Sunday, March 17, 2013

Priorities, the hard way

Big Guy has been doing well for some time. We have not had to even think of calling 911 for over six months. And then on Thursday we had to make a call.

Four large policemen arrived. We discussed the situation, and agreed that based on the incident that triggered the call, Big Guy needed to be evaluated by a professional. So they summoned the EMTs, and off Big Guy went to the ER. Andrew went with him.

I've BTDT so many times that the first thought in my head was, "Okay, so for now everyone is safe."

That is how parents of kids like mine think. But not at first. The last time I was at the psych ER I spoke to a mom whose daughter was being admitted and said, "I know you feel like the biggest failure in the world right now, but you are awesome. You have done the very best thing you could do for your child, because right now she is SAFE. And whatever anyone thinks or anyone says, what you need to tell yourself over and over again is, my child is safe."

Despite the positive framing, there are things that are so not okay. While Big Guy was blowing up, Snuggler curled on the sofa, tears running down her face as she moaned, "Not again! Oh, no, not again!"

Little Guy screamed and ran into the bedroom and hid himself under the blankets. "No! No'! No!" he cried, "I don't want anyone to die!"

And I couldn't help them, because I had to focus entirely on managing Big Guy. Safety. Safety. Safety. There is a point where the whole world, the whole list of priorities in life reduces to safety.

I was very proud of Snuggler, who after a few minutes pulled herself together and, of her own accord, went in to solace Little Guy. Later she said, "It helped me, too, Mama. When you have to calm someone else you need to calm yourself first." That takes a degree of courage and insight that's unusual in an 11 year old.

After the police arrived and we were on safe ground again I packed up my two youngest and took them off to Dancer's dress rehearsal. I'm sure that sounds weird, but after a crisis my #1 priority shifts from safety to security, security, security. Oh how, oh how, oh how do you give a sense of security to children who have to live in an erratic and sometimes dangerous situation? How can kids grow up healthy when things can shift from safe to scary in a moment? One gives snuggles and hugs and love, and tries to keep life feeling as normal as possible. We make time and space in which to remember that this one event doesn't constitute the whole of our lives.

A delayed stress reaction hit Snuggler as we arrived at the theater. We had a bit of waiting time, so we hung out in a corner as she whimpered that she was scared. We played hangman, talked about school, waited in line. We watched -- and greatly enjoyed -- the performance. Dancer was stunning. When we got home at about 10pm, I emailed Snuggler's teachers to say they shouldn't expect to see any homework the next day.

Then Andrew called to say Big Guy had been deemed safe and was being sent home. Getting the others to bed, and more importantly to sleep, shot to the top of my priority list. Because, you see, it's hard to get to get a scared kid to sleep. Now my mantra was calm, calm, calm.

I washed dishes, talked to kids, got them to bed. Little Guy slept in the girls' room on the top bunk, "Because my brother won't find me up there." Snuggler opted to drift off in the living room, listening to an audio book.

Big Guy and Andrew arrived at midnight. Big Guy was exhausted and went straight to bed. The day was over. The next day (and perhaps for the next week or month) we'd most certainly see fallout, but it would be a new day. That wasn't today. I said my prayers, and went to sleep.

One of my favorite quotes is from Winston Churchill, who said, "When you're going through hell... keep going."

It's easier to keep going if I have my priorities in order. Be safe. Stay calm. Find the things that help you feel secure. Remember not to let the bad things become everything. Pray. And keep moving forward, at whatever tiny pace you can muster.  


  1. Excellent, excellent, excellent advice. Sorry this is happening right now. Praying for you all.

  2. I'm so sorry that you had to go through this again but I marvel at the way in which you manage to cope and how you work at helping your other children to cope as well. I pray for you always and hope that in some small way it helps you, too!

  3. You are handling this beautifully. That doesn't mean it doesn't hurt like hell. I'm proud of you and grateful your children have you. xo

  4. Thank you for sharing so openly. You and you family will have my prayers. Those of us on the outside can only begin to understand and pray because you dare to share with us.

  5. God bless you and your family. I'm so humbled by your constant example of grace and strength.

  6. Dear Julia, I know you only through your blog and the Daily Guideposts, but I think of you as a friend. I am sorry that you and your family have had to experience another episode with Big Guy. You and yours are in my prayers. It is through your raw sharing that you help so many people.

    Peace be with you and your family each and very day.

  7. Thank you for sharing your life. Every post has an impact on me as a parent and a person. I have learned so much. I often wish I could be your intern so I could internalize more of your techniques/knowledge.

  8. I am so sorry to read about this recent episode. I think taking the younger children to the rehearsal was a brilliant decision. Big Guy had a parent with him, and you showed by your actions that the other children were important as well. When you have a sibling with issues, being the child that is always left on 'the back burner', is a situation that builds resentment in the long haul. I will keep your family in my prayers.

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