To hear a seven-year-old girl lament “I guess I’m a control freak” is a bit surprising to say the least. But this is what the Bear told me on Monday night. She had a better day at school on Monday and I was much relieved about that. It meant there was a good chance that our night at home would be somewhat peaceful. At the very least, I didn’t have to mete out any consequence the minute we got home, due to bad behavior at school. I breathed a little.
After Joseph got home from work, he decided to make some mashed potatoes to go with our dinner. The Bear and I were snuggled up on the couch looking at the Christmas Toys ‘r Us catalog (heavy sigh) and she was talking to me about her Christmas wish list. Out of the corner of her eye she saw PaPaw and Dozer in the kitchen . . . and lo and behold PaPaw had the mixer out which must mean they are baking a cake! She immediately sprang into action and took off toward the kitchen elbowing her way into the middle of them. When we put a stop to that and told her no, she proceeded to have a complete come-apart. It began with the normal whining and carrying on and progressed into a full-blown meltdown with screaming and slamming and crying. While I was on the phone with my best friend, I could hear Joseph and the Bear and I knew the Bear had succeeded in causing PaPaw’s head to explode (so to speak).
I quickly got off of the telephone and talked to Joseph to see what had transpired. He told me what happened after I left the room and then looked at me sorrowfully and said “I just wanted to teach him how to make mashed potatoes.” We listened to her rage in her room for a few more minutes, and then I went and started a bath. Now normally it kind be a dicey thing to put her in the tub when she’s raging – once a few years ago when I tried to do that to calm her down, she almost drowned herself in the tub by flinging her head into the water and getting a mouth and nose full of water. It was bad. So although Joseph told me he’d rather I didn’t put her in the tub, I knew I had to get her calmed down . . . she had reached the point of no return.
I went and got her from her bedroom, told her she was taking a soaking bath and basically got her into the tub as you might an infant. I lit a candle. I turned off the lights. I sat in the floor beside the bathtub while she calmed down. It didn’t take long before the screaming and crying ended. She began to take deep breaths and despite her best efforts maybe, she began to relax. I asked her why she got so upset and she told me that she felt left out because PaPaw and Dozer were making a cake without her. I quickly explained to her that they were only making mashed potatoes while she and I were working on her Christmas list. I reminded her of how many times she’s been in the kitchen with either myself or PaPaw, cooking, without Dozer, because he was too young. I told her that now Dozer is getting older so he’s ready to learn and help like she has. She heard what I said and calmed down more, and then looked at me and said “I guess I’m just a control freak.” What?! A seven-year old kid has the wherewithal to make that assessment about herself and verbalize it? I don’t think she’s ever heard me use that phrase, so I was even more taken aback.
I asked her what she meant by being a control freak and she rather calmly told me that she knows she wants to control everything and she gets mad when she can’t. Wow. To be honest, she was dead-on accurate. I took this opportunity to ask her some questions about her mom and dad to try to get her to talk. We talked about the fact that when she was with mom and dad, she had no control over what they did. She agreed. I acknowledged to her that she had absolutely no control over the decision to no longer live with either of her parents and that must have been scary. She acknowledged it was. We talked about the fact that one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in my life is the fact that I can only control myself and no one else, so I’ve learned to let go of those things I can’t change or control. We talked about ways she could learn to let go . . . and we talked about the fact that because we have a God that is in total control . . . and already knows our story, because He wrote it . . . then really we have nothing to worry about that is out of our control. Those are huge concepts for an adult to live by and process, much less a child of seven.
The night got better for all of us and she has had a decent week at school. Actually it’s been a complete turn-around from last week, which was hellish each day. Then Wednesday came . . . she had a good day at school, earned forty-five minutes worth of time playing on my phone after she completed homework and bounced into church that night like she had not a care in the world. When we got home from church that night, my plan was for her to get clean and watch The Voice with me (she loves to dance to the show – so I don’t actually get to see the performances) . . . but that didn’t quite work out. She immediately became defiant. She argued and yelled at me regardless of what I said and finally I’d reached my limit. I told her she had to go to bed early and she would have no TV. Needless to say that didn’t go well. She flipped out. She entered full-blown rage mode again. I closed her bedroom door to try to muffle her screaming (no tears mind you) but that didn’t work. I felt my blood pressure rise and went marching back into her room, screaming at her to stop screaming . . . and the whole time that was coming out of my mouth I realized how stupid my approach was.
