In Like a Lion and Out Like a Lamb

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I’ve neglected this blog for half of February and nearly all of March. I saw no point in broadcasting regular updates in my ongoing tale of woe. Of course, there have been happy times, such as seeing how our elder guinea pig has taught the younger one how to demand more hay. By the way, I’ve gathered that the secret to getting more feedings is to act as if one has never been fed since birth, that one’s girth has been attained solely through the act of respiration.

My daughter’s continuing troubles and my ongoing nerve pain have cast a pall over these bright moments. Meteorological winter has lingered far too long as well. We woke up Wednesday morning with a snowfall three inches deep covering the roads. Usually, I dread the prospect of driving during a winter storm, but I felt fearless and relieved at driving through that snow. School had been cancelled for the day, so the day was free of yet another attempt to evade attendance. Spared that struggle, I felt there was nothing I couldn’t face that day.

The next day I received the dreaded truancy letter informing me that my daughter has missed too much school. Nevermind that she has no unexcused absences. This is the last thing we need. I don’t want to relate this mess to the truancy officer. However, I will do so if necessary, just like I already did when I wrote a letter to her school for their records to summarize the crisis. I wrote that letter at the suggestion of her therapist. I think the exercise was therapeutic solely for me.

Last week I had a meeting at the school and learned some of the things Eileen has been doing. She is not inclined at all to tell me much about school, so of course, I was surprised at some of the things I heard. It sounds like she is torn between checking out in the style of Melville’s Bartleby (“I’d prefer not to.”) and protesting the curriculum in general. For instance, when English class starts and her classmates have their notebooks and The Plays of Sophocles ready on their desks, Eileen pulls out a book of her choosing and reads for pleasure for the rest of class. Two such books she read during English class were Susan Powter’s Stop the Insanity and Erma Bombeck’s The Cope Book. I didn’t know whether to hang my head in shame or applaud her campy reading choices. My inclination toward the great works of literature is also lacking.

I so wish that she would reveal her thoughts, hopes, and fears. It’s not like I’m a stranger to her struggle; I am only ignorant of the particulars. The difference is she is several years younger than I was when I had my “breakdown”. My troubles didn’t truly sink their tentacles into me until I went away to college. In a way, she has more to lose due to her age.

I feel like I’d have more luck cutting a diamond with my bare hands than getting her to tell me what is really going on in her mind. Whether or not she chooses to take me into her confidence, I need to find a way to let her know that madness is no refuge; take the help that is offered you to evade it. Madness is not a vacation full of cozy reading and just the right amount of sweet and salty to satisfy your hunger. It is a full force gale that can only be calmed through doing the very things you don’t want to do: listen to those who love you, follow your doctor’s advice, show up at the right time, do what needs to be done first and then bask in the glow of pleasure reading and the like later.

As for my issues, I’m still having problems with nerve pain. The partial relief I had from the L3/L4 epidural injection wore off six weeks after I received it. I also have nerve pain that doesn’t correspond to degeneration in my spine. It looks like it’s possible that I’ve developed fibromyalgia. I have a referral to a neurologist to eliminate other possible diagnoses.

Somehow this pain is easier to deal with than my daughter’s ongoing anxiety and attendance problems. I’d rather live with that than go back to high school.

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Another Lucid Dream

Today I am reblogging a past post about a dream I cherish. My recent dreams have been more elusive than usual to my waking mind. I wish I could recall them all, at least the pleasant ones.

Intensity Without Mastery

Just some quick thoughts on last night’s lucid dream. In it my daughter and I were walking through a forest that’s close to our neighborhood. We live on an odd brink of wilderness that’s interrupted by more suburban developments that end in miles of farmland with just enough small forests between to break the wind. Back to the dream, we found a grassy clearing in the woods where lots of people were walking through. It was a forest traffic roundabout, but the circular path was low like a small valley.

My daughter spotted her best friend and went ahead of me with her. I lingered in the grassy roundabout, curious about how this valley was formed with no real hills around it. Then I was caught in a reverie considering if it was time to abandon the apartment where my daughter and I lived before I married her step dad…

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He’s Got a Lot of Love to Give

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My sister is wont to say that someone, whether animal or human, has a lot of love to give when it is highly unlikely such an observation is true about that subject. I have no idea if there is any irony in thinking that the hippo-costumed man in this picture also had lots of love to give as I could not see the expression on his face when my daughter approached him. We encountered him nine years ago during an ill-fated trip to the Toledo Zoo, when my daughter had one of her worst ever meltdowns at the snack bar because no straws or lids were available for the drinks (for good reason, to prevent wildlife-damaging litter).  By the time I took this picture, she was in a serene mood, having drained all of her tension through lid/straw protest.

