I saw my daughter.
It happened like this. Yesterday, we had a long conversation (through text) about giving her a recharge. It went on for maybe an hour, because the shops were all closed for voting and then once I found a shop with the voucher she wanted, I mistyped something or other and God knows who got the recharge. So I had to go out again and search.
Then there was another, not quite as long conversation about money, because she wanted to go shopping on the way back from her village. There is a medium-sized town (for Country X) between here and there with better prices and more selection than Y-town, even though Y-town is actually a bit larger. I transferred money to her grandmother’s bank account, and there was a discussion all through this process.
“Will you do it today?”
“I’ll try. I have never done it before. I think you can do through the ATM.”
I keep her updated through these transactions. (I am changing clothes now. I am going to go out to the shops in a minute.) For the little parts, it’s forever. I think really it comes down to trust. When you don’t know if something will really happen the way someone says it will or not, then you feel anxious until it does happen. And you also want it now, in case later never comes.
I got different modes. I got a child who tacked a Country-X polite word onto the ends of sentences, which normally C doesn’t do with me. But anyway something happened, I think. She got some kind of connection in spite of it all. The last thing she wrote before retreating was “I miss you alot” [sic].
Today I wrote to her about pancakes. She responded. “No thank you.” Well, that was polite. At that moment, TW from Class 8 came to the door. I kind of lost the thread. I think I got all vulnerable child on her and scared her off. Maybe. Who knows.
I said I would make them anyway and she could come or not come as she chose. I had in my mind this is a very frightened child hiding behind indifference and politeness. I did eventually make the pancakes. Then I figured probably she wouldn’t come and I went to her cousin’s house to enlist a delivery person. It turns out that C was there at that moment. She was sitting in the doorway. She was sad, like old woman sad. Her aunt called me into the house and told the girls to make tea. C was ordered to go in the room with me and keep me company. (I understand a little bit now.) She didn’t sit next to me. She still seemed old lady sad. I told her some things—that The Boy liked her but he didn’t like her friends. That made her laugh, and she kind of came out of the sadness a little bit.
Eventually I remembered I had some National Dress sewn for her and I wanted to see if it fit her: this is important, because I also had a going away present sewn that I need to know whether it will fit based on its less significant twin. I told her to come to my house and try it on.
Something happened on the way. There is really something about coming to my house that affects her very strongly. It might have been the gift, but I don’t think so. I think it is my house. She was various kinds of angry on the way. A little girl, fussy angry and a more grown-up angry. She got to my house and I showed her the National Dress and she held it up to herself and fussed, again angry. She was speaking the Regional Language, but I know she was fussing it didn’t fit. I told her to try it on. She wouldn’t.
It was so much like a sad, hungry, tired 2-year-old right before that point where she doesn’t want ANYTHING.
Then her cousin spoke sharply to her and she tried it on. Indeed, it did fit.
I understand these bouts of anger in a different way now. These are reactions to an awareness of lapses in attunement, and I think it does go back to being about 2 years old. The angry parts are very little. The 2-year-old mind has enough experience and is cognitively developed enough to know in more complex ways when there is a lapse in attunement. The dance between the parent and the child to stay in synch is more complex now, and more is expected of the child because she can actually do more. She is expected to control impulses, expected to accept limits. And she can also mourn now, because she understands that objects have permanence, and she knows when they are still there but she cannot have it. She has the attention to want something not in front of her. So there is a lot going on. The child has to learn at this point that the relationship is still there. The connection can be re-established after a disruption.
But when the parent is reacting to attachment sensitivities and rages in response to lapses in attunement, the little child doesn’t know what to expect when she reaches for that attunement. She has to work very hard at maintaining attunement with her parent, because the parent lacks the skills to do more of the attunement work, and if the child cannot maintain that connection herself, it gets dangerous for her when the parent acts out. So reaching for the parent and for attunement is very fraught.
In other words, when I see these angry bouts of C’s, I see a person reacting to a lapse in attunement. The fussy child is reaching for support in order to cope with that break in attunement, and the furiously angry child is lashing out or wants to lash out because she feels actually threatened. The lapse in attunement might be something less about me and more about life not being attuned to her. (I remember an incident with wanting to buy some things and not getting outing time: “Mommy, there isn’t a pink one. I wanted a pink one. Can you go find a pink one for me? I really want a pink one. Why can’t I have a pink one?”) But it’s basically about reaching for someone important in order to regulate her emotions that come up in relation to attunement mishaps.
Historically, there wasn’t someone she could do this with, because her mother also became dysregulated. Emotions are catching—I have noticed this with VP Ma’am. She goes into these states of being in absolute terror and I get the terror inside her pretty quickly. It takes seconds to end up in me. Thank you, mirror neurons, for allowing me to imagine the emotions of others so well.
Anyway, C’s distress would have transmitted to her mom. An adult who could regulate her emotions would feel that emotion, understand what that emotion was, and act to soothe C. She would understand the emotion as a signal to provide soothing for her child. C’s mom, for whatever reason, can’t regulate either, much like my mom can’t, and C’s distress became simply distress within C’s mom and she acted out—either lashing out at her or withdrawing and in that way abandoning her, or just going into Detached Mode and not giving a fuck her daughter was in distress.
Because of that, C is very sensitive to misattunement—due to the disasters which followed attunement problems—and she also never learned how to soothe the reactions to misattunement which all young children have. Instead, she learned to suppress these reactions in order to get at least some of her attachment needs met. They come out when she is with me, because it is safe. It feels safe. Maybe they are also stronger reactions, because it is a more intense relationship than she has with many other people. But it is also safe. I don’t counter-attack. I don’t invalidate her feelings. I problem-solve or simply stay close to her. I don’t force closeness on her—when she sat one chair away from me, I didn’t sit next to her, but I opened up conversation on a neutral topic to bring her closer to me.
Her parting words to me today were that she wouldn’t come to meet me when I came on Sunday—something she seemed to have completely forgotten I do. I didn’t do anything. I just said that is your choice. But I didn’t walk away or turn away or give her an angry look. I know some part of her is so mad at me for not being with her the last 10 days, even though she chose to go to her village without seeing me. She is so, so mad.
Your kids get mad at you. They slam the door. They tell you they hate you. But they want you to be there still. They want you to know how very mad they are. She needs someone who will stay there and not leave when she slams the door and screams I hate you, Mom. She needs it so badly.
I love her. I love my angry child who pushes me away so much. I really, really do.