Monday, April 11, 2011

The not so objective observer

We cannot ever really be totally objective observers. We bring to every event we observe all of our own experiences, hurts, successes, prejudices, our own world view. The observer may not be involved in the moment, but experiences it and applies her own perspective to her observations.

There was a gathering happening behind the observer, in the yard next door. She was casually reading a book, letting the sound wash over and around her, not really paying attention, but consciously acknowledging the random chatter every so often.

"So you guys are going to Disney again this year..."
"Hey, that was a hit" and the corresponding petulant "FINE. Now it is 2 to 2."
"I'll be right there I have to get the food..."
"Molly stay out of the sandbox. MOLLY GET OUT OF THE SANDBOX. I am counting to 3...Thank you Molly."

Then, at a point when the chatter and laughter seems at its height, in the middle of it all, "MOLLY. Give that back to Jenna. Give it back right now or I am coming down there and giving you a time out."

In that moment, with those few sentences, all sound ceases. All movement stops. Every parenting decision you have made up to this point is suddenly on the line, called into question as everyone, even the not so objective observer who has not turned around to see what it is Molly has taken from Jenna, has stopped her reading and is listening, waiting to see exactly what Molly will decide to do.

Every parent, at some time, secretly longs to let moments like this go a little Lord of the Flies, to let the kids involved find their own balance and to see who is alpha, who is decidedly NOT alpha. Who are the mediators, the peacemakers, and who will lay the smack down on the kid who just took whichever beloved toy of the moment. But Parenting Protocol of 2011 requires that we intervene, especially in these social moments with family and friends. So we say these things we swore we would never say as a parent. We issue the mandate, the edict, and then wait. Wait to see what choice the child will make, what kind of parent the child will color us to be with this choice.

With the faint click click click of the toy lawn mower being defiantly pushed across the yard by some chubby little legs in pink shorts, the child has called your bluff. Every parent within earshot smiles an internal smile, knowing that yes dear parent, we have all been there, done that. We don't really judge you harshly, knowing it could happen to any one of us, even within the next 10 minutes.

And now the ball is in your court. The child waits, already knowing whether or not you will follow through on your threat, already aware that she is alpha.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Safe Place To Be...

It is easy to forget she has a mental illness. It is easy to chalk it up to being eccentric, being quirky, being a little egocentric and entirely too smart for her own good. It is easy to laugh off the semi paranoid comments and the avoidance of interpersonal contact as That Is Just The Way She Is.

But then there are the reminders that this is really mental illness. Reminders that just because you have felt depressed about the loss of a boy, or job, or have declined an invitation to a party because you just don't feel like mingling, you do not have any clue about the depth of despair that is clinical depression, nor do you know the paralyzing fear, the fight or flight response in overdrive, of a full blown anxiety disorder.

It is clear when she says she was so depressed this week she really wondered why she was here. She feels like a waste of skin. She feels worthless, incapable of making decisions and finds no joy in anything. Her mother is the same way, only she drinks to dull the pain, to quiet the voices that tell her she is worthless and unlovable. Mom uses her vast knowledge of Henry James to keep people at arms length, attempting to make them feel small while trying to bolster her own fragile ego and keep people from seeing that she is actually afraid of everything, of breathing, of living. Mom is killing herself slowly and she can only watch when what she wants most is a loving, laughing mother she can talk to.

Anything can be frightening, and is. So many opportunities not taken, words not written because she is afraid of being ridiculed, or worse, discounted as a hack with no talent. She is a writer who doesn't write. Her twin sister makes a living writing, even if it is JUST technical manuals for a governmental division. It is writing. She feels like a failure, but even with medication and the attention of a seemingly competent therapist, she makes little progress.

This is hard, when the reminders are there, to know where to help, if help is even possible. To say the words you want to say without sounding idiotic, condescending or insipid. To reach out a hand in a way that won't push her further away, but allows her to feel like you are a safe place to be. At least she told you that is how she felt, at least she still came to dinner and ate your food and laughed a little. She can be so annoying and entertaining, generous and selfish all at the same time, but you would not want her to not be here. So you keep the door open, and call to make sure she is still there, and hope she knows she is worthwhile.