Be the Adult and Do the Building

My daughter Kate and I are still struggling to communicate after the Big Blowout Drama event in early August. The wall of silence has come down, but I am still overwhelmed with a myriad of emotions. I suspect Kate is as well.

We used to talk to each other a couple of times a week, more often during difficult weeks. We are both busy in our lives; certainly Kate is more so being a working mom of two young children. I know people who insist on talking to their children every single day. I am not that kind of mom. The only rule I live by is simple: talk to me.

My four daughters were raised in a household where no subject was off limits (a result of having grown up in a home in which many subjects were off limits, including knowing my mom had been diagnosed with cancer and would die). I worked hard to let my daughters know that “home” was the safest place to ask a question and learn. Visitors were sometimes thrown off guard sitting at our supper table, enjoying a great meal, and suddenly thrown into a discussion of sex, politics, or religion. I often thought my kids brought up politically-incorrect issues intentionally. Let’s see how far we can push Mom.

And so the continued quiet stream of communication with Kate gnaws at me. I feel I have been tossed out of her life. If I am unaware of her challenges and struggles, how can I offer support, even emotionally? Without updates on her growing and daily-changing children, how am I to witness the lives of my grandchildren?

My husband rarely talks to his two daughters, a fact that bothers me much more than him. Obligatory calls come through on holidays and his birthday, but only a handful of other times throughout the year. I know more about their lives than he does, simply because I’m connected to them on Facebook. There really isn’t any reason that I am aware of, or my husband either, as to why they don’t talk more often. They just don’t. I have no proof, but I suspect his daughters talk regularly with their mother.

Why doesn’t Kate want to talk with me? I’ve given that a lot of thought. The part of my heart that still hurts after the sting of all that she said and did on that dreadful night believes she is consumed with guilt and shame and doesn’t know how to get past that. She hasn’t apologized for her behavior, and since she hasn’t now I doubt she ever will. Does she know how badly she hurt me? Yes. Kate is not stupid. Does she care? Come on, of course she does. So why does she prolong this communication gap and choose to be quiet?

I’ve asked two of my other daughters if they know why this silence continues. Brianna is uncomfortable with me asking, so I’m not asking anymore. Rose is a little more willing to discuss it, although she readily admits Kate isn’t communicating with her either. Rose’s advice to me is to keep reaching out. I told Rose it seems to me that Kate wants me to do all the work right now, but I don’t feel like doing all the work. I’m tired of this drama. I still hurt and am still trying to heal. Questions beg to be asked: Does Kate still hurt? Is Kate still angry? What the hell is this all about anyway?

Rose’s advice to keep trying with Kate reminded me of another time in our lives, right after the girls’ dad moved out of our house. He had (has) an anger management problem and I had asked him to get help for it and he refused. I told him he could no longer stay in the house with the girls and me if he wouldn’t get help. So he left. And he was angry, dangerously so. The girls didn’t want to talk to him or be with him. They wanted their dad to be “normal.” They wanted their lives to be normal. (Oh, how I can relate to that today!)

Over time, their dad settled down and wanted to spend time with the girls. They had missed him, so they were eager to get together, but things weren’t the same. After our divorce, the chasm was even greater, but each of the girls had grown older and more mature. Kate graduated from high school at the time of our divorce and headed off to college. That experience propelled her to question her life—past, present, future—and what she wanted to achieve. One day she told me she wished she had a better relationship with her dad. I remember well what I told her, because I said the same thing to each of her sisters when they reached that same point in their lives.

For good or bad, I told each of my daughters that their dad didn’t have the skill set to reach out and build a relationship with them. If they wanted one, they were going to have to be the adult and do the building. They didn’t like that at all. It was in complete contradiction to the roles they were in as father and daughter. But having lost my own father when he died when I was just sixteen, I pleaded with my daughters to remember one important thing. You only get one dad.

Well, I am blessed to be the mother of four daughters but each is a treasure I will hold in my heart forever. I will only get one Kate. Even though I am tired and my heart aches, I’m going to try again to reach out. My hope is that maybe if I check in once a week, Kate will grow more comfortable talking with me. Maybe it will prove to her that I do care, if that’s even the issue, and that I want to be in her life. Maybe we will re-learn to talk. Maybe, just maybe, we can put ourselves back at the old kitchen table and discuss everything and anything and put this sour moment behind us.

After the Parties

My grandson had a wonderful first birthday party. Many friends and family came and he received a lot of fun toys and books. And he showered us all with smiles. He made a mess of his cake, which is a rite of passage, right? It was a good day.

His mom, my oldest daughter, was pleasant and respectful. We even engaged in a couple of good conversations. And I learned that she has been handed a whole lot more responsibility in her job, when she was already feeling overwhelmed. And my granddaughter is likely going to have to have surgery to remove her tonsils. Their insurance isn’t very good so they’re looking at more medical bills, on top of many they’ve already had to deal with. And my daughter has developed a kidney infection. Seems like there’s a lot of stress-inducing things in her life that are causing her enough emotional trouble that she’s gotten run down and sick. Does that explain what happened in early August? Maybe, but probably not.

