Continued from Part Two…
So there Arnie and I sat every Thursday at 11:15 discussing the seemingly mundane details of our home life with someone I was sure couldn’t relate to us on any level. Being a therapist of course she didn’t share any personal details of her own life. But, from what we could gather and using completely baseless stereotypes this is the picture we had painted of Dr. S: she lived in the local liberal college town with her husband who was either a professor, a spoon player in a grass-roots type jug band that only played gigs for fundraisers for the environment, or raised alpacas and grew organic vegetables on a chemical-free farm outside of town. She also belonged to organizations like PETA and Greenpeace, owned 2 cats, wore Birkenstocks outside of work and her house was powered by solar energy. Oh, and based on some of her suggestions we were pretty sure she had never given birth. The only thing that we assumed we had in common was our wanting nothing but the best for Drew. That and she and I were pretty much curly hair twins which was actually kind of comforting. It’s not that Arnie and I hate organic veggies, jug bands or cats, it’s just that we were fairly certain we lived in two different worlds. (Okay, we really are dog people more than cat people.)
Despite this we thought Dr. S was a very nice lady, we liked her very much and we hoped that she liked us. We had nothing to hide, felt like we were a pretty happy family and a strong couple and so our lives were an open book to her. We let her in on every detail she wanted to know. Although the beginning of our sessions were usually pretty irksome. Dr. S: “So…. how’s everything?” Arnie and I would look at each other as if we were passing some silent information back and forth. A quick scan into the windows of our souls, a gut check to make sure we were okay. A: “Fine.” Me: “Good.” Dr. S: “Uh huh….. uh huh.” Silent staring across the round table ensued as well as lots of uncomfortable nodding. It made me wonder what she would do if, instead of saying everything was fine, I blurted out, “I’m SO glad you asked Dr. S! I can’t take it anymore!!! I’m on the edge and can’t step away!!!” But, we didn’t know her well enough to mess with her.. yet. Finally, Dr. S would ask a more specific question or bring up something going on in school. At first it was very serious because serious things were going on with Drew. His anger was coming to a head and his alter ego, who we loving referred to as “Mr. Furious”, was making his presence known more often in the classroom, in a BIG way. This is where we took a leap of faith.
Even though Arnie and I came to the LD Center asking for help, we didn’t always agree with their methods 100% but we decided to give it our best shot and go through the process with an open mind. Their “letting the genie out of the bottle” theory seemed like lunacy to us. And it was resulting in behaviors we had never seen in our boy- hitting, kicking, biting, spitting. I was ready to call a priest to perform an exorcism on our dear son. Instead, Dr. S pleaded with us to stick it out and give it time. The beginning was going to be messy. Much like cleaning out a closet, you have to get all the crap out and make an enormous shit pile before you can sort it and put it back in an organized way. She reminded us that we had come to THEM for help and the reason was we had exhausted all our options and knowledge of how to handle Drew. She promised it would get better. It didn’t. Not as quickly as I would have liked, that is. Although, the interesting thing about the process is that when Drew left school, he also left Mr. Furious behind. Sure, we had our moments at home just like always. But, the extreme nature of his outbursts were confined to the classroom. Dr. S had told us to expect that. She reassured us that he knew he was safe at LD, that he knew he could “bring it” there and they would handle him in a gentle and understanding way no matter what. A couple of months went by and we began to see improvement. Drew was having fewer outbursts and he was asking to call us less frequently.
Did I tell you about the phone calls? Oh yeah, those. Calling one or the other parent however many times a day is a practice they engaged in because they felt it was important for the children to feel connected to their parents as they were going through this confusing time. I understood that completely and of course was always happy to take the calls. But often the sounds I heard on the other end of the phone (mostly from the other kids) were so upsetting that I had a hard time holding it together enough to reassure Drew that yes, Arnie and I loved him very much and always would. Sometimes I would hang up the phone from one of those calls after Drew was sufficiently settled, lock myself in my bathroom and sob. (Of course I took the phone with me just in case he needed to call back.) Not great mommy moments. My heart broke for our boy. As much as I was grateful for the school and their expertise, I hated that he was there.
At least, as I said, he was making progress. Our faith in the process was growing, even if we felt like some of the strategies were ridiculous and flew in the face of everything we believed as parents. For example, I have a temper. I can’t help it. It’s in my DNA. Obviously, being yelled at was not working with Drew. They implored me to try a different approach. My patience was tested at every turn. Instead of being stern I had to gently hold my out of control child who was screaming at ME and tell him that I “heard his message”, that I understood he was having a “big feeling” and that I was there for him, loved him and wanted him to be calm so he didn’t hurt himself or anybody else. That was SO not me but Dr. S once told us “You’re the adults. You have to step out of the tornado and stop it, not keep it spinning until everyone is out of control.” Damn it! I hate when people remind me I’M the one who has to be the grown-up. We quickly realized that how we parented Drew had to be adjusted for what he needed, not the other way around. He wasn’t going to fit into our “box”, so we had to do what worked for him. Putting her suggestions into practice and seeing positive results in Drew over time went a long way in developing our bond with Dr. S and the school.
That being said, there were times when Arnie and I literally rolled our eyes. Dr. S was obviously a big believer in the Freudian stages of development. Naturally, she felt Drew was stuck in the phallic stage. Arnie and I got a HUGE (stiff, throbbing) kick out of all the ways she supported her theory. His Lego creations were always tall buildings or enormous rockets. “He’s asserting himself as a male and what could do that better than a long, powerful rocket?” Wow. I should really do Part 3 as a video blog so I could show you the hand gestures that went along with Dr. S’s assertions. They were quite… graphic. Arnie and I frequently pinched each other under the table and I had been known to bend down to fish a piece of gum out of my purse on the floor during these discussions so Dr. S couldn’t see me trying to stifle juvenile laughter.
We did joke with her, it’s who we are. And we usually didn’t pull any punches when we didn’t agree with something she said. For instance, she once showed us a drawing Drew had done of a big, tall, lighthouse with a window about 3/4 of the way up. Dr. S told us she thought it was unusual for him to include a window in the lighthouse and thought it was Drew trying to say that he wanted people to SEE him, see inside him for the good boy he is. Totally deadpan, Arnie looked at Dr. S and said, “Yeah, yeah… that could be. Either that or he’s drawing a picture of the lighthouse we saw while on vacation in the Outer Banks last week that looked EXACTLY like that.” At least Dr. S admitted that might be it, even if she didn’t back down from her original assessment.
Months went by and as things started to calm down, we developed an easy rapport with Dr. S. As a matter of fact, the receptionist who was posted at the front of the LD Center told me that she could hear us all laughing from behind Dr. S’s closed door at the end of the hall. (She also said that doesn’t happen very often so… gold star for us!) We were steps away from singing Kumbaya with the crunchy Dr. when the incident where Drew pooped on the boat happened. (If you haven’t read it yet, here’s the blow by blow: https://laughingmama.wordpress.com/2010/01/07/pooprainbow/.) As we recounted the incident, I had never seen anybody scribble in a notepad faster than she did. The look on her face said it all. To call it a “shocked expression” would be the understatement of the century. It bordered on horror, pity (for Drew) and excitement. I say excitement because this was the type of childhood trauma that could haunt a kid for years. In her mind, we just gave Drew a reason to need therapy until he was 18. She wasn’t so sure about us after that.
At this point I think it’s important to explain something about my husband. He’s a fire starter. By that I mean, he likes to screw with people. He finds a hot button and pushes it, repeatedly, until you end up in a corner mumbling to yourself. Okay, he’s not that bad, but he is a tease and does like to stir up trouble. That’s why he took particular delight in telling her, after one trip to the mountains to visit his family, we let Drew fire a real, live shotgun at a can in the woods. Let me also reiterate something I’ve said before- my husband is a safety engineer, not a hillbilly, and would never do anything stupid or foolish with our kids. This is not one of those stories that starts out “Well, we were in the back of the pick-up truck gettin’ drunk one night…”. None of that mattered to Dr. S right then. I didn’t think our therapist could get any more pale than she already was… but then we put the words “shotgun” and “Drew” together. Her face was ashen.
And then there was the time we bought our new (to us but very used) boat. Seeing as how Dr. S was sure any mention of boats, canoes, kayaks, lakes or water of any kind would forever be tied to the pooping on the boat incident and would therefore scar Drew emotionally, Arnie couldn’t wait to tell her! She was less than enthusiastic about the idea. Our offer to have her aboard one weekend to go tubing with Drew to see how much he loved it was politely declined. Although, that might have had more to do with our very detailed description of the mold, rot and roaches (yes, roaches) we found once we purchased the boat. We might have exaggerated its condition slightly (although there really were roaches), but when you’re getting financial help from people you don’t want them thinking you’re going around purchasing yachts.
I do have to give Dr. S props too, though. Sometimes she turned the tables on us and left us speechless. Like the time she suggested we tell Drew, who was 6 at the time, about the birds and the bees. I guess she felt like he was still too preoccupied with his penis and needed to be informed of its actual purpose before he did something stupid with it. I contended that learning its actual purpose would ENSURE he would do something stupid with it. After a round of “Let me tell you how many ways this is a bad idea”, I posed this question to her, “Can I give out your number to the moms that will be calling us after Drew has humped their daughter?”. Dr. S conceded that simply talking to Drew about self-love being acceptable in private would be a good compromise. She and I were kind of amused to suddenly see the “fire starter” fizzle out when faced with the thought of discussing masturbation with his 6-year-old. He was the one who was pale after that meeting.
The fact that we had moved into a comfortable relationship with Dr. S directly coincided with the great progress Drew was making. He had finished his first year and very easily transitioned into year two since most of the children were returning and his teachers were going to be the same. There were more good moments with Drew than worrisome and at times he spoke like a child well beyond his years with a certain wisdom and insight into his feelings most adults would be jealous of. It made me wonder what life would be like for us outside of the LD Center walls.