I returned from my two-week romp through Northern California Monday night with my three hyper-sensitive daughters in tow. My phrasing might make it sound like I have ten daughters seven of whom have little to no requirement of my presence. Well, that’s not true. I have four daughters the oldest of whom will be a senior in college this year. She had the presence of mind to stay home. Actually, she had to work.
I feel as if I have returned home a shell of a person. Do I say this with humor? Yes. Do I admit this honestly? Mmm…yes. I prepared them for this trip. I explained all the ground rules. I drew diagrams. I asked them to draw on their reservoir of manners and social skills which runs deep and wide. I quizzed them on responses to possible scenarios. I had it locked down not to mention they had been on a trip before. We are not feral people. None of this was new.
When we entered the airport, I began to experience a subtle but very real feeling of dread. Our last trip to California was trying. To be honest, everyone behaved like assholes except for my youngest daughter who is on the autism spectrum. She managed herself like a champ! “Surely, that won’t happen again,” I naively thought to myself as the TSA was patting me down.
But, a conspiracy was brewing, and my 16 year-old was no doubt thinking something like this…
And shenaniganate she did! It started when we arrived and didn’t end for 15 days! I parented more in two weeks than I do in six months. I overcompensated, deflected in gardens, ran interference in restaurants, pulled aside and coached in museums, flat out disciplined in quiet corners of conservatories, had in-depth discussions privately, validated, encouraged, pulled out DBT self-soothing techniques, and then took ten-minute baths to cry just to excrete all the stress hormones coursing through my body. By the 13th day, I was so amped up and anxious myself that I freely admit to feeling like this about my own child…
When we walked into our house at nearly midnight, I didn’t fall asleep until after 4 AM. I’m still emotionally spent from the trip and feel like I might burst into tears at any moment. For me, it was a bit nightmarish. I am not wont to take her anywhere ever again.
In the middle of all of her missteps, shenanigans, and displays of teenage angst all of which I had zero control over, I felt a very familiar feeling creep in. I started walking on eggshells. My daughter’s behavior was offensive to our host. There was no getting around it. She was politely asked to stop engaging in certain behaviors, and, “forgetting” herself, she would continue to do those very things. Being very sensitive to changes in mood and atmosphere, I discerned our host’s frustration as soon as he felt it, and I almost couldn’t bear it. It made me feel ill. So, I did what years of living within abusive environments have trained me to do; I began to attempt to minimize our environmental impact. I cleaned up every single thing that I could. I made beds. I cleaned up dishes. I cleaned up the kitchen and countertops. I wanted there to be little to no evidence that we were there. I removed the girls from the environment for long periods of time in hopes that our absence would lessen the emotional load.
Does this sound familiar to any of you? If you make yourself invisible then perhaps you won’t cause any sort of negative impact on the environment or those within it. If you can anticipate the outcomes, then you can run interference in order to prevent negative outcomes. I grew up doing this in order to mitigate suffering.
I knew I was doing this, but I didn’t know what else to do. No matter what I said to my daughter or how I tried to influence her, she refused to stop engaging in the very behaviors that were causing the problems. I eventually concluded that we would have to deal with this once we left California. I was stuck. We were all stuck, and I felt trapped. My two other daughters were feeling it, too, and they were frustrated with their sister. I didn’t know what to expect from moment to moment, and I was starting to feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety. I couldn’t anticipate anyone’s responses. That type of uncertainty causes terrible suffering in me.
As I sit here this morning looking at my shenaniganating daughter, this is how I feel…
I feel profound frustration with her, and I feel almost 100% depletion. I don’t know how to restore myself. My host has reassured me that he had a positive experience, but I don’t remember the past two weeks positively. I remember spending the past two weeks overcompensating for my daughter as well as trying to reach her in a cognitive sense. Can she practice perspective taking? Will she try to remember to respect the environment? Please…please…please…
Raising humans to be good humans is hard. That is no joke.
So, what do I bring to the table aside from snarky bird pictures that capture my existential and experiential state brilliantly?
- As I watched my daughter play the role of Teenage Asshat Extraordinaire with the aplomb of Meryl Streep, I remembered just how hard it was being 16. Sixteen sucked. Being the parent of a sixteen-year old sucks, too, and I realized once again that compassion is hard. Compassion is not for the faint of heart. It is not a romantic thing even though there is this inspirational notion out there that would convince us of that. Nope. Offering mercy to those whom we are currently experiencing as the least deserving of it is when compassion becomes the hardest because that is the moment when you must restrain your judgment. Using judgment is a great way to cope with emotional distress, but suspending that, entering into perspective taking, setting aside our immediate needs and our beliefs that those needs trump everything else while offering mercy can be the the hardest choice to make. And yet this is the moment when authentic compassion becomes possible. This is probably the moment when compassion becomes the most necessary because compassion might be the one thing that changes a gridlocked situation. Not force but mercy.
- I observed that I am all too sensitive to environments wherein there is any sort of emotional negativity or intensity particularly if I have no control. If I have no way of escaping that environment, then my distress tolerance decreases rapidly. I will immediately use old coping strategies to cope or survive in such an environment, and this makes me vulnerable to stress-related health issues as well as issues with self-advocacy. I do not know if this will ever change. It may be a tendency that I have, and I have to be aware of it. If I am around people who do not contain well, then I am doubly affected. I observed that. This may be a common trait in people with longterm PTSD. A return to hypervigilance. I don’t say this with a lack of hope, but I do think that self-awareness of one’s tendencies is important.
School is starting next week. I am exhausted. I feel the need to sleep for a thousand years, but I am determined to regain my composure and find my way back to myself…
What I find interesting about this situation is the idea of perception. My host’s perception is so different from mine. My perception could very well be distorted, but, then again, I am the parent. I was the one standing in between my daughter and everyone else. I was trying to absorb as much of her negativity as possible in order to ease the stress. There has to be a way to ground yourself in order to let that negativity go.
In the meantime, life progresses, and, once again, I will let a troubled bird have the last word…
I have to laugh a little. We might have had a very pleasant trip had shit not gotten real, and, in many ways, we did have an exceedingly good time. There was just one little bird who kept interrupting the flow of fun with her antics. Sometimes shit happens, and then…we go home. And, life goes on. Shit gets real in my house a lot, but maybe that’s okay.
To see more of these delightfully troubled birds, visit The Mincing Mockingbird.