There is no electricity today, and one of the students informed me it is expected that we will have no electricity for two days. Now, it so happens that sometimes these are 24-hour outages and sometimes they are workday outages. So it might be that we will have electricity again in the evening. But in the event that this is the last of our electricity and the last bit of battery here on the laptop, I am writing before everything shuts down for a bit.
The rest of my life will go on as usual—electricity or no electricity. I have gas. Cooking isn’t a problem. The only difference is that I will be taking cold baths and maybe washing up incompletely, since by flashlight, I can’t see the grime that well.
This is nice. It’s nice to have no electricity and feel like, well, that’s fine. Life will more or less go on. I think these things used to throw me more, and actually it makes a bigger difference when there is no water. It somehow affects the whole routine of the day substantially even though I have adequate water stored in my house. All the carrying and pouring, maybe.
Anyway, it’s Saturday now. So Friday evening, I got this very insistent knocking. I was finishing up dinner and bussed the dishes out of the bedroom and went to the door. The other friend with a note from C. This is sort of routine now. Last week, the note came on Thursday. She must have been more anxious, but I actually don’t know why she would have been. I was sick, but I don’t know how she would have known I was sick at that point. She would have found out the next day, in my reply, or from some other friend. I made the handoff Thursday of last week, complete with pancakes, and said nothing to C or her friends about being sick. I suppose she felt more anxious because it wasn’t an “outing” Sunday, and there was no reason I needed to come to the school. Would I come? In retrospect, I think that was the reason.
So, Friday evening, I got this note. C wanted rolls of tape, some bread, and lots of money. Oh, and she told me not to come on Sunday. I don’t know what to do about her requests for money. I am a parent. I am responsible for setting boundaries for my child, but I don’t really know what my child needs or what helps her. I have the money to give her, but that’s not the point. The point is that I am not preparing her to live a life of wealth. If she is lucky, she will grow up to be middle class and be like me, someone who normally has to watch how she spends. The only reason I have the money to give her is that what she wants is 40 bucks, and I am living in this odd situation where I think what is 40 bucks anyway? My needs are met. I don’t want for anything (except pepper, ground coffee and dark chocolate). I want those things a lot. Especially, especially coffee. In the US, I have a sense of what 40 bucks means. Here, I kind of don’t. It’s weird.
Getting back to it, I read her note. I bought the bread and the tape and debated with myself about the money, and didn’t find myself with an answer. I know I am being inconsistent about money. I know that it’s a problem for her that I can’t decide. It helps that regardless of what I do or how I respond to her, I don’t feel angry. She’s a kid. She has no sense of what money means. You don’t when you don’t earn it or need it. So I don’t feel angry at her for asking me for it. She can ask, and I get to decide. But it would be nice if I could decide clearly, within myself, how to handle her requests for money. And I don’t know. So I debated with myself about it, didn’t come up with an answer, wrote a letter to her that in the morning I decided not to send anyway, and went to sleep.
In the morning, I made pancakes that fell apart somehow. The electricity went out at some point. Maybe that was it. I couldn’t really see them. I wrote another letter, in which I basically translated her note for her. I don’t know if she will be able to understand that or not. I said, behind the words you wrote, this is what I hear:
“Mom, I need you. I don’t know if you will take care of me or not or if you still want me, and I feel frightened. It’s frightening not to know if you are still there for me. I don’t want to need someone so much when that person might not be there for me.”
I said something like that. It wasn’t exactly that. And I said something about it being okay not to know if I am still here. It will take a long time before she feels she knows that I do care about her, and I am not going to leave or go away because she finds it hard to trust me. I said I know that asking for lots of money is kind of a test whether I really care about her, and that it actually isn’t going to settle the question for her. She still isn’t going to feel secure, but kindness will help. It will help if she is kind to herself. But I did send the money. I don’t know if that was the best thing to do for her, because I think we have established this pattern, where she feels very clingy, she asks for money, and then she feels ashamed for asking. It actually doesn’t matter whether I give her the money or not. She will feel ashamed either way. And I do have the sense of filling a leaky bucket, because she is trying to soothe this enormous pain inside her that there is no easy way to soothe, and that I actually don’t know how to soothe. I have all of these strategies that will help her, and I don’t know how to establish enough trust that she believes me enough to try them. I don’t know how to get her to use them without sparking so much intense shame about being broken that she pushes the strategy away. So.
That’s what I did.
The friend didn’t come. It was less unexpected, as she hadn’t gone to school the day before, and I had a plan in mind. Get ready fast. Try to leave the house by 7:30. (By 7:15, I had decided she might not come. Actually, she might, but I have to start thinking about probability at some point. I took a bath peering out the high window most of the time. I don’t think I missed her. I could have. It might be easier on me to just go to the girl’s house at the time prior to when she leaves, but this seems to be even more triggering for me.
At least the trucks weren’t idling this morning. Just the power sander going.
I got dressed okay. That was good too. I mainly told myself to lower my standards. Just get the thing on. To hell with making it look nice. That seemed to do it. I was thinking about the whole situation as I was getting ready to leave, and I thought about being exploited. I thought this is triggering my memories of being exploited. It is the distrust schema at work right now, just the feelings inside me, and it reminds me of times when I needed to allow someone to really harm me in order to get any kind of protection or warmth. C isn’t harming me. The amount she asked for won’t hurt me. But it’s triggering that worry.
And I think, in reality, it is triggering me to be able to imagine her mind and to be able to feel the sense of vulnerability hidden behind her requests. As children, when we are abused, we cannot understand our abusive parents and I think we don’t want to. I think we don’t want to know what is in their minds, because what is in there is terrible. What is in the abusive parent’s mind is: I hate you, I resent you, I wish you had never been born, I despise you, I wish you did not have so many needs I must find a way to meet.
In life, I think I have reverted to not wanting to know or to understand other people, because I didn’t know what might be in their minds. I didn’t know if I tried to imagine things from their perspective, if what I imagined was going to turn out to be horrifying. In this situation, I am imagining C’s mind—and that ability to imagine her mind is the source of my feeling of connection to her—and I am not sure what I am really going to find there. I am imagining her feelings of vulnerability and fear, but I don’t know if it would be more accurate to imagine: I hate you, I resent you, I wish you had never been born, I despise you. I think that is what is going on. Trying to imagine someone else’s mind is frightening, because it could turn out that the contents of that person’s mind is terrible for me.
I was thinking too, as I embarked on my quest for a messenger…I found one, not a good one, VP Ma’am’s daughter, who is in her way very heartless. She will make the delivery, but maybe ask C a million questions, or make a comment to C that will hurt C. She won’t just give her the package, the way the friend does…
I was thinking there are people who perceive vulnerability and maybe are conditioned to think of it as bad and wrong and in need of punishment. There are people who have been raised like me, and they see vulnerability and feel an automatic, implicit sense of threat about it and attack in response to it. People are not all the same, and there are people who react to vulnerability in that way. There are people who don’t have that feeling and don’t have that reaction, and there are people who do, and when I am in these vulnerable positions, that is something to be aware of. Someone might attack me.
The good news is that I am not five anymore, and I am not being raised by people who attack vulnerability. I can escape. I can avoid being close to people who are like that. I can decline to care what people like that think of me, because I don’t need to keep people like that close to me. I can push them away. I don’t need to push everyone away from me. I can push away only the people who are more likely to hurt me.