Billie: “I get nervous. And that means sometimes I start to feel light. Like, all of my emotions are just so big. They are bigger than me and heavier than me. & I feel really light. And every emotion and every memory ever comes into my brain and I float away with them. That’s what I mean when I say I’m getting nervous.”
When I was little I never fully grasped the concept of a soulmate. I understood it like this: the soul was a pizza missing a slice and someone came along with a slice that exact size (with the same toppings and everything) to complete you.
I couldn’t stomach limiting myself that way.
Before this month we had never really met the three year old boy in the apartment above us. He’s lived there for over a year but, despite our many efforts to set up a play date, we very rarely saw him.
Then, three weeks ago, his father passed away.
The mother and grandmother asked us for help so, for the last 3 weeks we’ve been watching him a couple days out of the week, 5-8 hours each time.
In all that time, he’s said 3 words to me. He refused to speak or look me in the eyes. I rarely saw him smile.
But today we had a breakthrough. He hugged me. He told me jokes. We chased squirrels together. He accidentally called me “mommy.”
Billie noticed the change, too. She said, “Wow. You’re smiling now and you have so many words!”
He responded, “Yea. My smile is getting fixed slowly. I have words now.”
I’m doing everything I can not to bubble snot cry on this here playground. That kid just showed me that it’s possible for the heart to shatter and heal at the same time.
“I will know how badly I have failed as a parent by how many hours of therapy my kids need.”
Walk It Off
One of my dad’s favorite stories centers around a very young me getting kicked by a horse in the knee and then attempting to walk it off because he told me to.
He thinks it shows my resilience.
Other parents collect stamps or motorcycles. My parents collect stories of stubborn self actualization.
And, don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome story.
And, even though I still have issues with my knee to this day as a result, I wouldn’t take that lesson (Don’t stand within kicking-distance of an angry horse, dumbass) or the subsequent lessons (perseverance, strength, endurance, etc.) back for all the gold in Equestria.
But, here’s the thing about that incident (and oh- so- many others like it): it became the running theme in my own personal handbook of self-destructive behaviors. The “walk it off” mantra that might as well have been sown onto the Jacoby Family crest, while useful at times, didn’t allot for the nuanced issues that would later enter my life. I took “walk it off” to extreme levels. I prided myself in not needing help or assistance. Ever. Through deaths, traumas, break downs, and other emotionally catastrophic events I refused help in lieu of some false, stubborn sense of mental prowess.
Mind over matter, Heather, I would think. Walk it off.
And it worked. It worked for a long time.
Until it didn’t anymore.
When You Can’t Walk Anymore
I became a shell of myself. I stopped sleeping. There are whole months of my life that I don’t remember. I began to get worried that Billie wouldn’t even recognize her own mother anymore. I needed help. There was too much stuff and I couldn’t wade through it all. Hell, I couldn’t get through any of it. I was stuck. Finally, Doug encouraged me to see a therapist. And I refused. Several times.
I’m fine. I’m being a baby, I told him. I will walk it off.
But there are some things you can’t “walk off.” There are some times that you’re not even aware of your own body let alone your legs.
So… after much deliberation… I went to therapy.
But I Swear I’m Still Strong
My favorite aunt once told me, “I will know how badly I have failed as a parent by how many hours of therapy my kids need.”
My family saw therapy as failure. Hell, it seemed they viewed all outside help as failure. For the same reasons my father never took me to see a doctor after the horse-kicking incident, I was criticized when I told them I had begun to see a therapist.
Was I not strong enough to deal with these issues on my own?
Could I not realize that I was unique and gifted and could get through anything without the help of a medical professional?
Wasn’t I worried they would try to medicate me and take away all my magical individuality?
If I really had all these issues- couldn’t I just talk to them about it? They knew me. They could help. Why take my problems to a complete stranger?
Did I not trust them anymore?
Overcoming my own prejudice against therapy took me years. I was told from a young age that it was the answer of the lazy. The weak. The answer of those who couldn’t figure their own shit out for their damn selves. And, just the act of admitting that I, the strong and resilient product of Jacoby blood, needed outside help was enough to cripple me.
I had failed.
I was the lazy. The weak. The good for nothing.
