Day 33: Adolescence, Motherhood & Soap Opera Stars
My daughter is refusing to return to junior high. She won’t go. She threw her backpack across the kitchen yesterday and fell to the floor in a literal heap of human suffering. She was hostile, full of vitriol, defiant and angry.
I did not think this day would ever arrive. I really thought that she and I were beyond this - whatever that means. I thought that she and I were close enough that this would not happen. I realize now that I was just plain silly.
She is now refusing to go to school. She is refusing to leave the house. She is refusing to talk to anyone but two friends. She hates school, the teachers, her brother and now, it seems me. And that really hurts. Even though I know where it is coming from, it is very hard to hear her rage. It is especially hard to hear her level this kind of hatred onto her self.
She is saying things like:
I am stupid
No one cares about me
I wish I had never been born
I was a mistake
You hate me
Why do you hate me
Everyone hates me
I am ugly
I hate myself
I am reeling because she is one of the coolest people I know. Up until a couple weeks ago, she was popular, happy and a lot of fun to be around. She and her brother would fight but for the most part, she was a joy to be around. Now she is sullen, angry, openly hostile, rebellious and truant.
I cannot get her to go to school. She is refusing. I have tried talking, begging, threatening, grounding, taking away her phone. I have tried everything I can think of and so far she has only dug her heels in more. I have asked the school for help. They are not helpful. I have contacted counselors and doctors but so far nothing has helped. I am now looking into other schools or some sort of modified home school because I do not know what else to do. She doesn’t want to go and I really can’t make her.
This takes me back about 38 years...to my own budding adolescence. I have to be careful not to think that our experiences are the same. They are not. However, the similarity is very real and frightening.
I felt just like she does. I hated going to school despite the fact that I was smart and a good student. I was relatively popular and had a lot of friends. I was a late bloomer so I had all the issues that come with that. I had parents that were available for me and close relationship with my mom. But I felt just like she does. I hated myself and then hated everyone around me because the feeling of hate was just so pervasive. It went everywhere I did. I couldn’t shake it off. Sometimes I didn’t even try.
I am both horrified and impressed that she is taking such a defiant stand on the school thing. Horrified because I do not know what to do and impressed because I did not have this courage. I went to school and tried to avoid it. I did this by “being sick or injured”. I never outright refused to go and became an emotional puddle on my kitchen floor. I would throw myself down a flight of stairs in order to injure something, all in the hopes that I would not have to go to school. I begged my parents to send me to Catholic school even though we were not Catholic. I spent a lot of time alone in my room with thoughts that were damaging and hard to process.
I did not get out of going to school and I did not get to go to Catholic school. I suffered through almost every day of 7th and 8th grade in relative silence, dying a little each day on the inside. I do not think that I ever thought about taking my own life. I just remember hating myself a lot one minute and then hating everyone else the next. It was confusing. I was unprepared.
I was not able to own my feelings. I ran from them and generally pretended they weren’t there. Most days, I put on a brave face and endured. Some days I would walk to the bus stop and almost make it there and turn around and run home. My feelings and ability to deal overwhelming to the point of panic. I probably needed help and maybe medication. My parents didn’t know what to do. I did a poor job of communicating what was really going on. It was 1982, kids didn’t go to see therapists. Hell, parents rarely went to see therapists. My parents were just as lost as me.
High school was better and easier but only because I started drinking. The pressure cooker of junior high left me desperately in need of a drink....lots of drinks. And that is how I spent my high school time - relatively successful at school despite putting forth little to no effort and drunk out of my mind a great deal of the time. The drinking helped though. It eased my nerves, made me not care about everything so much and made me more popular. I was a different person and I liked her better...much, much better. So much so that I kind of sought to eradicate the original me so as to create more space for this newer, drunker version of myself.
