Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"Sara who never cried.”

“Perhaps I have not really a good temper at all, but if you have everything you want and everyone is kind to you, how can you help but be good-tempered? Perhaps I'm a HIDEOUS child, and no one will ever know, just because I never have any trials. (Sara Crewe, A Little Princess)” 

We require different things at different times in our lives. Funny, how such a simple concept can be so mind blowing. When I first started writing 2 years ago, I craved the bustle of a well lit coffee shop. I loved the people, the smells, the sounds. In that environment I thrived.  In that environment, I was creative. 3 weeks ago, when I started writing again, I went back to the same coffee shop enviroment. I wanted the same smells, the same lighting, the same sounds and even the same tasting coffee. I found I could barely work. Even the writing I was able to do, I later discovered it to be riddled with extra words, typos and at times, complete nonsense.

So I went home. The silence when I first walked into my empty house was so lovely I got tears in my eyes.  I have changed in the last couple of years, I no longer needed the bustle, What I needed to be creative, was the silence.

The last two years have taken their toll on me.  Most days I am old, so very old. I fear my posts are more stoic than they used to be. The humor no longer bubbles out effortlessly, I second guess myself far more than I used to. I am more awkward, angrier, far more confused, not nearly so confidant and most days more than a little depressed. But there is purpose in it all, there is beauty, I KNOW there is. My job as a writer, is to find it, against the odds - without dismissing the pain.  Because pain has purpose. Pain has it's own kind of deep beauty, a deeply creative beauty that is not to be dismissed because it is not as entertaining.  But this frustrates me, because feelings are not tangible, they are un-reliable, they change, they can be caused by hormones and environment.  They do not speak truth. What I can touch, what I can see, what I can explain.  That is what I cling to, that is what I base my perception of reality on, otherwise I may go completely insane!

Of course, then the question must be asked...what is insanity? Insanity cannot be measured by any scale I have ever seen, so how do we know when we get there?  How do we know if we have avoided it? How do we know we want to avoid it...

I used to be a better parent than I am now, though I feel it falls somewhere in the category of how everyone is an excellent parent...until they have kids.  I just took it a step further.

I am stubborn to a fault.  That means I am a very good parent to toddlers/pre-schoolers.  Ages 1-5?  I got this. Want me to teach your three-nager to behave?  Bring it on. I never met a toddler I could not handle, and I have met lots and lots of toddlers. Trust me. Yours is not special...well, they are special. But not in that way.

Toddlers I get. Toddlers, even preschoolers and into early elementary I can handle - not always gracefully, but when it comes down to it, after 9 years of trial and error, I know what I am doing.

And then without warning and without my permission, my responsibility has suddenly gotten wider: Tween-dom. Pre-teen hormones, emotional breakdowns and elementary school drama. Tween-dom has scary things I am not emotionally prepared to deal with!

I have absolutely no idea what I am doing.

I have one major character flaw, (ok, maybe I have a few more than that...but one that stands out in this particular situation)  I am not naturally empathetic. So that makes navigating the world of pre-teen emotions feel close to impossible.

Do I smile wisely and tell her "everything will be ok."  Do I offer advice? Do I intervene? Do I give her space? Do I make a cup of tea and sit us both down to go over every detail and talk about what it all could mean? Do I tell her that "this too shall pass" and dismiss it all? Do I tell her to "toughen up!" and show her picture of children in Africa that have no clothes and no smart phones?

Perhaps the best strategy would simply be to throw chocolate at her and run away...because I can do that!

I am genuinely asking for advice here. I feel so entirely clueless as to how to parent a pre-teen girl. I don't remember being 9.  What happened when I was 9? My baby brother was born...no, I was 8 1/2 when he was born.  What happened when I was 9? No clue. No memories....that is either a really good sign, or a really bad one.

How on earth do I handle a highly emotional, extremely creative, high-strung, very inventive, beautifully imaginative but insanely disorganized, intuitive, artistic 9 1/2 year old girl? Anyone? Because I am at a loss, and prayer and chocolate are coming up short.