Letting the Floor Bleed
One morning, after a particularly rough therapy session the day before, I woke up to Billie screaming. It was the horrifying, uninhibited, feral pterodactyl scream that could only indicate she was either a) legitimately hurt or b) she had misplaced her princess shoes (they register the same on the scream- o- meter). Doug was already with her before I could get to her. I could hear him consoling her but her screams persisted. Loud screams. Ear piercing screams.
“HOLY GOD, CHILD. It CANNOT be that bad,” I remember saying. “Walk it off.”
“She can’t, sweetie,” Doug countered.
And that’s when I saw it.
She had sliced the bottom of her foot open.
Her room was littered with all sorts of toys and, hiding under one of her precious stuffed animals was a plastic candle that Santa gave her (look- She’s fascinated with fire. And Santa thought a plastic candle was safer than actual fire. But apparently he was mistaken. Elves shall be fired over the oversight. Trust). When she stepped on the candle, the plastic “flame” part dug into the bottom of her foot and broke her skin.
She literally couldn’t walk it off.
Before this incident, she had never seen herself bleed.
She freaked the fuck out, guys.
They say the first cut is the deepest. That’s not necessarily true. BUT- if you have never been cut before then the first cut is definitely going to feel like a big damn deal.
And Billie had never been cut before.
She had never felt that type of pain.
She didn’t know if it was ever going to end, let alone when. She didn’t know how to process it.
So she screamed.
Holy God, did she scream.
And she cried.
And she bled.
And Daddy held her and told her the story of the Three Little Pigs while mommy stopped the bleeding and got her a bandaid.
And when mommy was done, she calmed down. She took a break. She had me explain everything I had just done to make the bleeding stop. She took it in. She made me repeat myself. Three times. She memorized what to do in case it happened again. She took another breath.
When she had sufficiently calmed down Doug turned to her and said, “Now Billie. Your room is a mess. And you hurt yourself because there was so much stuff on the floor, you couldn’t see where you were going. Had your room been clean- you wouldn’t have cut your foot open. Did you learn your lesson?”
She thought about it. Then she responded, “Next time, Daddy, I’m gunna just let the floor bleed.”
“I will know how badly I have failed as a parent by how many hours of therapy my kids need.”
I now know why those words never sat well with me.
I reject the idea that seeking therapy equals failure on the parent’s part.
Sometimes it is, sure. Some parent’s just suck.
But here’s the deal: the world is big. And scary. Sometimes it hurts us in the most obvious ways. And, even more often, we get hurt in disastrously creative ways we could’ve never predicted. Regardless of how it chooses to devour our souls and slowly masticate on our ego until there’s little left than a pulpy, fleshy koosh ball where our heart used to be, it will eventually get to you. And the pain might not be something you’ve ever experienced before and/or you may not know how to handle it.
And that’s okay.
When Billie got hurt she screamed. She cried. Then she she found people who could help her and *gasp* she let them help her. She knew the problem was one she had not experienced before and one that was beyond her depth so she sought help.
And, when all was said and done, she learned from that experience.
In most situations we have two solutions- we can take the hit or we can deflect it elsewhere.
We can slice our foot open or we can let the floor bleed.
But some problems won’t be so easy to fix. Sometimes deflecting isn’t the solution. And taking the hit blows. Sometimes mommy and daddy won’t have the answers handy with her favorite fairy tale and a glass of chocolate milk. Sometimes she’s going to have to be self- reliant enough and strong enough to go outside her comfort zone and seek help. And, while I hope to God it will be a VERY long time before she ever needs to do that, I want to believe that, when she does, I will support her. I will be proud of her.
Because when you’re hurting it’s very easy to hide. It’s easy to cry and pull away and run. The hardest thing you can do is stand up and admit that you’re not as strong as you need to be and that you need some assistance in making that happen.
That doesn’t make you weak.
That doesn’t make you lazy.
That makes you fucking brave.
End of story.
You’re a badass. You were wounded and battered and bloodied and you slogged yourself over to someone who might be able to assist you. There are not enough words for what a revelation you are.
Walking It Off… Within Reason
And, sure, my parents and I may (to this very day) disagree on the therapy issue. It’s a complex and multi-faceted one that pits self reliance against their theories on westernized medications and the media’s overt stigmatization of mental health issues in general. And that’s fine. Their views don’t make them any less awesome and mine don’t make me weak.
