I swallowed the football-size lump in my throat enough to reply, "Sweetie, I'm sad, too." Pause. Think. Pray. Then, "None of us want you to be broken. But you don't have to feel bad about the fact that you've fallen apart. And you don't have to stay broken, you know. We're all working to help you get put back together"
Oh, it's hard. It's hard to see your child suffer, hard to not-know if or when things will turn around, hard to manage a very complex situation. One afternoon last week I felt like a total failure. I told my child's therapist that it is wearying to try so hard and to give everything I have to give, and still not succeed. She replied gently, "Your child is alive. Your child is not in the hospital. That is success. That is because of you."
I dried my tears and thought, Okay. I can hold on to that. It's not much. On the other hand, it's everything.
* * * *
The child in crisis is perpetually cranky, snapping irrationally at minor things, melting down over next to nothing. Not surprisingly, this triggers the other children. They don't like being screamed at, they feel unjustly accused, they snap back. The family is a pinball machine of anxiety, with one kid pinging off another. The situation exacerbates Big Guy's anxiety issues, another child's anxiety issues, Andrew's anxiety issues.
I keep an eye on my own tension level. When others start to blow I whisper, "Use a gentle voice. Stay calm. Get through the next five minutes." I succeed at this a surprising amount of the time. This is not due to me; it's abundantly clear that I'm not capable of doing what I'm doing. Someone, somewhere must be praying for me. For this I am thankful.
* * * *
There is another snarling-screaming-weeping child incident and I dig deep, searching to find compassion. I know that somewhere behind my child's rank irritability lies pain, and I need to respond to that rather than react to the behavior it causes.
It is hard to shove aside my desire to scream, explode, snap back. I do it because although the short-term effort is exhausting, the long-term consequence of falling apart myself is too expensive to contemplate.
* * * *
At night I wrestle with my ego. It is hard to feel like a good mom when your child falls apart. I cringe at the thought that I've ever offered advice to anyone. Who, me? Me, whose family seems to be in perpetual crisis?
I grapple with the difference between shame and humility. Shame is the I don't want others to know piece, the fig leaf behind which I hide to preserve the image I want people (including myself) to have of me. Humility is honest nakedness, the here-I-am-ness, the willingness to say, "This is hard and I'm bumbling along, probably making mistakes... stay with me. Please."
Sometimes heroism consists of doing something as simple as crumbling the fig leaf. Sometimes, but not always, I can be heroic.