I should be used to it by now.
I should be so good at dealing with it that it’s just another blip in the day.
Oh, we’re doing this again? Okay, well, that sucks. Not sure why you’re making this any kind of deal, let alone a big one. Move on, already.
Instead, it seems to get worse with each round. As if I have an untouchable desire to torture myself that escalates with each incident.
I’ve been on a merry-go-round with this child for, what, six years now? Not for its entirety. The ride started slowly – false sense of security as we all settled into our seats before realizing we’d actually hopped on the tilt-a-whirl. Safety belts? Unavailable.
This time seems to be the worst (again). This time is the last time (I tell myself, hoping it is actually true). This time I am washing my hands of it (please, if only that were parentally possible).
In the meat of it, I often feel as if I’ve been on this ride mostly solo. I suppose that makes sense as my husband travelled for the bulk of the years leading up to 2020 – and then he was just, well, home. Trying to get his own bearings. I learned early on, when I became the weekday head of household, that stories about this child’s misbehavior were not welcome to his returning ears. She learned that, too. We both learned that the bricks thrown my direction would remain where they landed until he was off again and they could relaunched. We both learned that, as he re-entered the house, she could cancel out the validity of my complaints by acknowledging his return with sweet excitement as he poked his head into her room to say hello. And, no, it was not manipulative. She really was happy to see him – to see anyone that was not me.
I’m not sure when we started rotating around each other through life – rather than enjoying it together. The orbit continues to expand. She treats our relationship like a buffet. Mostly. I’m not sure she would ever actually berate a restaurant manager for having things on the buffet that she wasn’t interested in immediately after collecting all of the things that were useful. At least, I hope not.
We started out with such promise when she came into my life. We’d shop together. I’d braid her hair on the front porch. We’d talk about boys she liked (at school) and the boy she didn’t like (at home). She’d try on my dresses to preview how they would look when she was a bit older, asking for a promise of hand-me-downs in the years to come. She spent a week with me at my home in Raleigh, barely a glance back as her dad drove away from the drop-off with a nervous smile. I consoled her as fallout from divorce started to morph into anxiety and anger. I did my best to help her understand why, sometimes, feelings were too big to manage.
I don’t even know when the lightswitch flipped. It was sudden. Sudden enough that I chalked it up to incoming hormones and the struggles of middle schooling. We carried on, a little drifty, but still sharing time together at Starbucks or the pool or with nearly hidden smiles when I was spotted volunteering at her school. No, she didn’t venture as far as waving to me, but she did acknowledge the pleasure of my presence with a small, happy nod.
Her bedroom door started closing more. Was that it? Should I have insisted on it remaining open rather than trying to respect the space of an incoming young adult?
I don’t know when the ride flew off its tracks, sending us spinning in opposite directions, full of confusion and mistrust.
I don’t know when I became the worst person in her life. I don’t know when she decided I was unbearable and evil and unwelcome and abusive. Abusive. I dealt with the split fairly well until that word popped up and landed as a VIP in her vocabulary. Then I was just stunned. What? Abusive? What?
I should be used to it now.
I should be used to seeing that word on every medical form she’s ever had input on. I should be able to blow it off and roll my eyes at the complete ridiculousness of it as those around me do. I should be able to let it roll off my back, as so many suggest. I should allow the lack of truth to be enough to cancel out any bother.
Instead, it brings grief. Everytime. It brings grief.
My husband tries to understand. He (also) gave up trying to solve the puzzle years ago. He’s (also) exhausted. Not impressed but (also) so torn. He had his moment. He was once the target of an ugly accusation from the same child. I know he was devastated. I’m sure there was grief for him as well. He was given a chance to move forward when confirmation from her counselor arrived (which counselor was that? Number one? Number four?) that she had back-tracked on the story. He was able to move forward – a slow pace, but still. He got to move forward.
For me, the allegation rears its head mostly anytime her mouth opens. Anytime anyone is willing to hear her story – likely updating embellishments with each telling. A captive audience to offer her sympathy and support and validation. She lives in a new world with a new attitude that rules by feelings. If somebody believes something happened, then it should be documented as true. If she thinks she was abused, then she was.