I will say, however; that teaching kids that all therapy is the answer or all therapy is the devil is obviously not what I’m advocating. The answer is empathy. And compassion. And understanding. And knowing that, what is right for one person may not be OK for you and that is fine.
But creating an environment where seeking help is riddled with shame is dangerous. It’s irresponsible. It’s why it took me years to figure out what my four- year- old daughter instinctively knew:
It’s OK to ask for help. Just breathe. Take notes. Then move on stronger and wiser.
Or, if you can, don’t take the hit at all. Just let the floor bleed.
FLASHBACK: April 1, 2013
What she means: “why, thank you mother, I do believe you are a delightful chef.”
What she says, “Mommy, you da best maker!”
What she means: “Greetings, sir or madam, pray tell what are you up to?”
What she says: “Aye, Bay-beh, whatchoo doin’, bay-beh?”
What she means: “I am overwhelmed with excitement.”
What she says, “I got, like, ALL the HAPPIES!”
If we’re being honest I like her take on the English language better…
FLASHBACK: November 23, 2013
I just walked in on Billie desperately cupping the poor dog’s face with both hands while pleading, “tell me. Just tell me! TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT TO BEEE!!!”
When I inquired as to why we were screaming at the dog like some wack job televangelist she replied:
“Jazzie won’t tell me what she wants to do with her life, mommy!! I need to know what she wants to be- I NEED TO KNOW!!”
Um. I didn’t have the mental capacity to explain to her, you know, basic animal biology so instead I just told her that Jazzie wanted to be a Lion and paint rainbows with her mane.
So now Billie is in the other room making the dog a Lioness Headress thing out of plastic bags and watercolors.
I can’t tell if I’m a lazy parent or a brilliant arts and crafts teacher.
…That’s true for most days, actually.
FLASHBACK: April 8, 2013
6 months ago Billie was into Monsters.
Like, Monster everything. Monster Movies, Monster Books, Monster Socks, Monster Artwork on her wall. Being a monster was cool. Having a monster under your bed? Even cooler. This child would play “Princess and Monsters” and DEMAND that she was the monster. So, I hope you get the point when I say: she really fucking liked monsters.
Flash forward to now: she’s hovering in her bed, shaking with terror, crying hysterically for her daddy to come save her from, you guessed it, monsters.
Apparently the peaceful alliance she had once had with monsters is now over.
Maybe it’s a phase. Maybe she instigated it and told them they sucked or something. Or maybe it went to hell after they saw how much she liked that “How to Train Your Dragon” movie and the monsters were like, “WHAT. We’ve let this kid into our hearts and caves (monsters live in caves… right?) and now she’s gunna ditch us for those fire breathing sell-outs? Eff that noise. This bitch is toast.” And then they went all ape-shit and hid in her dresser drawers forcing her to go days without wearing underwear.
Oh, yea, she doesn’t want to wear her underwear anymore.
Because of the monsters.
Not that I can really blame her- especially since the kid wears two pairs of tights, a skirt, leggings, and knee high socks ALL AT ONCE. It takes everything in me to not be like, “Meh. You’re covered there anyway, kid. Have at it.” But then I have that vision of her falling ass over tea kettle on the playground, crotch to the world like some Bad Mom Bat Signal. So she wears underwear. And the monsters don’t eat her. Hell, those chickens don’t even show up. But that doesn’t seem to matter to Billie. Thus me standing over her dresser drawers every morning with a stuffed Lion and baseball bat. You know, for protection. From the… imaginary… monsters.
Christ. Either I’m a rockstar mom or I’m just as crazy as she is for enabling this behavior…
Either way- let’s hear it for Daddy who swooped in and held her until she fell asleep in his arms. I would’ve done it guys, really, but I had the audacity to suggest that the monsters were just manifestations of her inner fear of not having complete control in her life. As a direct result, I was banned from the monster recovery party.
Three year olds just don’t get psychology.
FLASHBACK: August 28, 2012
Dude. Two year olds scream. Like, loudly.
Sure, there are beautiul moments that I have with Billie. Epically poignant and gorgeous in all the right ways. But then there is the rest of the time.