At this point, I feel I’ve learned as much as I’m going to for now (maybe ever) about that dreadful night and it’s time to move on. She’s never going to explain her actions, she’s not going to apologize, and as much as she says she hates it when people act like nothing’s wrong, it seems that’s exactly what she wants to do. Perhaps she’s too embarrassed and just doesn’t know how to deal with her total breakdown or meltdown or whatever the hell anyone wants to call it.

I know, I know, I’ve been saying I need to let go and move on for weeks. The good news is I finally feel like I can.

The other big birthday—my youngest daughter’s twenty-first birthday—passed without drama. I am thrilled! We had a really nice birthday dinner celebration at our house with every chair at the table taken. The food was good and we had plenty of laughter. Maybe that was the champagne, yes, champagne! It was a time to celebrate. Not only did Brianna make it to this milestone, but so did I, with my mental capacities still intact.

I was thinking about all of this as I drove home from work tonight, looking at the trees taking on new colors for fall, the flowers going dormant. It’s the season of endings, when we tuck away all the fun of summer and we close up our yards and we prepare to live off the memories through the cold, bitter winter. It seems appropriate to be putting away the emotional stress with my oldest daughter and checking off the milestone with my youngest. It is autumn. Time to wrap myself in a blanket of comfort and sit by the fireplace and look at the pictures, and tell my version of “what I did this summer.”

Bravo!

The journey has been long and twisted. Quick at times, and slow at others. Overpowering loudness and heartbreaking silence. But a constant thread of love has been there from day one. And maybe that’s made all the difference.

It was 1:30 in the morning on Monday, September 13, 1993 when I was awakened by my cat pacing back and forth across the bottom of my bed. My (then) husband was working nights and I was home alone with my three children. I was tired and cranky and at first very put off that my cat had awakened me. And then I realized, in a trick of my brain to focus on memories of nearly six years prior, my cat was telling me I was in labor. I had no pains at all. But I knew I had to get to the hospital.

I called and woke up my sister who lived five miles away. Fifteen minutes later I crawled into the back seat of the car her husband was driving and began to do the breathing exercises to control labor. We started out with my contractions at 10 minutes apart, but the physical exertion of having gotten dressed and into the back seat sped things up a bit. One mile down the road, my contractions were more labored and closer together. In just minutes, they were so intense I couldn’t talk through them.

When we arrived at the hospital’s ER entrance about twenty minutes later, my contractions were less than two minutes apart. We were met at the car with a gurney and in between contractions I climbed on it, then held on as the nurses ran at full speed through the hallways down to the birthing center while I went through another contraction. We entered my room perfectly in time between contractions so I jumped off the gurney, ripped off my clothes, climbed in the bed, and got slammed with the urge to push.

Five minutes after our arrival was recorded at the ER driveway, baby Brianna was born.

She is my fourth daughter, and strangely enough, I am a fourth daughter. She is the baby in our family, and so am I in mine. Whether all that means anything, I cannot say for certain. (By the way, do you believe in coincidences?)

We welcomed Brianna with love, and someone was always with her, day or night, every day of her life. I guess that would be expected of a large family. Because she was never alone, it’s difficult to know if she dealt with anxiety from day one or if it developed over time. Nature versus nurture. We didn’t have a clue. Like Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence, her anxiety was silent, like a cancer grows. We didn’t know it existed.

Fast forward to age fourteen when Brianna began her tumultuous journey through adolescence. Suddenly we no longer spoke the same language. At times it seemed we didn’t see the same sky or breathe the same air. She was as foreign to me as an alien. Anger and anxiety ruled her life, reckless and irresponsible behaviors were the norm. Her sisters grew so angry with me, telling me I was parenting Brianna all wrong. Try this or that or some other thing, they would tell me. You’re not punishing her enough. Take away all her privileges.

I did take away her phone, but she snuck my husband’s. He didn’t have a text plan on his phone. Less than twelve hours later she had racked up $250 in text fees. We did take away the car, but then she snuck out in the middle of the night with our other car. We set the house alarm to keep her in, but she found a window that wasn’t hooked into the system and set herself free. She stole our debit cards and our cash. Later she wrote down our credit card details and charged things over the internet. We tried to stay a step ahead of her, but it was all new to us. We were learning as we went.

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind at all that Brianna was smart. We just didn’t understand her. Truth is, none of us understood what Brianna was dealing with, not even Brianna. We saw therapists and psychiatrists, clergy, and a whole slew of school administrative professionals. No one had an answer for us. No one could tell us the words that would seep through to Brianna’s heart and mind, to tell her we loved her, to ask her how we could help. All we could do was strap ourselves down tight and hold on for the ride, praying we’d all be alive when it was through.

About a year ago, in an unusual moment of peace and tranquility, it dawned on me that I hadn’t yelled at Brianna in a while. I started thinking more seriously and realized how far she had come. I hesitated to say it out loud for fear it would jinx her progress.

One foot in front of the other, one small step at a time, Brianna forged her way back to a straight and healthy path. All on her own she registered to take her GED tests and she passed each one with flying colors. Then she started talking about going to college. We didn’t know if we should believe in her dream or not. Then she applied for student loans, and went to orientation, and registered for classes. Now, two weeks into the semester, she has aced all of her assignments and quizzes and tests in all of her classes. She has stopped smoking. She has slowly weaned herself off (under a doctor’s direction) all but one of her meds. And she has held a healthy weight for more than a year. (Oh how it broke my heart when she looked like a skeleton.)

With all my heart I believe the worst of Brianna’s journey is behind us. I’m smart enough to know not all days in the future will be good ones, but I do believe the better days will outweigh the bad ones by far. It brings such joy to my heart and soul to be able to see Brianna believe in herself, to advocate for herself, to dream dreams. I am so proud of her for rising above the madness, and returning to the beautiful woman I knew was there all along.

So, happy twenty-first birthday to my baby. Bravo! You did it, kid. (And so did I.)

The Couch

Brain Dump. Stream of consciousness writing. Journaling. Thoughts. It’s all just playing with words. You conjure some, roll them around in a bait-and-switch method, and next thing you know, a few of them cling to each other like that odd sock that gets mixed in with your load of towels. You have all these matching colors and textures and then the errant stray sticks its foot out.

Happily or not you go along in the stream, thoughts cascading in, mixing with others, and tumbling out. Mindlessly moving through the everyday, not caring to pause or take notice until that wretched oddity shows up, and, voila! Now you have to deal with it.

Tomorrow is my grandson’s first birthday. His mom is still not talking to me, but I have an invite to his party on Sunday so I’ll go. I am grateful for the opportunity to share in the celebration. In two days, my youngest daughter turns twenty-one. I remember the day she was born like it was a year ago. And I can’t count the too many times in the last five years that I thought she wouldn’t live to see this day. I’m honored that she wants me to take part in her celebration. Three days later is my ex-husband’s birthday, mixed in for good measure with all my other memories. But it is the birthday one week from tonight—when my daughter who is not talking to me, my firstborn, will be twenty-nine—that clings with static in my brain.

The whole situation is an anomaly. It’s the outlier in my life that brings out all my OCD traits. It is the nonsensical behavior that screams for someone to make sense of it. My first thoughts in the morning are of its existence and how might I fix it. My last thoughts each night are my silent prayers, seeking for guidance and answers.

I used to enjoy first light of day with all its promise and potential. And I used to look forward with gratitude when darkness brought time to pause, reflect, rest. All the hours of chaos and madness in between sunrise and sunset were the moments I wanted to maneuver as quickly as I could. And now, since The Big Drama, I want to swim and surf and float in each day’s mainstream, seeking solace in the flotsam because it hides the confusion and hurt and anger that plague my thoughts and dreams in the night. But I am not a swimmer, and the few strokes of dog paddling that I know are exhausting.

When I enter my daughter’s house on Sunday noon to celebrate the little man’s big day, you can bet I’ll be scanning the room for a life preserver. Or an olive branch. Pray that there is one within reach.

Irrational Fear #37

The doctor had a very personable manner and he most definitely has had a lot more training in developing social skills than I have had, despite my being the youngest of eight children. He explained everything thoroughly—his hunch as to why I’m having the pain that I am and the best course of action to treat my symptoms. Unfortunately, to make me feel better, I need to lay on a table and let this man turn my neck in such a way that I think he’s going to break it and paralyze me for life.

I know my fear of chiropractic care is irrational. My brain reasons the logic quickly and easily. But my instinct to protect my head and neck, to survive, are much stronger than my brain cells. I’ve always known I had a good intuitive sense but I think I’ve underestimated its depth, until this week.

The first appointment went well. It was Discovery. He asked a few questions about who I am and what I do for enjoyment in life while he fingered my sore neck and shoulders. I learned he was a trusted person, respected in his field, and easy to talk to. Then without any warning, my head was twisted and the deafening crack was heard all the way out in the waiting room. Yes, I felt better physically. But the same action of adjusting my neck flipped my anxiety switch to ON.

Three days later I went for my second appointment. We reviewed x-rays and talked more in depth about bodies when they don’t perform as they should and by the way, how is your book coming? CRACK! It was a surprise attack and I tensed. Big mistake.

Another three days later I found myself sitting in a treatment room, alone, staring at the table, waiting for the doctor to come in. And when he did, he asked me to lay, facing down, and I said, “No, I can’t do it.” He went silent and looked at me. I explained that I know it is a completely irrational fear, but I just cannot move past it. He was so kind and understanding, even told me my feelings are pretty common. “We’ll try something different,” he said. “I have many methods I can use.”

Irrational fear. It’s strikes in the oddest ways. I can deal with spiders, but my daughters will scream like an axe murderer is after them if they see one. I’ve killed mice with a broom, while my daughters have stood on chairs. I’ve flown in many airplanes, although alcohol has often been consumed on afternoon and evening flights to make that a little more tolerable. I regularly use elevators and escalators without any trouble at all. I go to the dentist and a medical doctor for regular checkups and physicals. But ask me to let someone make horrific noises with my bones and I completely fall apart. It was the nightmare after the third appointment that did me in.

I won’t be going back.

Now, tell me, how do I turn off that anxiety switch?