Enjoy when you can, and endure when you must. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
We awoke to a text alert that our local school district had cancelled school due to inclement weather. Snow and ice on these Ohio roads, the kids and I will be stuck at home most of the day, or at least until the roads have been cleared and it’s safe to venture out again. The alert goes until noon today, but I’m not one to take risks when driving is concerned—especially when the kids are involved. So, at home we will stay at least until after lunch. I can’t say that I am overjoyed by this prospect, only because I’ve been stuck inside the confides of my house for nine days straight now, tending to one sick kid after another with no reprieve in sight. I’m spent and feel like I haven’t had a moment to myself, am desperate for some alone time or the chance to chat with a friend over tea. But, this is just one small moment in time and I know that the bleak forecast outside won’t last forever in nature or within my heart.
Upstairs, safely confined to her bedroom, The Girl (my oldest, 8 years old) is having a fit of epic proportions because her schedule has been thrown a curve ball for which we did not prepare her the night before. (Husband and I were unaware of the incoming ice and snow until after tucking the kids in last night.) So, we hadn’t told The Girl that there was a chance school would be cancelled. And that, my friends, is all it takes to throw her into an intensely wild mood coupled with the attitude that somehow not being at school right now is my entire fault.
She was in the process of breaking something in her room (I guessed her American Girl Doll school desk, but luckily I opened the door to her room as I heard the telltale noises of destruction going on, and I was able to get her to stop mid-rage before doing something she would later regret.) Just yesterday, after spending two hours cleaning her soft lilac painted, butterfly and art decorated bedroom, I threw away one full bag of trash filled with bits and pieces of paper, plastic, wood, pencil sharpening flakes, broken jewelry and more that I found strewn throughout, on the floor, under the bed, ground into the sand brown carpet. Silently, I prayed that one day The Girl would be eclipsed of this horrible affliction, or at least spared it on most days. My prayer continued that she would one day learn to control her moods and anxiety, her impulses and energy and use the tools we’ve paid therapists to teach her, the ones we reinforce at home so that she can spare the life cycle of the toys and gifts, books and all that she values most. Mostly, I prayed that she would be able to stop herself from destroying her property and her inner-spirit and learn to make better decisions before continuing to break anything of worth—sentimental, monetary, or emotional.
After returning from school and going up to put in her required 20 minutes of reading, she noticed that I had replaced all the books, Highlights magazines, and artwork to their properly labeled spot on the pink organizing shelf against the wall underneath the trophy display in the room where she spends most of her quiet and calming time. She took note that her school yearbook from last year was back in the magazine box, too, but was torn away from its cover, some pages askew, some ripped or bitten off. She was so enraged by the very fact that the yearbook was in disarray and again, blamed it all on me (just because she knew I had been in her room—nobody else cleans in there.) After her screaming fit with punches and kicks against the furniture, violent pulls against pillows, slams of the clothes closet door, and finding anything else to knock in sight of her wild raging episode, she angrily hurled herself on the twin bed which had been carefully made with a quilt of bright flowers, matching pillows and soft blankets piled neatly in display. Atop the flowery bedding, she sobbed more because now she remembered that it was her, in fact, who destroyed the yearbook. Waiting until the tears subsided, I simply asked The Girl if she was done for now, calmed down and ready to talk? Shaking her head, “Yes,” but still holding her face in her hands with the nails chewed down to the bed, we had a loving, but tough discussion about why she was placing the blame on me for a poor decision that she made during an angry fit. She said she didn’t know why she blamed me and wished she could stop ruining her things when she was mad. As my heart softened to this child of mine, the one we’ve loved since our first visit, the one that struggles with so much from within (none her fault) she proceeded to cry again, and I held back my tears of despair for the plight that is hers. With trembling wails, nose running, fists clenched, The Girl’s voice now escalating from the onset of tears, sobbing out that she just wants to put the yearbook back to the way it was before. After trying to calm her without success, I promised that I would try my best to make it so. Closing the door behind me, I reminded her to take “bubble breaths,” counting to ten, breathing in and out to help stop the emotional turmoil bubbling up from inside, stemming from regret. She screamed, “That doesn’t work!” But, I knew she would at least try. Ten minutes later, she was back downstairs joining in the energy of family life, no trace of tears down her cheeks, voice now steady and confident once again.
Often I rehash our conversations, rewriting the past, dreaming of what it would be like to have a normal conversation for once. If only The Girl could only learn to say what a typically developing child might say in a similar instance, perhaps something like this, “Mom, I tore apart my yearbook yesterday when I was mad at you. You sent me to my room because I yelled at you when you were helping me with my math homework. I was so mad and I ripped my yearbook. Do you think you could help me figure out how to fix it?” Oh! How much simpler life would be without all these highs and lows, and the extra, unneeded drama! The Girl would walk with a visibly calmer way emanating from within her being, and that calmness would radiate throughout this house and make for a more normal life. But, calm does not come easily to my oldest child, and each day is a challenge in profound ways. So, we ride out the storms of her emotions as they come on like tidal waves, tornadoes, and icy winter storms, and try to relish the better days, no matter how few we get to enjoy.
These unscheduled days off are always the worst kind around here. Upon awakening to the snow day alert from the school district, I’m quickly filled with anxiety about how I’m going to manage The Girl’s day, her temperament and energy levels all the while making sure I get to my normal, daily chores and responsibilities, and caring for my youngest two children (The Boy, four years old and Baby Girl, two years old) who are affected as well by their oldest sister being home when she typically is not. These are the days that feel the longest, and I wish I had a perfect answer, a solution that works—truly works–for her, for me, for all of us. Surprises are typically out of the question because they cause more anxiety in her, and become less of a thrill after putting out the effort of sharing where we might be going. It’s safe to say that The Girl hates surprises because they are akin to throwing her off the curve of a typical, assured schedule. It’s sad that I can’t say, “Hey, let’s all go to the library after lunch!” The Boy and Baby Girl wouldn’t bat an eyelash for they’d finish their lunch and be ready to go. The Girl? Well, she would first object, “No! I hate the library! I want to go rock climb.” And when I tell her why rock climbing isn’t an option, and ask what she’d like to do instead, she will answer with the impossible, “I want to go play outside and go visit Nana.” I’ll respond (for the fifth time now), “I’m sorry, but playing out in the ice and snow isn’t an option right now because first, it’s not safe to be out there and secondly, I really don’t want you to be out in this weather since you just got over having a bad chest cold and you missed school for a week. Nana has plans with your aunt today, so we can’t see her, but we can definitely make plans with her another time soon—probably in just a few days. So, let’s go to the Library! It’ll be fun and you can even borrow some videos. How does that sound?” Cheers will come from the littlest two as they love going to the Library (and so does The Girl, but she just can’t give in to anything I recommend for the very reason that the idea came from me). So, The Girl sits with arms crossed, head to the side looking sullenly out the window towards the ice-covered trees and overall grayness in sight, rolls her eyes mocking me and keeps up the fight. It’s the same every time.
Long ago, Husband and I gave up the wish that The Girl would be other than she is, and we love her in spite of herself. We love her so much it hurts. Her good days come as quickly as they go, but we cherish them and know that if anything, the roughest days are the ones stretching our hearts and minds, and that she is worth the fight. For her, we’ll never stop trying.