Doug is going to be a graduate professor this year. That, coupled with being an all around badass and losing 20 pounds this summer, warranted getting him a new wardrobe. So we headed off to the Gap to lavish him in the finest clearance aisle slacks and flannel his financial aid could buy.
Now a two year old in any store is rough. But the fashion concious spawn of Doug & I in a GAP? I can’t accurately describe the hysteria. Picture a Justin Beiber concert. In Japan. With fireworks. But with more tears. THAT is my daughter in a GAP.
In order to give Doug some privacy while getting his style on I made the valiant decision to walk her around the store. By myself.
WHY WOULD I DO THAT?
Walking a two year old around a clothing store is like taking a pack of wild dogs to the butcher’s shop & expecting them to wait patiently in line behind the counter. Worse than that? She found the damned Princess nighties two seconds after walking through the door. She was running up and down the aisles screaming, “I’M A PRINCESS! I’M A PRINCESS!” while all the middle-aged black women in the store looked at me and shook their heads. I attempted to grab one of the nighties from her and she tries to kick me and then straight up screams, “NOOO MOMMY! You’re hurting me!!! I’m hurting!!!”
Seriously? I’M hurting YOU??
So now I’m THAT parent. I’m the one with the screaming kid in the middle of the crowded store. And she is just playing into it, too. The more people who stare at me the stronger her scream gets. She’s like asuper villian who feeds off awkwardness. I finally ended up telling her we were going to go see daddy’s new clothes and taking her outside instead… A total cop out, I know. You always think, as a parent, that you’ll just sit there, in the middle of the crowded store, and reprimand them and then it’ll all be better. You think to yourself, “Well, if something like that happens then it’s a teachable moment and so be it.”
Well, fuck that, guys.
There’s no such thing as a teachable moment when you’re in public with a screaming toddler.
You think you’re going to calmly rationalize with them and warn them of the consequences should they not listen? You think you’re just going to explain to them that this is not acceptable behavior and they’ll magically stop? Right. And then real life happens and you & your thrashing devil child are the reason for the “Clean up on aisle three” announcement reverberating throughout the overly crowded Albertsons.
I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m just saying it’s a process. It’s tough to take a small child into a store without them being an asshole and embarrassing the crap out of you. But if you don’t do it then they’ll never learn and you’re eight years in the future wondering why you’re the parent with the 10 year old who can’t sit through a meal in a restaurant. So you pay your dues. You endure the looks. You take the screaming child out to the store time and time again knowing full well that you’re handling the equivalent of decade old dynomite. That baby so much as sweats and your entire afternoon is blown to smitherenes.
But I digress. The afternoon went better after she had a 10 minute time-out in the car (with the AC on, of course… but, dude. Timeouts in public are hard. Like, they require a delicate choreography to them) then we bought her light-up shoes because she said the Robots wanted her to have them…
Normal parents reward their children for being good. I reward mine for being weird. You can all thank me when she becomes a bad ass futuristic sci-fi writer.
I was a tough child. Well, I’m a tough person in general. But strictly speaking, were you to ask my mom who the hardest kid to raise was, she would say me. Every time.
Obviously, I am honored and humbled by the distinction.
Now, thankfully, Billie is not like me. She does not try to make every day hard just because she can. She doesn’t do mean things just to illicit a response. Hell, I’ve never even seen her try to throw a knife let alone at someone’s head (which is something that a younger me may or may not have done. Twice. At my sister’s 8th birthday party). She’s kind with her words, generous with her time, and always down to laugh or crack jokes. She’s basically awesome.
Except when she’s not.
Last night was a rough night for Billie. She had a meltdown as we left her daycare and decided that hitting me and throwing things at my face was the appropriate response. She screamed in the car the entire way home. In response I blasted the radio. Bruno Mars crooned “All you young, wild girls- you’ll be the death of me” as my daughter’s screams pierced through every layer of sanity that I had left. When we finally got home she was out of the car and on our neighbor Emille’s front porch before you could spell “Xanax.”
Now, before I continue, you must know about Emille. Emille is New Orleans. He is everything quirky and great and socially inappropriate about this city. At 70 years old Emille spends most of his days shirtless on his front porch watching the neighborhood. He has all the swag that being an old black man in the South could possibly afford him and he uses every ounce of it to cat call passerby and love on his grandchildren. He has signed for more of my packages than I have and is always there to help when I need him. He is an ever-present source of humor and love. And Billie adores him.