I should be used to this.
If asked, tell us, who do you know that actually believes these stories?, we would likely get a list of friends or, maybe, therapists. Sure, yes. But what about people who have actually met me? Or people who have spent any time at all with me? Any time at all with us? Is that why you don’t bring your friends by? Is that why all information is deemed classified? Because they might discover a standard household behind the curtain?
Instead, I am (again) hiding out, tucked away in my room where no one can hear the shake and catch in my voice while I try to explain (again) why I feel this grief.
I suppose this is where one might say Why are you making this all about you?
We are not three weeks out from a terrible parenting benchmark – hospitalizing our child for a mental health check via the path of parental exhaustion. I suppose being brave enough, as parents, to realize a situation has breached the level of in-house capabilities should be commended. Yet, it still feels like a massive fail. We’d spent so many years listening to threats of extreme measures that we’d become hardened to it, the repetitive notes of suicide filed away with other boy who cried wolf scenarios. And then we became debilitated by it. Finally, we threw our hands in the air and insisted that such verbalizations require hospitalization.
What else could we do? Keep hoping that we’d all end up okay?
At that moment, I was actually quite relieved. I finally saw an end to the tilt-a-whirl with some real doctors and some real tests and some real medications that she might really take rather than giving them to friends or stashing them in the bottom of her closet.
This is how it happens. I let that sliver of hope back into my heart.
I should be used to it by now. Seeing those words. Stepmom. Abusive.
The discharge paperwork reported that the real cause for a landing on the At Risk floor was a terrible, demonic stepmom – impossible to live with for the conflict had become too great to ensure a safe environment. Her stepmom. Me. Me, who couldn’t even tell you when our last real conflict was. Or at least the last real conflict before the mid-July when said child not-so-politely asked me to go fuck myself.
Me? The person called first for help to wade through the fallout of hidden college dropout? Me? The person summoned when there are forms to be filled out?
Me? The person sent for when a plea for redirection needs to be organized?
Me? The person who is accessed for the busy work because it will be done efficiently?
Me? The person who is blasted for everything else?
I should be used to this by now.
I try to spin it every way possible in order to create some sense or logic.
Me. The easiest target.
Me. The one whose existence shields her from having to deal with any real, internal issues.
Me. The one who matters the most.
Me. The one who will stay, in the end, despite holding the trophy for Best Punching Bag.
Me. The one who wants desperately to fast forward time to when that effing frontal lobe forms.
What will happen then? I’m told 25 years old is the sweet spot for parents in raising baby adults. What happens at that quarter century mark? Will there be rainbows and unicorns? Will we finally be kicked off the tilt-a-whirl? Will we be able to burn it down the entire amusement park? Will there be cake?
I should be used to this by now.
It’s just that I’m not.
Follow Up: This was not a fun one to write. It has not been my favorite summer (I’m thinking about skipping next August entirely – it’s become the norm to spend time in the hospital mid-month in our tribe). When she was released from a week in the hospital, we were handed paperwork indicating that our eldest had both severe depression and ADD. We agreed with the first but were a bit flummoxed by the second, assuming that she’d lead the witness to that diagnosis (we’d suspected she had test-driven Vyvanse earlier this year and like it). Therefore, we were again shocked when a previous psych eval, completed but not delivered in mid-July, returned the same results – and a doctor confirming that there was really no way this child could have swayed the test to the degree ADD showed. So, now we are learning about the many other ways ADD manifests that we were totally unaware of – ways that aren’t easily recognized by teachers, counselors or (now guilt plagued) parents. There is a noted downturn in mania already with meds on board. Of course, we have many more issues to work through that truly cannot be tagged as Oh, it’s just my ADD – but seeing some very tiny baby steps forming in the distance is encouraging. Does that mean I’ve washed my hands of the last five years of drama and angst? No…that will take much more time (for all of us, actually) – I think we all have some PTSD to get through. But, ideally, we’ll all stick to the struggle until those baby steps turn into regular steps and then turn into steps back out into the world as we get this child relaunched in the healthiest way possible.
And, yes, I do know this isn’t all about me. But I am also here. And I am also a person. And mental health issues are not limited to the person who has them.