Not everyone can be nice all of the time. Not even me. It’s true, although I am loath to admit it. Our daughter Mary has been going through a phase again that is tough to take. I always see her as my loving, sweet, and talented little girl. Despite the fact that I am her doting mom, I can also see the not-so-loving and not-so-sweet actions she has been taking recently.
I’ve learned that Mary has been targeting another little girl on her bus. This little girl is prone to crying easily and is very sensitive. When Mary feels dysregulated, she eases her own feelings by using hurtful words to get a reaction out of this other child. She’s gotten two “bus tickets” for her behavior recently.
At school, Mary is going to talk to her social worker often, but no one is quite sure what exactly is bothering her. She has come up with many different reasons. She has anxiety about friends, about recess, about her biological family. She feels that she can hear the thoughts of the other girls in her class and they all hate her. She typically has these big feelings during math time. This is also the time when she suddenly needs the nurse or the bathroom.
Lately she has been locked in a homework struggle with us. When she completes her work, she crumples it up in her bag and hides it from her teacher. Then she hides her assignment sheet from us and gives a great big story about having to hand in the assignment sheet to the teacher. “No worries,” I tell her gently, “I will take a look in your backpack. Moms have great finding skills.” This is where I find hidden assignments she doesn’t want to do. I also find the elusive assignment sheet. Most baffling of all is that I find several completed assignments that are perfectly well done (She’s VERY good at math.) She cannot explain why she won’t hand them in.
She’s been markedly more irritable. Mary is having meltdowns over the smallest things. She is also inciting as many fights as she can with her brother. She feigns injury when he walks by as though he has punched her. She tries to bait him into fights. When he won’t respond she ends up screaming and yelling and tearing out bits of her hair. I’m not sure that random-pattern baldness is the answer to sibling rivalry, but who am I to give advice? “You don’t understand my body!” she shouts at me. Agreed. I have no idea.
Last night she had a tantrum in therapy. While in the waiting room she destroyed her homework papers by ripping them and stabbing them with her pencil. She screamed and kicked on the floor and told my husband that she hated him and wished she could live anywhere else. I heard this all from the other therapy room where I was with Carl in session.
My husband Luke is a simple man when it comes to family. He just plain loves us. Family is his first priority come hell or high water. He calmly but firmly took the pencil from her and told her in no uncertain terms to stop attacking the furniture in the waiting room. She wasn’t having an out-of-control episode. We know her by now and he could see that she was calculating how far she could go in order to show her displeasure. She stopped, but not before saying some deeply hateful things to Luke. Bless the man, he didn’t respond in kind. He firmly sent her into her therapist’s office where her mood changed to silly, happy giggling, crying, and then back to irritation.
I’m not proud of this, but I didn’t say our special “goodnight” to her at tuck-in. Luke did it instead. I’m so used to my sweet girl that it’s hard for me to see her act with calculated cruelty. It’s easier when it’s targeted at me. It is so much harder when she targets the emotionally fragile girl on the bus, her brother, and even worse, my husband.
I know that it comes from a place of pain. She is hurting, so she hurts others. I know I must respond with love and kindness. After some deep breaths I am able to try again. A panicky feeling sets in when I realize this is the only night I haven’t done our special tuck-in since she came home two-and-a-half years ago.
I gently wake her out of slumber and touch her face in the rhythm we have established. It goes: forehead, cheek, cheek, nose, chin. I whisper the words that match the rythm, “I Love you forever, no matter what, and I am so (tap) glad (tap) you’re (tap) home (tap then lip-pop)” She smiles sweetly in her half awake state and gives a muffled lip-pop back. Then Mary mumbles, “Mommy.” That’s right, kiddo. Mommy’s here. Always.
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.