In the end, the joke was on me. At 25, I would have to stop running and hiding and would have to face all the shit I began drinking over to begin with. I had to face it or die. It really was that dire. I have spent most of my adult life getting over all the feelings and issues created by my lack of attention and ability to deal with those feelings I had about myself at 12.
This leads me to my current crisis of what to do with my daughter.
Was it better that I had to just gut it out?
Did I acquire life skills in junior high that helped me survive what was to come?
Was enduring junior high something that made me successful later on?
Who would I have turned out to be had I been able to get help or go to a different school? What would have happened then?
That is the road not taken...the life not lived. While it seems to hold answers that I needed, I will just never know. I have only my actual experience to draw on. Hypothetical lives that never happened are not helpful. They are poltergeists that haunt my parental grounds called “what if” and “wonder what would have happened”? They are only spirited hallways that lead nowhere.
I can see the similarities between my daughter and I. She is smart, caring, loving, sensitive, outgoing, sensitive (yes I know I said that twice). This kind, loving girl is being transformed into someone I do not recognize and struggle to know how to help. She is suffering and I do not know whether my best course is to try to alleviate her suffering by making major changes or stand by her as I watch her founder.
Her dad is no help. I haven’t even called him. She talked to him yesterday about how she was feeling. His response to her asking to go to another school? “I am not going to support you going to a tree hugging school.” Her response, “Dad, it is Ojai - they are all tree hugging schools.” God, I love her.
I have to let go of my idea that those paths not taken in my own adolescence hold any answers for today. They can’t because they are not real. But like an apparition they haunt my present. I try to make sense of today using the past as a guide. Right now, the past seems more like a warning than a guide.
What would my life have been like if intervention would have been taken when I started to exhibit signs of my distress and inability to cope?
How would I have turned out differently?
Would that person have been better?
Watching her go through this brings up a lot of old shit for me. Shit that I am still trying to unpack and make sense of almost 40 years later. I want to protect her, keep her safe but not indulge her, cripple her by removing natural life difficulties. Give her the dignity of her own failures because my own failures have been my best, most sacred teachers.
But this is not 1982. She is not me. I am not my mother. This is 2019 and kids kill themselves today. They act out and drink and have sex and do drugs. I think my most major problem here is that I think that I have power when I really do not. It is hitting me that this is her life and I am only marginally able to influence this next chapter. I am a character in her life that is being re-written into a new role. One that I have to say that I do not like. I am like a soap opera star that is being marginalized to eventually be killed off only to be brought back later in a different role. Or maybe a ghost...
I am out of my element. I feel powerless and scared and worried. I do not know what to do and the professionals that are supposed to be experts in this field do not know anymore than I do. Oh they know a lot but not about my daughter. They know a lot about other daughters and theoretical daughters. They do not know mine.
I know that whatever action or inaction I take will have lasting consequences...which is currently keeping me up at night. I hold her every night while she cries herself to sleep. I tell her that it is going to be ok, even though I have no idea how it is going to be. After I am sure she is asleep, I cry too. I hold her and pray that I am going to be given super human mom powers to know how to navigate this not uncharted but very uncertain terrain. I pray that my experience is a guide but try to maintain perspective that even though we are similar in many ways - she is not me, I am not her. I pray that I will be able to give her the dignity of her own experience while keeping her alive and sane. I pray that I can get past my own issues of anger and fear to be a better parent. I pray that my love for her does not get in her way.
I knew that raising teenagers was going to be hard. But like all of my experiences with parenting thus far, I never knew how much they would demand from me on an emotional and spiritual basis. I had no idea how hard this would be. I had no idea how ill-equipped I was for this journey. I had no idea that I would not intuitively know how to move forward.
So I am going to do what I always do when I don’t know what to do. Try to keep my feet and head in the same space and time. I am going to do the next indicated thing, I am going to be honest, open and willing. I am going to break each day into more manageable units: a minute or an hour. I am going to celebrate the successful moments and endure the ones where I fail. This is all I know to do. I pray with my whole being that it is enough.