Go get a drink and a snack; this might take a while…
Most of my long-time readers know that I grew up in circumstances that were… well… less than ideal. Despite having myself emancipated at 17 and finally refusing to see my biological parents at all (after repeated failed attempts to establish a non-abusive relationship with them) ten years ago, I think that I’ve managed to adjust in ways that are surprisingly healthy. I have a strong, stable, loving marriage. I make and keep friends. I can hold a job (one in which I work with children, even). What I’m saying is that there is nothing in my life to indicate that my past is in any way damaging to who I am and how I behave.
For all that I had it figured out, though, I discovered, about two years ago, that there were chinks in my proverbial armor. Stupid little things that my older daughter would do or say could send me into completely irrational (and, not for nothing, frightening) places. I’m talking dumb shit, too; she’d leave her wet towel on the floor, she’d forget her homework on the dining room table, she’d roll her eyes when I asked her to do something she didn’t feel was her responsibility. Everyone I’ve talked to tells me that nothing can bring someone to their knees faster than a teenage child, and all of these are things a teenage kid does, of course – nothing to see here – but the vehemence of my internal reactions shocked me. My responses were not proportional.
About two months ago, after a particularly fun afternoon with my daughter, I made a phone call. A few weeks prior to that, Mrs. S, the guidance counselor at CHS, had recommended a couple of names of therapists who might be able to help us smooth the way through Punkin’s adolescence, but I’d just kept them in reserve until I thought I needed them. That day, though, I thought I needed them, so I made an appointment with the woman of whom Mrs. S had spoken most highly, and we were on our way.
The counselor, let’s call her Kelly, is wonderful. She’s straightforward, no-nonsense, and exudes a kind of calm fairness that I can see Punkin’ responding incredibly well to. Part of Kelly’s plan was that she would see the entire family in a bunch of different permutations; Punkin’ and me, Punkin’ alone, Punkin’ and Beanie, that kind of thing. After two or three sessions with Punkin’ and me together, Kelly asked to see me alone (well, she asked to see me and Mr. Chili together, but he couldn’t get out of work for that appointment, so she got just me).
The morning of our appointment was a doozie. For starters, Punkin’ decided that she wasn’t going to get up with her alarm (and I had decided that I wasn’t going to drag her through every… single…morning anymore). When I walked into her room at about 6:30 to let her know that it was well and truly time to get up, she screamed at me that I was “mean.” Okay. Whatever. I calmly left the room and went about the rest of my morning.
Punkin’ managed to make it downstairs and proceeded to bang and stomp and slam and…. well, you get the idea. At one point, Mr. Chili asked her what she was so upset about, and she answered that I had woken her by telling her it was time to go, and she was furious at having thought that I’d do that to her. When I explained to her that not only was that not what I said, but it couldn’t have been what I said because a) it would have been a lie, b) she can tell time and could plainly see that it wasn’t time to go, and c) the fact that the rest of the family were still in the kitchen would indicate that it wasn’t yet time to go, she rolled her eyes and said, “well, that’s what I HEARD, and it was MEAN!”
At this point, I should note, I’m still good. I was compassionately detached from her drama and was focused on getting my stuff together so I could go to work.
Punkin’ asked if she could have a peanut butter and Fluff sandwich for lunch and I relented. Fluff, if anyone doesn’t know, is a New England thing; it’s essentially semi-melted, spreadable marshmallow, and is popular as a pairing to peanut butter (in fact, I sometimes use it to fill the little peanut butter cookies I make (the other fillings are jam and chocolate, in case you were wondering). It’s yummy, but there’s not a thing about it that’s healthy. I let her have the Fluff in the interests of not fighting; usually, school lunches are required to achieve at least some nutritional balance.
A few minutes later, I walked into the kitchen to get my own lunch and I passed by her sandwich on the counter.
No lie, you guys; the thing had to be three inches thick.
Now, here’s where we separate the intellectual from the emotional.
Intellectually, it was no big deal. She’s a kid, and kids love sugar and have very little sense of proportion; I remember being a kid and eating stuff like that from a spoon. I’m sure it would have worked out to be something like 5 cents worth of Fluff. My daughter is not diabetic and would have no problem processing this sandwich for her lunch. While she knows better than to make a sandwich like that (I’ll get to that in a minute), big picture, it wasn’t really a big deal.
Emotionally? I completely lost it. My insides got tight, my thinking got fuddled, and as I looked from the sandwich to the kid (and before I could say anything, the kid in question said “Yeah, I know, it’s too much. Whatever. It’s made, I can’t unmake it, I’ll eat it all), I found myself completely speechless. I finished what I needed to do in the kitchen, turned to my husband and said “you’re taking the girls to school this morning,” kissed him goodbye, got my briefcase, got into my car, and cried all the way to work.
I could not tell you then – and can’t really even tell you now – what it was that triggered that response in me. The whole way to work, I’m telling myself, “it’s just a sandwich, it’s just a sandwich,” but that didn’t do anything to relieve the crushing feeling. I managed to pull myself together and get through my work day, then headed – eagerly, I might add – to see Kelly.
“Kelly,” I said as I walked in the door, “you’re going to love this. I lost my shit over a peanut butter and Fluff sandwich this morning. What are you gonna do with THAT?” She grinned at me and, in the process of our talking together, decided that she wanted me to undergo something called EMDR. EMDR – eye movement desensitization and reprocessing – is a technique that helps the brain rework trauma responses to render them harmless, and Kelly thought, based on what I’ve told her, that I’d be a perfect candidate for this treatment. She gave me a contact name – we’ll call her Natalie - told me to bypass the front desk and talk directly to Natalie’s voice mail, and to drop Kelly’s name.
I had my first appointment yesterday. It was just a “getting to know you” visit – nothing major was done – but I decided that I can work with Natalie and I think that this might do me a lot of good.
I have no idea what I’ve got buried in my proverbial closet; there’s far more about my life before 17 that I don’t remember than I do. Clearly, though, some of whatever is in there is poisoning the way I deal with stress in my present-day life, and I’m not okay with that. I am highly invested in making sure that I don’t fuck up my job as a parent, and I’ve got to admit that my biggest motivation for doing this therapy is so that I don’t lose myself and do or say to my children was was done and said to me. I worked very hard to be the one to break that chain, and I’ll be damned if it’s going to come back at me now.
I’ve decided (clearly) that I’m going to write about the experience of this work. Not only do I want to document it for me (and for my daughters), but I also want to put this out there in case anyone recognizes what’s happening to me as something that happens to them. I don’t want to hide this if having someone else see it can do some good in the Universe. My next appointment with Natalie is scheduled for August, but I’m on her cancellation list, so I may get in sooner. Watch this space…