The sins of the fathers…

I think this is normal: I worry for my children.

I worry for the middle one, sixteen and practical who covers her tenderness in a hard shell and drives herself, flagging, toward perfection. May she learn balance.

I worry for the youngest one, fourteen and angry and artistic and beautiful. May she learn to be gentle with herself.

I worry for the eldest one, almost twenty and struggling “to adult” with her kind heart exposed to the world. May she learn to protect and love herself.

I suppose I worry for myself, too, almost forty-five and wanting to clutch the children to me and pin their wings in the hope they will never, ever fall.

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Prayer ballad for my eldest

Our birth was hard. Twenty-three hours of sweaty labor. So tired by the end, when you were presented my only thought was that your appearance meant it was over. But it wasn’t over, was it? It was only beginning.

You were a glorious infant–beautiful and cheerful. When you awoke from your naps you lay alone and played instead of crying. I stared at your face a lot. Your blue eyes, your fat cheeks.

When did you take that left turn?

Your father left when you were six months old. After that you refused to be left alone. At seven months old I left you long enough to pick up my book in the living room and you screamed. You were such a beautiful baby. But you were afraid.

Your appetite knew no bounds. You sat in your high chair and I spooned food into you. My first baby, I didn’t know when to stop. I thought you would tell me but instead you kept opening your mouth, demanding another bite. Obediently, I kept shoveling until you began to throw up.

You are so intelligent and so determined to get your own way. At three I taught you all words can be spelled, then spent months teaching you to write each block letter because you insisted. After that it was, “How do you spell horse…cat…house…bird…” You labeled every drawing.

I knew I was raising you poorly. I knew because you needed my attention every waking minute. You became distressed and insistent if I read or cooked or washed dishes or went outside for a smoke. There were no breaks and I figured I wasn’t giving you enough. One week I planned twelve hours of focused activities a day with you. At the end of the week you still demanded more.

At three your father came back, angry and disconsolate, in no mood to be a good father. For your sake, I should have left him. I didn’t know how.

You flunked out of kindergarten with a teacher who wouldn’t, couldn’t, or didn’t treasure you. It was the beginning of a series of failures at school. Third grade we pulled you out because your teacher mistreated you. In retrospect I guess you mistreated her, too.

Fifth and sixth grade didn’t go so well. I know your home life was miserable. You had no safe place in which to be you. You lied a lot. You tried to control everything around you to the effect of making yourself annoying. You had to know our plans every single minute.

Your father abused you verbally, emotionally. I confronted him repeatedly about why he treated you so poorly. I should have left him. I didn’t know how.

You flunked out of seventh grade. I tried–again–to homeschool you while I worked full time. You needed someone with you every minute or you wouldn’t–couldn’t?–study. We failed.

In eighth grade your father molested you. When you came to me I kicked him out and called the cops. I don’t know why it had to come to that before I could leave him.

Puberty and that sexual trauma came at the same time. Just as it did for me, mental illness came along. Your actions became more and more erratic. You failed out of ninth grade. You told me you couldn’t sleep and in a sense you couldn’t. Your need for constant attention had grown until being alone at night was more than you could bear. You snuck out every night to drink and get laid with a group of older friends.

Everyone around me told me you were bad news, that you needed more supervision, more structure, more…something. I got you therapy and medications. You lied to your therapists and didn’t take the meds.

You stole my mother’s car and wrecked it when you were fifteen, then called me and told me you didn’t remembering doing it. I bought it. You bought yourself a second stint in a mental hospital.

You lied again about taking aspirin to try to kill yourself. Emergency room. Mental hospital.

You verbally abused your sisters and me. You would wake me up at night, frantic and verbose and nonsensical. I knew then you were trying to make sense of a world fractured by mental illness. You tossed back every lifeline.

Next came running away from home. You chose to spend six months at a boot camp for incorrigible youth. You were trying to fix yourself, just as you had been trying to fix yourself in your high chair by opening your mouth for more food.

At seventeen you got a nice boyfriend and ran away from home again to live with him. I told you to not come back. Life with you had become unbearable and I saw none of my efforts were enough.

You tried to work and couldn’t hold a job. Your symptoms kept accelerating. Mania. Depression. Delusions. Anxiety. Insomnia. And still the constant fear of being alone.

You began to realize the problem lay within. You began to take responsibility. You talked to me, told me you were looking for therapy, medication, help of every kind. I rejoiced and tried to point you in the right direction.

Two weeks ago you slept in a park because nothing ever worked for you. I pray that was hitting bottom.

You were sent to a shelter where a social worker began addressing your needs. And, wise one, you told her your needs.

Yesterday I visited you at a halfway house for supervised medication treatment. You looked like hell but you were hanging on and you knew why you were there and you had a goal.

I brought you the book of prayers you asked me to make. God how I hope they give you comfort and focus and direction and more wisdom.

I have hope. I didn’t find medications to treat my bipolar disorder until I was thirty-two. You will be nineteen soon and you’re already trying to head down the right path. May you walk in beauty.