We had a very challenging afternoon yesterday, we have had a lot of those lately. The task was simple, clean the front yard of all the bits and pieces of items you have brought out there with you, only to abandon instead of taking them back inside where they belong.

Simple yes? She had a break after school to  rest, she had a snack - she got to work.

First, there were tears because she thought I had asked her to only clean the grass, not the pavement...or brick wall...or bench...or dirt. The world fell apart when she learned that "cleaning the front yard" requires more than just clearing the grass. And when her world falls apart, everything falls apart...she gets a headache, she feels like she is going to throw up and she is sure she has a fever. Her friends have not been playing with her, so she is crying because of that...not because of the work. She suddenly remembers that she forgot some homework and her teacher is going to be mad. She remembers her pet mouse that passed away, and that starts everything all over again and she really wants to go hold her hamster so she can feel better and then she stubs her toes trying to get up off of the ground and everything is really really hard today!

When my tween falls apart the result is she CAN'T do it. She is sad, she is lonely, she is not strong enough, she is hurt, She becomes awkward, angry, confused, not nearly so confidant and more than a little depressed...and I start to get this nagging feeling like I have seen this before.

For my emotional tween, her world fell apart when the surface area she was responsible for suddenly grew wider without her permission. She felt she could handle the grass, she knew what she was doing. And then without warning, she also had to deal with the dirt. The dirt has spiders, and cat pee. The dirt has scary things she was not emotionally prepared to deal with.

I have one major character flaw.  I am not naturally an empathetic person. Because you see, feelings are not tangible, they are un-reliable, they change, they can be caused by hormones and environment. They do not speak truth. What I can touch, what I can see, what I can explain...That is what I trust.

“She looked into the staring glass eyes and complacent face, and suddenly a sort of heartbroken rage seized her. She lifted her little savage hand and knocked Emily off the chair, bursting into a passion of sobbing- Sara who never cried.” 

But this isn't working...I have no idea how to deal with this.  And I have this sinking feeling that it is only going to get scarier, dirtier.

First I listened, I tried my very best to understand. I took a deep breath and told her:

"I KNOW you can do it. I will not do it for you. Use the tools you have around you to get the job done. Think logically, don't let Scared be boss - use the feelings as motivation to get it done quickly, channel them. Breath...and do the task in front of you. Because if you do not, the benefits you receive for being responsible will be taken away. But in the end, it is your choice. What is more important? Your fear and anger, or your freedoms."

It took an hour. One measly hour, in the grand scheme of things, that is a very short time.  It took one hour of talking, crying, being angry, sad, scared, confused. It took her an hour. But she did it! She did it all by herself!  And the joy, oh the joy on that little girls face when she beat her fear?  When she got dirty, when she used her fear and her anger not as a roadblock, but as motivation to complete the task in front of her was contagious and lasting.  The rest of her day was rimmed with gold, she was giddy, she was empowered.

I fear I am not so entertaining an author as I used to be. The humor no longer bubbles out effortlessly, I second guess myself far more than I used to. This becomes a problem as I write to seek representation and ultimately, publication.  But you know what?  This is a season, and this season has purpose. One lovely thing about living with consistently hard days?  The beautiful moments are brighter, you don't take them for granted. Perhaps that is the beauty I am supposed to find.

In the end, even when there is no motivation, when it all feels too big. When I am not sure I can do this, when all I can see is the anger because I am tired, because I hurt, because I feel so very old.  I have a choice. I KNOW I can do this. No one is going to do it for me. I must find tools to get the job done. I must think logically and not let Scared be boss.

Me, just me - I alone get to choose what is more important. I have to remember to breath...and do the task in front of me. Today, right now, I get to choose,  My fear and anger? Or the freedom to follow my dreams. I can channel all of those scary thoughts into motivation and watch my world change to gold before my very eyes,  

“You see, now that trials have come, they have shown that I am NOT a nice child. I was afraid they would. Perhaps... that is what they were sent for... I suppose there MIGHT be good in things, even if we don't see it.”