June 14, 2001
Parental Subtext

 


 
One year ago this month I wrote a journal entry called Rescuing Maggie.

It was one of the toughest entries I've ever composed, in the three years that I've been writing *FootNotes.* It was tough to write for a couple of reasons: one, because the subject matter  --  one of The Tots in crisis  --  is always a huge button-pusher for me: it's difficult to type when you're dribbling snot and Maybelline all over the computer keyboard ...

... and two, because there was so much parental subtext going on in that journal entry, it was like writing in secret code.

(There is always "parental subtext" going on here, of course  --  you didn't think those virulent anti-smoking remarks were aimed at YOU, did you?  --  but in this case, "Rescuing Maggie" was filled with even more subtext than usual.)

At the time I wrote it I was desperately worried about Daughter #1, who had recently moved out on her own  --  at the tender age of barely- eighteen  --  and who had immediately found herself plunked into the middle of a dangerously dysfunctional relationship. Her methods of *coping* with this relationship were keeping me awake nights, to put it mildly  ...  and I was frantically searching for a way to help her. I didn't want to violate her privacy by revealing too much about her situation on the website  --  I do try to be careful about what I choose to disclose here, as far as it relates to the Tots  --  so I veiled my concern behind a poignant little story from her childhood, all about a lost rag doll, and about our attempts to locate her.

The moral of the story, as I was attempting to express it, was that as dearly and as desperately as we may love our children, we can't always *fix* everything for them ... and that sometimes it's better if we don't even try.

One year later, I am pleased and relieved to report that Daughter #1 survived The Relationship From Hell. She's survived a lot of other stuff this past year. I still worry about her all the time  --  that's written into a mother's contract, and it's strictly non-negotiable  --  but I was finally able to dial my anxiety about her down from *I'm Going To Sleep Right Here With The Phone In My Lap*  to *If The Phone Rings In The Middle of the Night Poke Me In The Ribcage, OK?*

So it is with a sense of both parental AND artistic irony that I find myself sitting here, on another June evening ... writing another oblique, subtext-heavy journal entry about my troubled eighteen-year- old daughter.

Except that this time it isn't Daughter #1.


      *      *      *      *      *      *

Last week Daughter #2 ("You really shouldn't call her 'Daughter #2' all the time!" scolded an overly-engaged reader a few weeks back, unaware of the affectionate history of the nickname) checked herself into a 21-day drug rehab program at a residential treatment facility. This came after several weeks of "Status AWOL" on her part (she walked out of the house one day, announcing that she wasn't coming back -- and she was true to her word) ... not to mention several weeks of waiting and worrying and near-nervous collapse on the part of everybody who knows her and cares about her.

It's been a tough couple of months ... for everybody.

Today we are cautiously optimistic that we may soon have our Daughter #2 back --  the real Daughter #2, the one we know and love and have missed like crazy, all of these long months since The Trouble began. The fact that she voluntarily checked herself in to the treatment center, with only minimal encouragement from those of us who have been down this road (and who recognize the true forces at work here) is our brightest and best hope of her eventual success.

Of course, we are also the ones who best understand that these things don't always work the first time ... or the second time, or the third time, or even the fourth time. But we're hopeful anyway.


      *      *      *      *      *      *

"My head feels so clear," she said on the phone yesterday. 

The surprise in her voice was unmistakeable. It was the first time I'd spoken to her since she'd checked in: there'd been a four-day communication black-out in effect, initially, and then she had to sign a release allowing me to call her.

"It feels better than you thought it would, doesn't it?" I replied quietly.

I can identify with some of these first tiny milestones she's experiencing ... like waking up, after a couple of days sober, and marvelling over how "clear" your head feels. I've been talking about this stuff for almost three years now, all about how important it is to take responsibility for our lives and our addiction ... and about how it's hard work getting clean, but it's worth it  ...  and about how much better sober feels than not-sober. But I suspect that until now I sounded like one of the grown-ups in a Charlie Brown cartoon: just a lot of wah-wah-wah-wah-wah noises.

Now, though ... maybe she'll actually hear me.


      *      *      *      *      *      *

I've got a hand-scribbled postcard tacked to my bulletin board at work, right above my computer. "Don't complicate your children's lives by making things easier for them," it reads.

There are some, perhaps, who would say that I have gone too far in the other direction: making things unnecessarily difficultfor my children, by leaving when I did,  or by setting a crappy example for them during the years when my alcoholism was in full flower, or by passing along the genetic predisposition for addiction to them in the first place. (Or by marrying another alcoholic, thereby insuring that they'd inherit it from both sides.)

I can't argue with at least some of that.

But even during my Super Mom Days  --  when life was all about field trips and fabric softener and saying our prayers every night before bed  --  I had a tendency to try and *fix* things the instant they were broken: fingernails, friendships, bones, Barbie cars.  And in a lot of cases  --  like the time I swapped out the missing rag doll, for example, rather than allowing my daughter to grieve for the doll she'd lost --  I think I may have done more harm than good. I was looking for The Band-Aid Solution. I wanted their pain and their tears to stop right now. In that regard, I think I'm a lot like every other mom on the planet.

If the past few years have taught me anything at all, however, it is that healing doesn't happen overnight. Sometimes it doesn't even happen in twenty-one days. Sometimes it takes forty years ... or longer.

It has also taught me this: true, lasting healing is very rarely involuntary. Someone, somewhere along the line, has to ask for it. And one of the very toughest things for a Band-Aid Solution Parent like me to do is to sit back, do nothing ...

... and wait for them to ask.



one year ago: vacation countdown [the sequel]


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