First of all I didn’t stop and think about those words out of James . . . about taming my tongue; nor did I give her feelings any validity because I was tired and when that last straw was laid across my back, it was too much. But this time, after I screamed at her to stop, I stopped. I took a step back. I left the room and waited until she calmed down. Then I went back.
She was curled up in her bed writing in a notebook, softly snubbing after all of the venting she’d done. I didn’t say a word to her, I just laid down beside her. She immediately snuggled up close and we started talking. I apologized to her for screaming at her. I asked her if something had happened at church that caused her to get all of those yucky feelings rolling around in her again and she said yes . . . that she had been thinking about her mom. She cried, worried that her mom would have no place to live when she gets out of prison. Mind you, that will be in eight years if all goes well . . . but her mom having a home is front and center in her mind. Then she talked about what will happen when her mom gets out and her parents see one another . . . will everything start again? Will they fight?
We talked again about control. I talked to her again about how we can’t control what someone else chooses to do or not do, that we are only responsible for our actions. I talked to her about the fact that when it is time for her mom to get out, there will be a plan in place for her to have a home. We talked about the fact that God already knows when and how that will happen, so we do not have to worry about those things. She expressed to me how much she misses her mom, but that she doesn’t want to talk to her on the phone anymore for a while . . . I guess it keeps things raw for her. She wants to go back to just writing letters and so that’s what we shall do. I will have to be the one to tell her mom that she won’t be talking on the phone with her for a while . . . I will be the one to again hurt my daughter’s feelings in an effort to keep my granddaughter safe. I will do that every single day if I have to . . . I would move mountains for these children so that they feel safe and loved and wanted.
Then she told me I was the best. Seriously?! I thought about my anger and how I lash out at her when she’s lashing out. I thought about how some days I’ve wondered how we’re going to survive this. I thanked her and told her that I’m not the best, but that she makes me want to be the best . . . for her and her brothers. Then she looked at me and said “but MaMaw you are the best because you teach me” and that stopped me cold. We are teaching her. She is growing. Her heart is hearing us. She’s so much better than she was two years ago. But here’s what I told her: Soul Sister, you teach me more than I could ever teach me. You teach me how to be brave, have courage, be strong, be loyal and how to love completely. I told her that although we get angry with one another, the joy I see on her face at times makes my heart smile. I told her that regardless of any bad day, I thank God all the time that He has allowed us to have her and Dozer in our lives and I couldn’t think of any different life that I would want. I told her she makes me what to be a better person every single day. We cried together some more.
The thing is she’s right: she wants to control every possible situation because very bad things have happened in her world when she can’t. She knows, without being able to verbalize it, that her parents’ relationship is toxic and, again, bad things happen when they are together. She still reverts back to that survival mode instinct she honed so well in her first five years of life. But she is better. She is learning. She is healing. She is beginning to give us little nuggets as it relates to things that have happened to her or in her presence so we can begin to work through them. Some things have been so scary and violent . . . and she’s survived, while also taking care of baby brother.
In the past two years, she has begun to learn that she is no longer responsible for anyone except herself. She is learning that saying your sorry can lead to healing hurts. She is learning to trust. She is learning that the things her parents told her to lie about, or conceal, can come to light and she will survive. She is learning to be a child.
For me, I thank God that he is the Creator and the Author of our story. I thank Him that He is in control, therefore we don’t have to be. I thank Him that Joy Comes in the Morning . . . and we get a new chance each day to do right by one another. I just pray for strength for all of us . . . my daughter and my grandchildren especially.