I predicted that M would explode into emotion at some point after her therapist’s death. When it actually happened after she heard about her Dad’s impending second divorce, I nearly missed the opportunity to talk to her about how she was feeling.
My 7-year-olds share a room and each has her own lofted bed. Still, they sleep in the same bed most nights. Last night, after prayers, when they should have been settling in to sleep, they were still bickering.
“M kicked me!” J informed me.
“Only ’cause J punched me first.”
“There is no hitting or kicking in the family,” I reminded them.
“Sorry,” J apologized, almost convincingly.
“She punched me first!” countered M.
I stood firm. “You owe her an apology.”
“No ‘but’. No hitting”
“But it was because…,” M kept trying to defend herself.
“No because. No hitting. No excuses.”
“No ‘but’,” I insisted. “No excuses. We do not hit in this family for any reason. Use words or get help.”
“I hate this family!” M yelled.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I told her. “I love you.”
She’d escalated to a full-throated scream by this point. She turned on her sister. “Get. Out. Of. My. Bed.”
“But I’m already settled,” J tried to argue.
I tried to restore peace. “J, go ahead and go to your own bed. I can sleep with you.”
M was horrified. “Who’s going to sleep with me?”
“No one. You asked J to leave.”
“That’s not fair!” M took the default child position. “I want you to snuggle with me!”
“J may have been inappropriate at the start, but you’re the one making poor choices right now,” I explained. “This is a consequence.”
“I don’t feel loved,” M cried. “I don’t feel part of this family. I want to find another family.”
“Good luck finding a family that allows hitting and kicking and is still loving and safe,” I retorted. “I have these rules because I love you.”
I kissed both children good night and sat down on the couch to clear out the spam comments on this site before I tackled the Neverending Laundry Story. M’s words were echoing in my ears.
I don’t feel part of this family.
Realization hit all at once. She was upset about family. She was upset about Daddy’s divorce and confused about her standing with her stepmother and stepsisters. Her anger wasn’t directed at her sister, or even me, at all. We were the safe people in her life; she could act out with us. The family she didn’t feel part of was the bigger family, outside the safety of Mommy and Sissy.
I know that this is how M processes big emotions, with a massive explosion that makes way for her readiness to process things. Even knowing this, I almost missed it in the rush to bedtime, in my focus on M’s lack of self-discipline, in my quest for just treatment of my daughters.
I quite literally ran across the living room, down the hall, and into the girls’ room. They were both still awake.
“What?” J asked.
“I have to talk to M,” I told her. “I just realized something. Go to sleep, J Bear.”
I climbed into M’s bed and lowered my voice to speak to her.
“I’m so sorry, M. You’re upset about Daddy and Melissa’s divorce. Am I right?”
We talked and talked and talked. She told me about her confusion, her sadness, her anger. She told me that she was disappointed in her daddy. She told me she was embarrassed to tell her friends that she had two divorces. She told me that she didn’t think they gave their marriage enough time. She wondered why her stepmother hadn’t realized what Daddy’s being a soldier would mean before they got married. She wondered if her stepsisters would still love her. She wished her relatives weren’t all so far away. She wished people she loved who weren’t her relatives weren’t all so far away.
Maybe if people were allowed to marry 3 wives, she pondered, there wouldn’t need to be divorce. That way, Daddy could be married to me and Melissa and another person and would never have to be divorced. That way, she could still have a mom and stepmom and never have to know the word “divorce.”
She has more insight than she realizes.
Our discussion on her feelings of divorce slipped seamlessly into the other subject that’s been bothering her.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “This is all too much sadness for a little 7-year-old to deal with.”
“I’m not little!” she told me, offended.
“No, Mommy! I’m a normal 7-year-old girl, despite my looks.” (What? Your 7-year-old doesn’t use the word “despite” in regular conversation? Mine does.)
“What do you mean, ‘despite your looks’?” I asked, knowing full well what she meant.
“My kissy nose.”
“Are people still making rude comments?”
“Yes, but Mrs. H is reading Wonder to our class. It’s only for 5th graders and 4th graders and 3rd graders but Mrs. C [the principal] said Mrs. H could read it to our class.”
“I’ve heard great things about it.”
“It’s so good! The character has a funny face like me…”
We talked more. Auggie, M thought, would understand her if only her weren’t fictional. I suggested that perhaps the author understood her, but M wasn’t interested in pursuing that train of thought. Auggie had a big sister who beat people up when they teased him, “kind of like J! Daddy told me she beat someone up at Chick-Fil-A for laughing at me.” (They were 2 years old. A big kid pushed M off the slide in the playscape and J let him have it with all of her 18 lbs.)
“I’m not exactly like him, though,” M mused.
“He wishes he looked ordinary. I don’t want a different nose. I just want people not to tease me.”
“Some people scream when they see the character,” M told me.
“No one would do that to you.” I was relieved to have something positive to offer.
“But they scream with laughter.”
“That’s terrible. What should they do instead?”
“That should ask me! And I’ll tell them I was born this way! That’s all. That’s it. I’ll tell them it’s my kissy nose.”
I almost missed M’s call for help in the midst of the daily grind.