Enough years have passed that I can discuss just how hard this era was for us. I had started working full time for the first time since before she was born, and she was freshly diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Her school had urged me to get her evaluated at a counseling center because she was getting sent to the principal’s office several times a week. I released the center’s findings to the school, and they banned her from the end-of-year zoo field trip because of her diagnosis. There is no point in window dressing this episode: this damned-if-you-do/damned if you don’t scenario sucked, most of all for my daughter.

So we made a special trip to the zoo on the following weekend, which went well except for the royal tantrum at the snack bar. We had begun play therapy at the counseling center. While she actually liked her therapist, she needed a lot of persuasion to walk into the building to see him. Once she decided to take off running from the center rather than go inside. This was not a good thing for two reasons: the center was situated in a crime-ridden part of our city, and I weighed around 250 pounds at the time. Once I caught up to her, I could not get her back to the center without carrying her. By the time we reached the building, my heart felt like it was going to explode from all of the exertion, and I wished that the ground would open and swallow me whole.

In the intervening years, I lost the excess weight, and my daughter mellowed out. She was diagnosed with autism last year, and the diagnosing psychologist looked at her history and mentioned that ODD was likely a misdiagnosis along the way.

Looking at this picture shows me that we both survived and had many bright moments along the way, even if we labored in darkness for so long.

I’m fixing a hole where the rain comes in and stops my mind from wandering where it will go . . .

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At any place and time on the x,y,z coordinates of my life, I have made disorganized piles of mail, books, receipts, and the like. Five years ago, there was a week when I had winnowed down my indoor junk pile to nothing, yet I was not bereft of one entirely since there was a box in my car trunk in which had been placed wholesale a stack from my previous residence. I didn’t have the heart to open the box and see this portrait of who I’d been when I filled the box in my trunk, so I rode around with it rattling about in my trunk for a few years until I got married and threw it out, unopened.

My junk piles embarrassed me until I started excusing them with a quote from “Fixing a Hole” by the Beatles (as I did in the title to this post). Whatever is in the pile, it patches that hole in my mind which prevents persistent daydreaming. Stated otherwise, seeing the junk reminds me of reality and keeps me from descending into a permanent Secret-Life-of-Walter-Mitty state.

Today has been one of those days that remind me that for all of the lofty goals we are persuaded to pursue while growing up, adult life is mostly filled with banal tasks, like work that can done on autopilot due to repetition or shopping for things that will ultimately be consumed and discarded in one way or another:

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After I loaded the latest round of consumables into my car, I turned on the radio and heard “Ya Mo Be There” by Michael McDonald. I then imagined my mother hearing that same milquetoast song as she drove away from the same store thirty years ago, her trunk loaded down with the same stuff just with older logos affixed to them. She wouldn’t have the let song play more than 45 seconds, her index finger expertly pushing the button to another radio station while holding a lit Salem cigarette. She’d be doing this simultaneous to shouting “35!” to whoever was driving below the speed limit in front of her.

I have this memory from about 27 years ago in which my mom and my older sister were have a fiery argument over something that none of us can remember now. Maybe it was over a forgettable suitor or an empty 40 ounce bottle of malt liquor that emerged despite all efforts to hide it. In my memory, my sister throws open the front door, bounds down the steps, and then I hear tires squeal as she speeds away. I next go to my bedroom, not ready to hear my mother aghast at my sister’s sudden departure. Instead of complaints, I hear the quick snap of mom slinging her purse over her shoulder, the click of her cigarette lighter, that same door slamming open, and lastly the sound of a different set of tires squealing as my mother speeds away.

When I’ve asked them about this fiasco in later years, I do not hear details about how this chase figured into their battle or its resolution. The air grows heavy and silent, and I remind them once more of something that happened a year before that chase, when my sister ran into the house breathless to tell me that she and mom had witnessed a roll-over accident whose tempo perfectly matched “She’s Only Seventeen” by Warrant (which was playing on the radio as they saw the accident). This happened the very first time Mom let my sister do the driving to the grocery store.

