I had a pretty decent summer, and I came back from it–somewhat surprisingly–feeling secure and confident.
Most of the summer, The Girl was gone. She went home to her parents or stayed with one of her brothers who is grown up and has his own children. She came back in the afternoon the day before yesterday and kept it together for the rest of the day. Yesterday, she did not.
First, she made a plan with The Boy to hide the lunch boxes in the house and then appeared before me at lunch time asking for the key. She did not seem to register that maybe hatching a clever plan is not such a good idea.
I told her I needed to run an errand in town anyway (which was true) and that I would bring the lunch boxes. I told her she would need to wait at school for them. (The consequence for leaving your lunch box at home is that you will need to wait to eat.)
I found her at home. I asked her why she had come and if she remembered she had been told to stay at school. She wanted to leave her (nearly empty) backpack at home. I told her she would need to carry it back to school, as I had explicitly told her not to do this. (The consequence for coming home when instructed to stay at school is that you get to carry everything back.)
She was very angry about this and did not want to carry her lunch box to school. I told her I woke up at six to prepare it for her. The very least she could do is carry it for herself. She relented, but I had lost my temper a bit.
After school, she ran off to play before washing the lunch boxes. (It happened to be her turn.) So when she came back at study time, I reminded her that she had forgotten to wash the dishes before going out to play (and also mentioned I had forgotten to remind her to wash them before going out) and I sent The Boy to study.
Now, she had in mind that he ought to help her dry them, although it was not dishwashing time–she had forgotten to wash dishes at dishwashing time or perhaps intentionally neglected doing them in order to avoid studying, and the consequence is that The Boy had other work.
She kept calling The Boy to help her until I finally had to raise my voice to tell her that he was studying. It was study time, and that was what he was going to do. Which scared The Boy.
So she put the dishes away wet. When I later saw this, I sent her back to dry them again. All of this took about 20 minutes. It does not take very long to wash and dry lunch boxes, but she spent a great deal of time trying to do something else.
She was again terribly surprised when The Boy’s study time finished but hers hadn’t, she had spent 20 minutes expressing her anger over not being allowed to control things–because, of course, this is really about control. The schedule helps make life predictable and safe for The Boy: there are no surprises. He knows terrible things won’t happen, even if it may be unpleasant to study math (for example), but it’s only for an hour and an hour ends. He knows what’s expected and how to be successful. This may eventually be true for The Girl. But she’s still in the stage of thinking the only way to make life predictable and safe is to control it herself, not realizing she can’t. We never have that kind of control over our lives.
I arrive at school at 8:15, because that is when the bell rings. I teach fourth grade, because this is what worked out for everyone concerned. I did not choose the students in my class. I teach them all, whether I like them or not, whether they are intelligent or not, whether they are well-mannered or little monsters. Math is my choice. Country X is my choice. We get some amount of control over our lives, but control cannot be our go-to method of coping with the unknown or with stress. Especially not here, where the electricity goes out unexpectedly, the stream of water inevitably disappears just when you want it, and where you are caught in a net of family which supports you but also places demands.
The morning was equally difficult and she packed her bags to leave. (She needed to go home to get her toothbrush anyway, but packed as though she did not plan to come back.) Which is what she does.
I used to think The Boy was much more damaged than she is, but I no longer believe that’s the case. They are damaged in different ways, and he has been with me longer and is probably also a bit more like me and so easier for me to understand, but I think the damage may be equal. Her way of coping with life will certainly not allow her to have anything resembling a supportive or helpful relationship. It’s not her fault, but she is old enough to begin to make some conscious decisions about this.
I know, perhaps, what she is doing. Because the internalized voice of the parent is so cruel, so harsh, so punitive and so unforgiving, she is striving to drive out that voice with the voice of a living person. However, her ability to mentalize is impaired both by a developmental delay and by the transferance of malignancy from the punitive voice in her head, and she does not know how to keep her interpretation of the motives of this exterior voice loving and compassionate and kind and present except through controlling their actions: The presumption being if I dictate someone’s actions, then I can also allow myself to believe I know the motives behind those actions.
Thus, she wanted help drying dishes not because she actually needs help, but because otherwise she is left with the cruelty of her own mind. Someone must be there to drown out herself, because herself is cruel, critical and hateful.
I do not actually have any idea what to do about this. I know, or think I know, what the underlying problem is, but I don’t know what you do about it. It must be the underlying problem for every abused child, but I don’t know what you do about it. I don’t know what I have done about it. I don’t hear that voice in words, but I know it is there from how I feel. I am working at becoming aware of people generally as intentional beings, including myself, in hopes that reality itself will modify the voice.
I don’t know.