Yes, she’s 12, so she is an emotional thermometer that can go from hot to cold faster than Michael Phelps can swim a 25 (that’s one length, for you non-swimmers). But she mostly runs to the cool side, which makes life a little easier.
Case in point: Last week, a family member was visiting, and this person is going through a tough time. This person deals with a large dose of anxiety and maybe some OCD as well as some depression. After a life shake up, these things have been exacerbated, which is why this person was visiting in the first place.
This time it was bad. It was very scary, and I was a little worried about my daughters — not for their physical beings, but for what they were seeing and experiencing. It was a spiraling, nerve-wracking week, and it at that moment that I realized how unequipped I am to deal with many things.
Because of the time and the toll of helping this person, my own coping mechanisms were taking away. These are the ways I cope with the normal anxiety and worry I feel in my life–usually for family and friends, but also for myself at times. I exercise, I write, I read. Sometimes I bathe. And sometimes I do the big no-no, and have a glass or two of wine.
I could do none of these.
This last week my husband and I did a lot of listening and a lot of counseling that went mostly unheeded. We zigged and zagged around the pacing. We sat through endless variations of the same three conversations, and got frustrated when our advice and our ideas were shot down, and then we listened to the same conversations again, individually and together.
We dealt with the selfishness of mental illness, or maybe it was just the selfishness of this one person. I’m not sure, I haven’t been this close to mental illness before, but this person didn’t see how much space and time he was consuming, or how much time he was taking away from my kids, our family. It was okay for a short while, but we had to draw the line (we’re still there for this person, as long as professional help is involved, but we can’t have it here as it is), and that was hard, because I knew this person was hurting. I also knew that my young people and my marriage had to come first.
After this person left, we sat down and had various conversations with the girls, especially our older daughter. We talked about mental illness and dark thoughts. We explained how she had to tell us if she ever had dark thoughts (PLEASE talk to us!), and how important it was to get help early if those dark ideas start to crop up. We talked about suicide and how there are a lot of interventions that can help before it gets to that.
We talked about bullying and shaming, and how she should never participate in it, and how she needs to tell someone if it is happening to her or anyone else.
We talked about this relative’s visit, and asked her if she had any questions about what had gone on. All she really knew, she said, was that it was really hard on us. “The best thing for me right now is that I’m 12, and I can avoid the drama by hiding in my room. Adults have to stay and talk.”
Now, I don’t advocate hiding in your room for all of life’s tragedies and theatrics. But she’s 12, and avoiding this drama was the best solution. She didn’t need to be exposed to this kind of family tension.
It is beautiful to me that she seems to know how to avoid life’s melodramas as much as possible. She’s in 7th grade, so her life isn’t drama free, but she’s been that kid since elementary school that steps away from the tension. I don’t know if you know this, but girls can be melodramatic from an early age. I have been thankful for her ability to (mostly) stay outside the fray of the histrionics.
She’s not all balance and peace, of course, because she’s a CHILD (and she’s not the next incarnation of the Dali Lama). She gets mad at her sister. She cries when she’s hurt, physically and emotionally. She gets frustrated when things don’t go her way. She HATES it when she doesn’t swim well, and we’re working on finding the Zen in those moments.
But the way she walks away from the drama she CAN walk away from is heartening.
I hope this is a talent she cultivates and keeps in her arsenal, along with humility and hard work. She needs to know that sometimes sides need to be taken and that there are fights that need to be fought, but there are more times when it’s even more beneficial (to herself and her cause) to leave the fray.
My job is to help her on this path. I hope I’m helping keep her balanced and in the path of peace and light.
Okay, onto a book that has become a go-to recommendation: Meg Mitchell Moore’s The Admissions.
The Hawthorns seem to have it all. Nora and Gabe have three beautiful daughters as well as fulfilling careers of their own. Eldest daughter Angela is ultra-bright and driven, working hard to get into Harvard and unwilling to think that it might not happen. Cecily, the middle daughter, is a gifted and inspiring Irish dancer, happy and easy going in other aspects of her life. And Maya, the baby of the family, is eight and going with the wind. Nora is a California realtor catering to high end clients, and Gabe is one of the most trusted members of a high flying high tech firm. The Hawthorns are the peak of perfection.
But the earthquakes of perfection are starting to shake the Hawthorn perfection mountain. Angela’s attention to her school work is being undermined by the cute baseball player in her English class. Cecily’s brilliant dancing may not translate to dancing with a team. Maya is eight years old and still can’t read. Nora’s high end listing that she’s had for months is about ready to bail, and another client is upset about an endangered plant. And Gabe’s unaware of his family’s problems as he deals with a secret at work that may be exposed at any moment.
When the earth under the Hawthorn’s mountain starts to shift, the whole family starts to crumble. Can the family withstand it when things aren’t so perfect for the perfect family?
Every family builds up a facade, just some facades are better than others, and some families are stronger than others.
The Admissions is a look at a family that wants to be perfect, that thinks of themselves as nearly perfect, individually and as a collective. When that perception is fractured, this is what happens. And how it happens.
This is one of my favorite books of the fall. It made me think about the pressures we put on our kids, our partners, and ourselves. And it made me pull back a bit on everything.
The need to be special drives the Hawthorns, but it’s their fallibility and frailty that makes the reader love them. Their every family I know, the suburban family with a need to succeed and to give their kids the best, even the best might hurt them.
I give The Admissions one 4.5 stars. It’s a great book for the fall, putting the school year and our own careers into perspective.