It was 9 am, and I was still in my jammies. Everything seemed stable, everyone fed, playing nicely, so I stole a moment to get dressed and splash my face with water… or at least I tried to.
Mid-pulling up my pants I heard the shrieking. Tess’s shriek is unmistakable. It’s a guttural wounding, and it’s also her knee-jerk reaction to her loss of control. It’s very loud. It’s not a natural cry. Someone else might think she was fatally wounded. But I know better, likely because I hear it every day. She has to work hard to cry like this, yet it comes so easily to her. It is her first line of defense. A natural offense when she feels she’s been wronged.
It’s all a contradiction in parenting.
Still pulling up my pants, with hairbrush in hand, I walked toward the noise, and I saw her… Tess in the fetal position, tears streaming, under the kitchen table, shrieking.
Tess had been rough with the boys earlier that morning. Jude is completely all consumed with the big boys, and Tess doesn’t always react well to sharing her bestie. In the midst of playing cars, a place the boys didn’t want a girl, she struck Jude in the head with a car. Boo came to Jude’s defense. And Tess knew she was in the wrong. But sharing one’s bestie isn’t easy stuff and as usually happens, I knew there would likely be additional repercussions to deal with. Tess knows how to hold a grudge. I was right, and about an hour later, there she was shrieking under the table.
I urged her to come to me. Come get some loving sweetheart.
No! she yelled at me.
Please come and cuddle with me, Tess.
Her words were resistant.
But her body was not, and I pulled her out from under the table and scooped her up and took her into my arms.
She was fighting me and giving in all at the same time.
I sat on the couch and cradled her, like a newborn, her head in the crook of my arm, tummy next to mine. Limbs extending in all directions.
This cradling position does not come naturally to our girl. What usually comes naturally to a child, we had to teach her, like how to be comforted when she’s hurt. She doesn’t naturally like or want physical or eye contact, especially when she’s upset and has lost control over the situation. Her brain searches for any way to get the upper hand.
So although she was resistant in words, she knew what to do and gave in.
Then something amazing happened, something new… she spontaneously told me what was wrong.
I want to be Boo’s best! He closed the door! I have tears! She pointed to her eyes and purposefully shut her eyes hard then opened them, repeating it to squeeze more tears out. Then she returned to her default coping mechanism, she put her fingers in her mouth, salivated on her lips and mouth. She cries.
This talking to me and telling me why she was upset was new! This hadn’t happened before. Not only does she often not have the vocabulary and communication skills to explain, but even if she did, she doesn’t want to risk being vulnerable. The physical contact of being comforted is often as much, or even too much for her to handle. These are the very real side effects of parenting the wounded child. So usually I am left to guess what’s wrong, have the other kiddos clue me in, and attempt to piece together the puzzle and figure out what’s in Tess’s head.
But this morning, still pants-less, she told me why she was upset, without assistance, without being prompted, and without hesitation.
This morning as she relaxed her body against mine, her eyes full of tears met mine, and surprisingly it was her knee jerk reaction to tell me what was wrong, and in doing so ask me to fix it. Most importantly, she became vulnerable.
God, thank you, for another ordinary miracle.
Still cradled in my arms, I repeated what she said to me.
Acknowledgement is powerful.
You want to be Boo’s best friend. He didn’t want you to play with him, and he closed the door to his room so you couldn’t come in. I’m so sorry, sweetheart.
She knew she has been heard.
She quickly sat up and spun her body around, and sat in my lap, facing outward. She stopped crying.
There is risk in exposing one’s self, and the new body position, facing out and facing away, is much more comfortable for her soul.
I still had my hairbrush in my hands. I began to brush her hair.
side note—Did your mom ever brush your hair? Far past the time that it needed to be brushed. The tangles long gone, and the rhythmic strokes of the brush against your head felt like bliss.
So I brushed her hair for as long as she let me. It’s physical contact that’s not direct but still stimulates. And the brush strokes seemed to melt away her fear and sadness, her sweet smile came back.
Mimi toddled up. We brushed her hair too.
Tess offered to brush my hair. At 9am, there were still lots of tangles still. She was ok hearing my ouch and redirection to be gentle.
About 30 minutes later, she came up to me.
I think Boo is my bestie now. High five?
And she offered me her hand up in the air, so I gave it a slap and maybe more importantly a smile as our eyes met.
Yes, Tess, all’s good.
We’ll keep doing it together.
These are the baby steps of parenting the wounded child