While there is an excess of banality as the years stretch onward, there is also conflict and union with those we love to season those times as well. As my mother before me, I’ve had my fair share of mother-daughter sagas, too. Since neither I nor my daughter is inclined to move faster than is necessary, I doubt there is a road race in our future, but there was an incident that happened when she was 11 years old that was tense in its own right.

When my daughter was born, I thought that my passage into motherhood would be the grand demarcation between a scandalous, well-spiced past and a practical future, sort of a half-baked version of “Tell Me a Riddle” by Tillie Olsen. Like the ex-dissident smoothed into domesticity in that tale, I awaited the moments when I’d sardonically consider,”command performance; we command you to be the audience.”

As smugness leads to error as often as pride goes before a fall, I learned that I was wrong about how motherhood would change me, and this was never so clear as during the incident that happened when my daughter was 11. I noticed she’d become sneaky about using the laptop she’d gotten a couple months before, so I considered that I was overdue in exercising my parental discretion over her online activities. Once I’d opened her laptop, I didn’t take long to discover that she’d been chatting with a Chilean man!

These chat transcripts were full of venting about me. She cast me an off-label-prescribed Anne Boleyn too eager to please my then-boyfriend (who, by the way, is now her stepfather). While her writing showed love for me, it also revealed that she likely has fewer illusions about me than I do about myself. Before she even started her teenage years, she saw me as I was.

I confronted her gently about what I’d read, telling her that it made me realize that she was both precocious and a bit too young to have free reign of a computer (the last part mainly because she had been talking to a man whose intentions were likely dubious at best). I took away the laptop and packed it back in its shipping box.

Almost five years later, it sits at the bottom of a junk pile in my bedroom closet. From time to time, my husband asks me if want to get it rid of it, and I tell him that I’m not ready yet because it helps me fix that hole where the rain gets in and stops my mind from wandering where it will go.

Spring

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Above is an old photo of silver maple buds. This year I’m not well enough yet to capture much of early spring.

Spring is here, and I am a week and a half late in noticing its arrival. The weather this winter was warm overall with some sine wave oscillations into bitter cold. If not for these periodic arctic blasts, this winter would have seemed to be a long prodromal spring. The daffodils outside my front door were halfway out of the ground by February but have been wise to delay their blooming.

This morning after my husband left for work and my daughter boarded her school bus, I sat on the living room couch debating what I needed to accomplish today. My mind became knotted considering what I should do first, and I remembered that there is only one thing that I really need to do during this medical leave: get better. With that thought, I stretched out on the couch and let my concerns slip away. While I should not simply fester at this time, I’d be foolish to let mental to-do lists sully my recovery.

I will do what needs to be done in due time. Already I accomplish small tasks without much premeditation, as I did before my back surgery.

There was a minor eruption in this house a week after my surgery because I became aware that someone who shall remain unnamed was disinclined to help around the house due to the mistaken notion that my daughter would do such tasks for me until I was better able to do them myself. Yes, my daughter is 15 and not helpless, but I do not push her to help out much around the house aside from taking care of her own things.

I figured that my surgery did not translate into my daughter becoming a maid or a cook, so I’ve asked very little of her aside from what I usually expect. She will be young just once, and I’d rather hear her usual 20 eruptions of laughter a day over whatever she’s reading than see her cook dinner or mop a floor.

So I heard a complaint that I’d been remiss in failing to teach to do such things and that I should insist she do more. I responded that now is not the time for me to teach anyone to do anything. Now is the time for me to heal.

It’s not that I have not taught my daughter to be tidy or to fix herself a meal. The prospect of insisting that she do these things time and again exhausts me more than doing them myself.

I think that the business of living and the natural consequences of disorder will eventually make her self-sufficient in the domestic sphere, which is exactly what happened with me. No matter how much my mother made me do the dishes while I was growing up, I didn’t spontaneously do that task until I was on my own and the only one around who would do it.

As I close this post, I am recalling a passage from Austen’s Sense and Sensibility wherein practical Elinor complains that her younger sister Marianne needs to toughen up. I’ve thought of Colonel Brandon’s response many, many times as I’ve raised my daughter: “I knew a lady very like your sister – the same impulsive sweetness of temper – who was forced into, as you put it, a better acquaintance with the world. The result was only ruination and despair. Do not desire it, Miss Dashwood.”