slow, deep breaths. Together.
Very soon, Bella was able to relax and I saw that same smile creep back onto her face. We talked about how placing her doll on her chest is a way to comfort her.
A few weeks later, Bella arrived at session with a whole new range of emotions. With all of the strength she required to keep her anger in check, it was often too much for her to control. When she walked into my office seething, I could see it was time for a new kind of coaching. I pulled a bottle of bubble mix out of my desk drawer and began blowing bubbles. “Go ahead, Bella,” I told her. “Go ahead and kick those bubbles. Show them how you feel. “By blowing the bubbles, she began breathing deeper, easing her anger, while at the same time harmlessly kicking and punching out her anger on the bubbles. By allowing her to express her anger in such a way, I was able to teach her that feeling and experiencing anger is not wrong; the important lessons she began to grasp were that the importance lies in how she harnessed that anger and dealt with it in as healthy a way as possible.
Even after my time working with Bella had come to an end, I continued to meditate on the similarities that I knew drew us closer together. I may not share the same backstory as all of my clients, but I have dealt with my own share of struggles that have resulted in my own brand of empathy. When clients struggle, it never occurs to me to patronize, because I get it. I understand when clients struggle to focus; I get it when clients feel trapped by their anxiety; I feel deeply for my clients when I hear about their struggles dealing with abandonment, and when clients feel the grip of depression, I understand how hopeless they can feel.
Situations like these, from anxiety, abandonment, depression, and all the other kinds of ickiness can have a severe impact on a child’s learning environment, which is why I’m here.
Each and every Bella out there inspires me to be a better person, and reminds me that I have chosen this path as a way to help shape the lives of those who need that extra love and reinforcement. Bella has morphed into more than most four-year-olds can expect to be; she is an emblem of higher purpose, she has become the symbol of my dream job, and she continues to be the founding flag for what I know has become a key purpose in my life.