I don’t know what I thought the “pushing, testing” stage would look like, but I didn’t think it would involve pushing the cat off the balcony.

It did.

Theory one: kids who’ve experienced rejection try to recreate it. Having lost a home they expect to lose this one too, and create situations that will help bring that about, just as kids who have been hit will sometimes try to provoke adults to hit them.

Theory two: a four-year-old doesn’t have much of a clue of how her actions will turn out, or much physical coordination in carrying it out. She was trying to pick up the cat out on the balcony (when she should have been in bed) and the cat toppled over.

Either way, this managed to hit me in my absolute softest spot, that my most important relationships and the beings around me are in danger.

The cat is fine. After a past-my-bedtime sitting up, she sauntered in normally, if understandably wary. By the next day she was he usual self, and had clearly forgiven and forgotten.

But this has been a hard week. Having two new kids would be stressful anyway, but they’re very bonded to each other (so are often at cross purposes), and their anxious testing and checking is proving very challenging.

The dog is freaking out, though doing better with the kids the last few days. Less growling, and he’s slowly accepting that he’s below even the toddler in our pack. But today he grabbed a piece of bread out of my hand, biting deep into my finger. I was bleeding like crazy and I was so shaken (it could have been one of the kids) that I had to lock myself in the bathroom for a good cry. There’s just too much going on around here.

Bedtimes have been the worst. A few nights both kids have gone to bed peacefully, and I feel triumphant that all is well. This is my vision for the future. But many nights one or both go to bed either shrieking (she for her mom, him just screaming his little lungs out), or even worse, she sits up, anxious and wound up, with this haunted look in her eyes that’s heartbreaking. She bites on her fingernails and fingers, sometimes until they bleed. She has endless reasons she needs to go downstairs, or do something besides to go bed.

I can see in two weeks that her night anxiety has reduced, and over time I expect it should change dramatically. She hasn’t wet the bed in nearly a week. She’s listening better, and more bonded to us.

And she felt terrible about the cat. She said she was mean—she often says this about herself, though this is the kind of negative self-labeling she must have heard from others. I’ve never seen her do anything unkind, other than petty sibling rivalry. She was terrified we’d be angry (and we were, though we probably didn’t react in the way other adults in her life have). But mostly she was worried about the cat. I really do not think she was trying to hurt the cat, or mad at the cat.

Her punishment will be (in addition to having to stay in bed except for going to the bathroom) that the cat will be very wary of her, and she’ll have to earn her trust again.

Tonight’s drama underscores that while we’ve had lost of “awwww” moments (like when she announced “I’m his daughter!” to her school classmates this week—the first time I’ve heard her say that), there are challenges ahead. Every day she manages to get one or the other of us really upset. Sometimes it seems like if we’re not mad at her, we’re mad at the other one for being mad at her. It’s totally insane, but I guess it’s the way this goes. We’re all bonding, but it’s not a smooth or straightforward process. Hopefully when she realizes we’re in this for the long haul, she’ll settle in, settle down.

Time for a snuggle with the cat. Keep those positive thoughts coming. We’re pretty sure we’ll all survive this. Truthfully in the moment it has a few times felt like we will not, but I also know we’re strong and have gotten through a lot. Deep breath, and tomorrow’s another day.