Last night was not pretty in our family. There wasn’t anything big, but the little stuff infused with exhaustion, emotion, and an 11 year-old’s lack of understanding. Let me tell you about it:
Things were good. The whole family was home after activities, including a friend of Libby’s (my older daughter). The girls ate dinner (healthy actually–a really good, veggie filled salad), and I went for a walk with a friend to relieve her stress at her kids. Yes, it happens to us all, and a good friend will be there for the moment when you want to sell your kids to the highest bidder (obviously not really, for those that miss tongue-in-cheek ramblings or don’t have kids). We walked then sat with a glass of wine.
When I got home, the friend was gone and my younger daughter, Katy, reminded me that she had a hand full of splinters from camp that day. For those that don’t know, Katy has Down syndrome, and the only reason that matters is because she gets a little anxious with things aren’t quite ‘normal’ (when are things NORMAL?) in our world. We soaked it in salt water and then I held her in my lap while Ted got the tweezers and went to work. They were not deep splinters, but she was worried. Libby and and sang to her, she thrashed, but the splinters were out within a matter of minutes. It was stress to her, but that was stress that was unavoidable–the splinters had to come out.
Ten minutes later I was looking for my phone, asking my husband to call the phone. He started to give me a hard time about misplacing my phone, I got a little angry about his teasing, he got a little testy. He’s got a loud voice, so sometimes he seems like he’s shouting when he’s not. But I didn’t want it to turn into more, so I said I was just going to leave (meaning take a walk).
I think my 11 year-old recently read a book about a divorced family. That’s my only explanation for how hard this hit her. She got really upset and started to cry. “Dad, don’t yell at Mom. Mom, don’t leave!”
We explained it all to her (No one was going anywhere. If I left it would be for a walk, not for good. And Daddy wasn’t yelling, and we weren’t really fighting. And sometimes arguments happen, but we always work it out and we love each other a lot.).
And then we all had a little ice cream. Because stressed spelled backwards is desserts.
This whole incident got me thinking about the stresses we put our kids through inadvertently.
They see everything : the driving stress, the work stress (both of us work for home), the family stress, the marriage stress. There are stresses we can’t avoid and they have to live through (splinters), and there is stress that we should avoid and not put our kids through (silly arguments over nothing). Our life is good, but not stress-free. We worry about money, we worry about health, we worry about our kids education. But we should try to keep these away from our kids as much as possible. That’s essentially a parent’s job: to let their children know that they are safed, loved, and sheltered. Stress is going to happen, they don’t need all the adult stress to worry about as well.
So we’ll try to keep our bickering in front of the kids to a minimum. I mean, we’re not perfect, and they need to know that sometimes adults argue and that no relationship can be — or should be — argument free, but we can try to keep the louder ones to a minimum. And say things like, “I’m gonna go for a walk” rather than, “I’m leaving!”
There will be enough stress for them that they can’t avoid. School, friends, boys, clothes, sports. So I will try to keep our stresses out of their lives as much as possible. It’s the least I can do.
I read a lot more YA than I should. Sometimes it’s because it’s a quick, easy, well-written read, sometimes it’s to see if my 11 year-old daughter is mature enough for the book. Some books I finish and roll my eyes because of the simplistic sketch of life. Those books rarely make it to my review page. But lately the books (YA or even middle grade books) delve into deeper societal issues and show us how it looks from a different perspective.
The Impossible Knife of Memory is one of those books.
If you took Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel and whittled it down to its most basics, it would be just another YA book. Outsider girl, slightly outsider boy. Troubled families. They meet and fall in love. They each, as well as their relationship, face some difficulties, but they get through them and come out stronger people with a deep love for each other.
Luckily for us there is more to the story than that.
Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road for the past five years, living the life of vagabonds. Andy suffers from PTSD as a result of his time in Iraq, and staying in one place for too long is just too much for him. But Andy isn’t the only one affected by his disorder.
When Andy decides it’s time to settle down, at least for Hayley’s senior year, he takes her back to his hometown and the house he grew up in. But Hayley’s knowledge of school social rules are fuzzy, and her education spotty. She is befriended by Gracie, the girl down the road, who remembers Hayley from early childhood, a time when Hayley lived with her grandmother after her mother died, while her father was still in Iraq. Hayley has chosen to forget those happy memories, and others, too, as a coping mechanism.
Gracie introduces Hayley to Finn, an cute, incredibly intelligent boy with troubles of his own. With a network of friends that won’t let her go, Hayley carefully navigates the mine-field of her father’s PTSD, sometimes not too successfully, but always with love.
Hayley, and to a lesser extent Finn, show us what stresses our adult troubles heap on kids. Hayley suffers from her own PTSD, one earned through the death of her mother and grandmother and the abandonment of a mother-figure, before hitting the road with her paranoid, psychologically-scarred father. Hayley comes to realize that there are people who will help, and taking the outstretched hand won’t always lead to heartache.
This book is well worth reading, if only to make you stop and think about what ‘those’ kids (you know, those kids who seem out of touch with society and sneer at authority) might be going through.