When I go to retrieve my tyrant of a daughter from Emille’s porch he has already disappeared inside his house. “He’s gone to get me a toy!” Billie informs me excitedly. Funny, seconds ago she was screaming in my ear and, now, she’s smiling serenely in anticipation of her new gift.
Oh. Fuck that, kid. I think, You’re the devil. No toys for you.
When Emille returns I thank him for the gift and inform him that Billie will not be receiving it tonight. Billie has misbehaved egregiously and I will be holding on to it until she can redeem herself. Emille’s face melts from the pleasant, rosy faced grin that I’m used to into what I imagine the Grim Reaper would look like during a particularly rough bowel movement. “Bille,” he starts sternly, “You didn’t tell me ya were a bad girl.” His old cajun voice is broken glass over gravel and Billie shrinks behind me as he reprimands her loudly. See, while Emille is nice, he is also Southern. And bad manners, disrespect, and empty beer bottles are really the only things that are not tolerated in the South. Naturally, Emille’s old Southern roots took over and he starts in on Billie, “Now, let me tell you bout yourself, kid. Your momma works TOO DAMN HARD for you to be actin’ a mess…”
Our other neighbors are getting out of their car with their two pit bulls in time to hear him scolding her. “Ooooh, Billie! Looks like you in trouble!” they warn good-naturedly. Billie has had enough. She doesn’t know how to handle the negative attention and decides that screaming loudly will be the best way to interrupt it. Emille’s eyes narrow. My other neighbors halt their dogs to watch the show. I, not wanting this to escalate, grab Billies hand to lead her to our front door. Unfortunately, Billie sees this as an attack and goes to bite my hand. Of course, I am quick and switch hands while still walking her toward the house before any damage is done. But Emille sees her try to bite me. He starts screaming “WHIP HER! WHIP HER! OH HOLY LORD JESUS WHIP HER!!!” while jumping up and down shirtless, all 250 pounds of him swelling and heaving with each new jump. The pit bulls start barking. Billie is still screaming and trying to bite me. I make it to the door under a hail of howling, laughter, and chants of “WHIP HER!!” I can barely get my key in the door. Billie is still screaming. Three people cross the street to watch the show. There is a brief moment of silence when I finally get the door open. I can finally hear myself think. Things get really still for one, beautiful moment.
Then I hear Emille. “Have you whipped her yet?”
Billie screams. The dogs try to rush at Billie.
I push her inside and slam the door to find Doug standing there. He’s heard the commotion and was coming to help.
“You guys OK?” He asks concerned.
“We’ve had a rough day.”
“Aw,” His concerned eyes flicker toward Billie’s tear stained face as he goes toward her, “My poor girls–”
“Hug her and I kill you.”
He stops and meets my eyes. I watch him put it all together. The yelling. The dogs barking. The screaming Billie. And me brandishing my patented ‘don’t fuck with me’ face. He doesn’t know exactly what happened- but Billie is somehow the common denominator here. He takes a deep breath.
“Billie. Go to your room. Now.” His eyes follow her out the door, “Mommy. Go get yourself some Jameson.”
Good man, indeed.
As I walk passed Billie’s door I see her throwing things against her wall and screaming “THIS IS NOT HILARIOUS. YOU ARE A BAD MOMMY. I WANT MY TOOOYYYSSSS!!!”
Maybe I should air mail my mom some whiskey. You know, as belated apology of sorts.
…I’d better make it a barrel of Jameson.
My bad, mom.
Every week I’ll write an original post followed by a series of memories/ flashbacks from Billie’s earlier life that fit that theme.
Thanks to this (http://wp.me/p4mSL2-4) lovely little starter post, our theme for this week shall be failing.
It’s OK to fail. Especially as a parent. In fact- imagine if you didn’t fail. If you were a perfect parent. Your kid would be the most sheltered, privileged little turd muffin this side of the Milky Way. And we don’t want that, do we?
So fail, ya’ll. Fail hard. And Often.
Here’s a story about that one time I jeopardized a dead rabbit, burned oil, and taught my 2 year old how to cuss: