I’ve been quiet for a couple weeks around here. We adopted a new baby dog, and I thought I’d just jot down the story for you the day after we brought her home. Instead, Giant Feelings swallowed me whole with their gaping maws, and it’s taken me this long to figure out where they came from and why telling you about a Tiny Puppy overwhelmed me completely.
I’m still a little paralyzed, to be honest. I’ve combated that in the usual ways — eating cookie dough in bed, scrolling endlessly through the Book of Faces, reorganizing chore charts so I can have a more accurate record of everything we never get done, rearranging furniture, reading trashy novels, and binge watching Harlots and Good Girls, not that there’s a theme there or anything.
But I’ve realized a large part of my hesitation in telling you this story is that it’s not all mine to tell. In fact, I don’t know if you’ll ever see this post because this is one for which I’ll have to ask permission, and I don’t have any idea how the child it references will feel about it. It’s good for me to write anyway because I can’t usually work out my feelings until they appear on screen; there’s something about the mechanics of brain to fingertips to keyboard that acts as a translator for my heart. Maybe it’s the pauses between words that let me think more clearly; I’ve always found there’s more depth and meaning in the gaps and spaces of life than we give them credit for. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m forced into a discipline of sitting quietly and thinking actively that lets me unlock part of my core I can’t otherwise access. I dunno, friends. It’s a mystery.
There are times in parenting that are like little deaths both because they slay your heart completely and because you have to die to your basest instinct to Control the Shit Out of a Situation That Is Causing Your Child Pain and instead provide leadership and kindness and gentleness and guidance so they can slay their own dragons.
Here’s the problem: one of my twins, who are 12 years old at the moment, is very, very, very extra much like his mother, which is wonderful when it comes to being compassionate to others, and fighting for justice, and being unapologetically, outrageously himself, and is terrible when it comes to mental health and anxiety and depression. And a year ago the latter surfaced in him in all its angsty, consuming glory.
Y’all, it is SOMETHING to watch a dragon you’ve fought for years and years and years and years sidestep you and make for your kid. It is SOMETHING to stand there in the mangled armor you’ve acquired with your dented sword by your side and see your vulnerable kid targeted only to find you can’t throw yourself in the dragon’s path and save him from contending with it himself. It is SOMETHING to be forced to the sidelines, in the role of coach instead of Dragon Slayer, and to try to spot under which bushes and around which corners your kid might find his own armor so you can holler at him to pick them up — please, please be willing to pick the tools you need — so he’ll have a shot at overcoming the beast.
And you KNOW that he’s capable. You KNOW that he can develop the strength to fight. You KNOW there’s a light at the end of the tunnel he finds himself in. You KNOW he’s not alone because you’re there, always and forever. But, also, until he fights, you DO NOT KNOW. You DO NOT KNOW that he will survive this. You DO NOT KNOW whether this is the one event or season that begins a downward cycle into depression and self-harm. You DO NOT KNOW if THIS is how he ends up trying meth or liquoring up or on prescription opioids to try to dull his pain. You DO NOT KNOW if this is a phase or if he will end up spiraling and shattering and if you will spiral and shatter with him.
Here’s all you do know while you’re in the midst of it: your child is in pain, and you’re trying, and he’s trying, but you’re not sure if what you’re doing is helping at all.
You’re trying everything you can think of. Counseling. Talking. Being open to feelings. Creating a relationship of trust. Researching Childhood Anxiety on the Google. Sharing Tiny Bits with Trusted Friends to see if they know something you don’t.
It seems endless, of course, because while you believe in the light at the end of the tunnel, you can’t see it yet, so you have to take it on faith — and memory — that it’s there and you will arrive at it eventually. And no one provides a timeline for you, so it’s like running a marathon when you can’t count on crossing the finish line at 26.2 miles. It’s like running a marathon that may turn out to be a 5K (surprise! hooray!) or an ultramarathon which is 100 miles when, let’s be honest, you only trained to 10.
It’s like All of Life, I suppose, except it’s your kid this time and not you, so pppttttffffffff… impossible.
Last summer was frightening. My kid was falling all the way apart, and watching a small human who owns my whole heart — who is smart and compassionate and funny and wise — flounder was agonizing. Overpowering.
I practiced compassion all summer. There were tears and outbursts. A lot of catastrophizing. A lot of talking through our feelings because preadolescence and huge hormone shifts plus a changing body and a wonky brain are a lot to work through. A LOT, a lot. And there was much apologizing on my part when I forgot those things and snapped too quickly, or expressed exasperation at my child acting like a child, or laid blame instead of sowing kindness.
Last year we were grieving together. The loss of church. The loss of a structure we thought we could rely on. The loss of people we thought had our backs and would welcome and include us unconditionally. The loss of my kids’ camps. Their safe and happy places. Last year was All New for us. It was abrupt. We didn’t see it coming. We felt adrift. And like any death, we had to discover who we are now with the irrevocable changes loss brings. Add to that entering middle school. And mental health challenges. And it was a dark place for him. A dark and lonely time.
We sought professional help, and counseling was good. We sought new friend groups and new camps, and those were good. We sat with our anxieties. We spent a lot of time being as gentle as possible with each other and tried to be gentle with ourselves, too. We learned to better trust our guts — to listen and to opt in or out of things faster, based on what our guts were telling us. We learned to never, ever make decisions after dark, but to always wait for dawn and examine our fears by the light of day.
And things got better.
Imperceptibly at first.
But eventually, after months, immeasurably.
He found his way to musical theater, and he learned to be confident in his clear, bright voice.
He found his way to friends who have his back and accept his quirks like he accepts theirs.
He learned middle school is survivable and fine, but he also quit middle school after trying it for a semester, because he wants more than “fine” and “survivable” in life, and I want that for him, too. He has a new plan now, and a new supervising teacher, and is flying through his curriculum joyfully and at the rapid pace he prefers.
The anxiety is still there, but it’s no longer all-consuming. We can see the dragon breathing smoke from its cave and poking its head out from time to time, but he hasn’t charged us for a while. Not outright, anyway. It’s sort of menacing from a distance. It’s become… manageable.
In the meantime, this kid’s twin has become more independent. There’s no resentment there. These boys are polar opposites and bonded brothers. Both/And. They’ll defend each other to the death, but they — especially the introverted one who doesn’t struggle with anxiety — wanted time apart, too, so, for the first time, they have separate bedrooms and no longer crawl in bed with each other when they’re scared.
So things are better, yeah? Better than they were. And also, it’s pretty rough when you’re an extrovert who’s always had a companion — an extrovert who’s prone to anxiety — to face the night alone. To face the days without someone to talk to and snuggle with and love on. To lose, in some ways, the warm presence at your side who’s always eased that nervousness and quieted that voice.
I stayed up late a few weeks ago, looking and looking and looking online for a new companion for my boy. You know, someone who might bark at the dragon and help keep it at bay.
And not to sound too woo-woo here, but when I saw her, I knew, and I emailed the rescue organization at 1am, and I took my baby to see if this might be his baby the next day.
This little one’s story is not so hot, either. She was tossed over a fence into the yard of a pit bull rescue in Southern California when she was just a few weeks old. Not the easiest start in life, I think we can agree. Fortunately, the other dogs didn’t decide she was breakfast, and she was scooped out of there and sent to Oregon to find her forever home. She met my boy,
and she decided he was hers,
following him and snuggling him and chewing on his fingers with her little needle teeth, which we’ve been having little chats about.
We brought her home, and the very first night, even though she’s still just a baby, she found a crook of his body to sleep in — behind his knees or in front of his belly or next to his neck — and slept the whole night through. As though she knew she was home. Safe and sound. And with her new pack.
He named her Nyx, after the Greek primordial goddess of Night, a daughter of the Greek god Chaos, and the mother of Light and Day, which is perfect because she waits with my boy through the night, reminding him he’s not alone. And she brings the joy and happiness that banishes the fears. The fears of the night hold no sway when you’re not alone, after all. Darkness holds no sway once you remember the dawn is coming.
Waving in the dark, friends,
P.S. We took Nyx camping last weekend for the first time. She was ADORABLE. Also, she pooped the tent. Not a little bit. Like, she pooped the WHOLE TENT with liquidy, soft poopies, and then she WALKED IN IT and spread it everywhere. Never have I EVER seen so much diarrhea shrapnel. Maybe when my babies were tinies. MAYBE. But the sheer quantity of poopies this tiny one can produce is MIRACULOUS, y’all. Stunning. A force of nature. And my children will never, ever sneak her bites of Dairy Queen ice cream ever again. Not after the poopy prints decorating their sleeping bags and pillows and backpacks and socks and water bottles and pants and shoes and ev-er-y other item they brought with them. #LessonLearned #🤮 #FitsRightIn #GoodThingShesCute #SrslyThoSOCUTE
P.P.S. Did you know I run a small number of retreats each year? I do! One of my very, very favorite things to do is hang out with members of our incredible, worldwide community and offer rest and respite from our regular lives. I would LOVE to have you join me.
Or, if you want to head straight to the registration pages, you can register via my farm website, CAIRNS FARM:
- November 7-10, 2019 — click here
- March 5-8, 2020 — click here
- November 5-8, 2020 — click here
- All Retreats and Adventures — click here