My Annus Horribilis of parenting was 1999
It was also a year with a turning point in it. A rock bottom, a realisation and the start of a long tough haul out of a bad time. A big turning point for me, and also one for Rhea, who is co-authoring this post with me (and a napping 9 month old baby, while a much loved son-in-law entertains the 2 year old!)
It is just over 15 years since our turning point. 1999 had been a very bad year thus far. 13 year old Rhea was struggling, I was struggling, and with a huge lack of support. If I just said – attachment, aggression, puberty, PTSD, and depression I think a lot of you would get a good picture without me going into details. We were near 3 years into the adoption, finalised for just over a year, but it was at this point that finally the living with a child who was hurting, was wearing me down to a point where I couldn’t function properly. Rhea was closed off emotionally. She didn’t often show me truly genuine feelings, apart from anger, which was of course genuine and coming from deep down inside her. I didn’t know how to help her. I didn’t know how to help me.
Rhea has vivid memories of this particular day, more clear than mine, which I have suppressed i suppose. In her own words (which she’s self-conscious about by the way, because she doesn’t type the way she speaks and she needs time to try and craft what she wants to say, so she’d like people to forgive her any mistakes):
Im a bit scared actualy writing that i did this even though i want to talk about it. I do NOT do anything like this now, I have to say!! I remember that it was Saturday. I got angry with Wren because she told me to do something but I don’t remember what it was. I got angry a lot back then. I felt so angry inside a lot of the time and I had to sort of let it out I guess. I did not tell Wren what I was thinking or what i was feeling. I don’t know if this makes a lot of sense but it was easy to yell and throw things and hit my mum, but it was very hard to cry or be happy at nice things. I did not love Wren like a mum but i needed her around. I did not even say it to myself but i needed her around me and being there.
I shouted and yelled and then i started to throw things at her so she went off into the kitchen. I stamped on the floor so the light in the kitchen shook then I went down and shouted more. Then i threw a book at her. It was actualy the bible which Wrens mum (my gran) gave to her*. It hit her in the top of her chest and she fell over and her head hit the kitchen counter behind her and it made a really scary sound. then she sort of plopped down on the floor and i thought she was going to get back up and start yelling at me but she stayed on the floor. the kitchen was really quiet.
I felt like pleased that i won for a second but then i was really scared that i had hurt her badly. I remember i thought she might be dead which is silly because she was breathing but i phoned an ambulance and i said to them that i was in my bedroom and heard a bang so i went down and found my mum on the floor and she was unconsious. then i took the bible off the floor and hid it under the sofa which doesnt really make any sense.
Wren sort of woke up after a few minutes before the ambulance got to our house but she was dizzy and confused so the ambulance took her to the hospital. they were really nice to me and said i was being very brave because i wasnt crying !!! and it would be okay and they were just going to check her out at the hospital. i asked them how it happend and they said they couldnt tell me but it would be okay. i was a bit relieved because i thought they might say that obviously i did it.
At the hospital my gran came to look after me but i got angry and really loud and made the other people in the waiting area annoyed with me. I was sure Wren was going to send me back into foster care now and i didnt want anything less than that. I realised that i didnt want to leave her and i really needed to stay living with her even if i got angry with her and didnt love her, because our house was a safe place. i love my mum very much now by the way.
When i saw her again I said ‘Im sorry im sorry im sorry mum’ but im even more sorry now. I still feel really bad about it. Altthough she says its a long time ago and ‘done and dusted’. I’ve sort of picked that up from her by the way and now i say things are done and dusted. Ive inherited a lot of stuff from Wren really, just not my genes
It was one of the first times she called me mum. And it sounded genuine. She sounded truly genuine about being sorry (she’s interrupting here to make sure I know and write that she definitely was sorry)
That was the rock bottom, lying in that hospital bed with a mild concussion. I gradually recollected what had happened and I cried for me, I cried for my daughter, I cried because I felt hopeless and defeated and angry and I had a headache. I cried with my mum. Rhea didn’t cry but I knew her well enough to know that she was at least a bit shaken. What I didn’t know her well enough to know (and that’s a hard knowledge, when you are conscious of how much you don’t know your own child) was whether she really understood what she’s done, if she’s learn from it, or if she would do something like that again.
It was not the first time, but it was by far the most serious time I floated those words….loaded, defeated, desperate words…Disruption. Foster Care.
I loved my daughter. Unconditional love is unconditional, not ‘I love you unless you do something stupid and dangerous’. But I didn’t know whether I could live with this any longer. I needed help
That was that day.
I would say “when you hit rock bottom, you can only go up” but that’s a bit trite really. There was no guaruntee things would get better.
Yet, we did ‘go up’. In a tortuous and slow fashion.
I went to my GP and cried and finally had to recognise that depression had slowly dragged a thick black tarp over me without me realising, and I needed help with that. I needed (unofficial) respite and I got it from family and friends. I needed some ‘me time’, I needed to refind who I was.
I carried on fighting for counselling and therapy for Rhea. We didn’t get it straightaway (well of course not, I hear you say, this is post adoption support, this is hardly an emergency <dripping with sarcasm>) but we did get some in the New Year and it really helped her.
But I also realised how much I loved my daughter. Sometimes it takes something like that for you to realise the depth of your own love. And it’s not a cuddle that did it, not a kiss, nor a lovely time making sandcastles on a beach. No, it was a test of it.
The road was long, it was tough, it was slow. It was also full of those little moments of progress. Sometimes they are so simple yet the simplest things can be profound. When I went on a long walk and held out my arms, tilted my head back and felt the sun on my face, and it felt good, for instance. That was me dragging myself out of the hole of depression.
If you took a snapshot of that moment in time, that would have painted the bleakest picture. I have to end it shortly, because a beautiful 9 month old baby is awake and wanting to be carried, and I promised Rhea I’d do most of it today. Snapshot my life now, our relationship, and it would be the happiest succes story picture. The road goes ever on and on*
But I remember feeling hope, on New Years Eve 1999. We were caught in the buzz of the new millenium, this big historical turning point, but things had been getting better and I had to hope.
It was a good night. Rhea whooped with joy at the fireworks, accepted my hug of congratulations at midnight and generally giggled and had a good time. I did too.
* I (Mum) couldn’t help coming in here and making a joke about Bible-bashing. It was funny. It was also not appreciated.
** Yes yes yes, go on, groan at my nerdy love of Tolkein. Or alternately, if you immediately quoted most of the LOTR poem/s with that line in, I LOVE YOU! :D