Fathers’ Day

Today I will allow myself to feel sad. I will indulge the negative thoughts. This will take effort. Suspending the continuous analysis and justification, the reframing and positioning, the milestone checking and progress reminders. Going with a new groove and consciously not being stuck on repeat.

I will grieve the absence of things that don’t usually matter, but somehow today do. I won’t question this.

I’m human. Only by being human can I hope to respond to those that I love around me as humans, in a human way, more empathically. I’m not a robust machine that rolls with the blows and rewires. Well, not today, anyway.

The whip, but not the walnut

My nanna choked on the walnut from a Walnut Whip. My dad dislodged the walnut and saved her from death, but she was never allowed a walnut again. The whip, but not the walnut.

Mists and Frameworks

I got dragged back into my amygdala this week. Kicking and screaming, which is a good thing because it means I recognised it immediately. I managed to drag myself back out quick sharp. While I was there, I wanted to curl up and hide. Being able to consciously bring myself back out was the most liberating thing I’ve done in a long time.

In practical terms, what this means is the following sequence of events. D wore his brother’s clothes without asking (the natural consequence of D not doing his own laundry is that he has no clean clothes; the behaviour this drives is taking his brother’s clothes). His brother spotted this, alerted me, and after a phone call from me, D returned and changed. On leaving the house, his brother spotted that D had actually swapped one pair of foot wear for another that wasn’t his. Another phone call, but this time, clearly frustrated by a further interruption to his planned adventures, D refused to return and ignored my phone calls. At this stage, my red mist descended and I blocked D’s phone, justifying it to myself that there is no point me paying for a phone that doesn’t serve my purpose. I was well and truly engulfed in red mist: seething with rage and hitting out with punitive retaliation.

Here is the turning point. Within 30 minutes, a growing feeling of regret began to outweigh my rage, and a calm voice starting asking me three things: was I happy severing this vital means of emergency communication with one of my sons; what example did my behaviour set; what behaviour would it drive in my son as a result? I reversed the changes before anyone noticed. Even though it felt I was giving something up, I could feel a stronger sense of relief. I was out of my amygdala, I could breathe, and I could get on with other things.

Two hours later, D called me to apologise for missing my calls and explained that he’d returned his brother’s shoes and sorted things out with him.

This is a major development for me. I can’t remember the last time my red mist stifled me, which in itself is good, but more importantly, for the first time, I got myself out before any damage was done.

So this morning I’m over the moon with myself for parenting therapeutically more than I have ever, in my humble opinion (pats self on the back). The boys argued over a job this morning. One beat the other to it. In the process of the argument taking place between the front garden and a bedroom window, I learned that D has been using the bathroom window and porch roof to come and go as he pleases during the early hours of the mornings. I didn’t respond, but continued on my dog walk and used the walk to think things through.

The immediate natural consequence of D’s action is a risk to his safety. The porch roof is not designed to be an exit point. I would rather he wake me if he needs to leave the house. An inconvenience for us both, but safer for him and not as much hassle for me as fixing the porch roof when it’s damaged. I will lock the bathroom window at night in future to remove this risk. I called D and explained this from a position of genuine care, and he responded calmly and without any feeling of threat.

Maybe having to wake me up will make D think twice about this, or he will plan his nights better. I make no apology for this compromise. Our framework of safety, security and nurture says that we should all be in our beds at night, and that hasn’t changed. But nearing the age of eighteen, we flex around the framework to minimise risks from driving unintended behaviours, and we are open and honest about it. The expectation is there, but the battles are carefully chosen and the risks weighed up.

On reflection, the scripts from early childhood are still there, whatever you want to call them. Theft? Absconding? Deceit? We know about the scripts. Borrowing because they don’t have things. Taking to survive. Warped versions of reality. Disassociation: “It wasn’t me, really it wasn’t. I saw it happen, it wasn’t me.” The scripts are much more manageable when they operate on teenage things like foot wear, being out with friends and jobs, although I wonder if the scripts are here for life.

Balancing Forces

He is the disruptor.
I am the peace keeper.

His driving force for change
competes with my sustaining steadfastness.

I am so rigid, dogs pee on my ankles
if I stay in one place for too long.

I must keep myself moving.
I must not dampen his dreams.

The extremities.
The complimentary poles.
Coffee with milk.
Bitter and sweet.

Scripts

This morning, while staring at a wall doing something mundane that we all do, I had a realisation. At the age of fifty-two, I have finally stopped muttering the word ‘toilet’ under my breath every time I leave a room of people to head for – you guessed it – the toilet.

This realisation has only arrived with the ending of a habit. Until now, I hadn’t really been aware of the habit. Since I was able to take myself to the toilet, I have announced my intention whenever I left a room. That room was usually the lounge, inhabited by my immediate family. I have no idea why I felt the need to do this, or even if I was encouraged to by my parents, but I have always done it and gradually over the years it became reduced to a single word, then muttered, then dropped. I gradually sub-consciously got rid of the habit that made no apparent sense.

Maybe this deeply rooted habit of mine, playing out each time like a script, has its background in the same experiences that sub-consiously trigger my anxiety if I’m not in complete control and oversight of my children at home. Maybe I should ask my mother, or maybe not.

This is a great example of something that we learn as parents of children with Adverse Childhood Experiences. We all have scripts, but our children are more likely to have scripts that don’t immediately make sense to us or even them. Squirreling away food in bedrooms is a more obvious one but we wonder about the need to scan every room in the house for the smallest of changes.

Our children are unlikely to recognise their scripts, especially when they are younger. Scripts are subconscious until our attention is drawn to them. Some scripts are for life, or at least into your fifties when you are left to work these things out for yourself. It is never too early to acknowledge scripts. It needs to be done positively and with support, and ideally linked to the underlying experience or unmet need, if it can be identified. Time to put the detective hat on.

Bringing attention to something can be the first step to acknowledging, owning and changing a script. Becoming an observer of yourself can help identify scripts and embark on making a change. Left unobserved, scripts may eventually change with the passing of time, and hopefully change for the better, but this could take decades, or in my case into my fifties.

The View From Here

Entering our tenth year as a family, a strange calm has settled on us. The disruption to what should have been a transition to College has turned out to be a welcome respite. Secondary school was damaging. It took exclusions before we inadvertently found the environments and attitudes in which our twin teenage boys could breathe, and eventually thrive.

I’ve written off any hope of educational attainment this year. I’ve used my trusty skill of reframing to see this as an opportunity to indulge their teenage brains. They can catch up with friends online late into the night, cook meals when their stomachs dictate (our kitchen sometimes resembles a 24 hour cafe), belly-laugh with us at corny 80s comedies and sleep when their bodies chose.  It feels like their emotional development gets a chance to catch up.

I refuse to feel guilty for this relaxation. We are in exceptional times and the pressures of education and employment will be back upon us soon enough.