Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Salvador Son's request... no, demand... that Helen Heroine be a proper parent brought many things to mind. Greta Guilttrip told Helen she should have taken action long ago. Greta had lots of opinions!
Helen could only deal in the present, despite the weight Greta laid on her. Helen was a "project" person, she treated this no differently than she did her work projects: she threw herself into it with zeal. There was no thought to how much of her own energy and time would be expended.
She asked after the best practice specializing in Salvador's "label" in the city and found one that would treat an adolescent. And Helen then became a student of what the professionals had to tell her and her son.
Helen liked Dr. Special. He didn't pull punches. He frankly told Salvador son that while there was no "cure", Salvador could in fact make himself feel better. He prescribed physical therapy and recommended hiring a personal trainer and getting regular exercise. He handed Helen a referral for a talk therapist, to deal with the adjustment to Salvador's diagnosis.
Helen busily made the appointments for physical therapy and they gave that a try. The appointments were before Helen's already long work day. Helen set something up with the talk therapist, Betty Balance. Therapy, like medical treatment, was against Helen's religion. Helen decided to go to the first meeting alone.
Betty welcomed Helen to her office. Betty had been briefed by Dr. Special on the situation, but asked Helen to give her the description. What Helen ended up blurting out was essentially: "I don't know who needs therapy worse, the mother or the son!" And she went through half a box of tissues.
The next week Betty met with Salvador. When Harried came to town for the holidays, Helen and Harried went to talk to Betty Balance together. She was able to see how they interacted.
Harried left again, and Helen went back to see Betty. After these initial meetings, Betty gave Helen her thoughts: "Salvador is a bright kid. He will figure this out. I think the best thing I can do to help him is to help you."
Helen became the patient. Betty would ask a question or two. She would offer some service or information source about Salvador's condition, ideas to help it. But she also put the focus on one single issue: "What are you doing to manage your own stress?"
Helen sat up. Um... the automatic answer was supposed to be prayer, yeah. But seriously, church had become one more thing on her to-do list, and a demanding one at that. Betty did not judge, but commented, "Most people of faith find that helps them."
Helen continued her list of things that helped her manage stress. Helen realized that the list she had to offer was a list of things she USED to do... she wasn't doing ANY of them now! Betty suggested that Helen try to remember what it was like to be six years old, and give herself permission to act that way.
Over the next eight months or so, that's just what Helen did! She started doing things again: taking walks at noon. Getting outside more often. Eating a healthier diet. She rediscovered her public library and started reading things just for fun on her lunch break.
And Salvador? He wanted to drop the physical therapy, and Helen let him. He retreated into the lower level of the house, his own space, and played video games. He still didn't crack a school book. But he looked things up on line and read up on his diagnosed condition.
As Salvador came up with strategies to try (or as Betty would suggest them), Helen supported Salvador's choices. Among them were a chiropractor (tried, didn't help a whole lot) and a scheme to eliminate certain substances from his environment (seemed to help some, but not a whole lot, and hard to implement).
Betty gently probed Helen's feelings about Harried coming and going from her life. Betty helped Helen recognize a whole lot of other emotional elements going on in her life: anger, resentment, and a desire to control Harried's actions. Which of course, those of you healthy folks reading know is just crazy... you can't control the behavior of someone else!
Helen decided to leave the church when she realized two things: that she wasn't following its teachings, and that these things outside its teachings (doctors and therapy) were actually helpful to her! Betty was concerned that leaving this large part of Helen's life behind might cause a problem, but Helen felt free. She spent Sunday mornings walking the dog in a nearby park and felt as close to God as she ever had, maybe more. She worked her way through anger issues with God Himself, with the church, with her dad, with the way she was raised... finally able to admit that anger was there!
Helen felt good and did not want to lose this progress. When Harried started to discuss returning, it frightened Helen. She admitted to herself she wasn't sure she wanted him back. Especially if he didn't make a few changes to handle his own issues. Oh, yes, the desire to control was still there!
... to be continued ...
Monday, November 22, 2010
The doctor had asked Salvador Son why he wasn't going to school. Sitting in that doctor's office, Helen Heroine wanted to pick the mild-mannered man up by his white coat lapels and shake him. Her mind wanted to yell: "Can't you see how desperate I am? I wouldn't BE here if my son could function!" But of course, she didn't.
Helen's concerns about her own health flew right out the window in her concern for her child. Harried Husband was angry from a distance; he thought Helen just wasn't being a tough enough parent about the school issue. He got himself out to Hometown from Oldtown in short order to make things right.
He had no better success than had Helen. The next year was a matter of one test after another, trying to find the culprit. Harried was NOT going to accept the answer one doctor suggested: "depression". Helen had her doubts. They kept hunting.
To complicate matters, Helen's Dad went downhill. Helen's dad was a strong member of the faith, having converted in his youth. He did not believe in doctors. But he clearly was failing. Since Helen was the only one of the five siblings still with the faith, she was elected by her sisters and brother to "take care" of the situation with their dad.
Helen was torn between two worlds. She made decisions for her dad based on his beliefs. But she felt forced to make opposite decisions for her son, since the faith was failing him. This in turn made her wonder about the decisions she was making for her dad.
In October, her dad passed on. Harried felt he had to go back to the house in Oldtown. Harried and Helen made a tough decision. They didn't like having to do this, but they decided that Harried should take Salvador back and stay in Oldtown, in the hopes that Salvador would do better there.
Salvador was better for a few weeks but started to fail again as the time wore on. More doctors. More missing answers. At the end of ten months, they gave his condition a label. It was probably a label of last resort, Helen and Salvador agreed later, since the parents would not accept what was likely the real diagnosis!
The label gave Salvador the option for an Individualized Education Plan. But he really did not want to be "special ed". Helen signed him up for a remote education plan at the university high school in Hometown, explaining that he was going back and forth between two states. She and Harried then could say he was home schooling. The truth of the matter was, he never cracked a book.
Salvador, now 16, made a decision for himself. He decided he needed a parent to make some of these decisions for him! He chose Helen as that parent, and frankly told her so. He came back to Hometown to live with his mom after a year in Oldtown with his dad.
Helen had her marching orders... she had to step up to the plate and be a parent, a real parent, for Salvador.
... to be continued...
Sunday, November 21, 2010
"The world is a dangerous place. It will jump up and bite you." That was the major lesson Harried learned from his life.
Growing up, his mother delighted in reading out "awful" stories from the newspaper or sharing what she heard on the radio. Babies dropped out of tall buildings in "The City". That sort of thing.
His dad shared this world view, perhaps that was where Harried picked it up. His dad would not let his sons use the power mower, for example, even into their teens. It was too dangerous.
This belief was reinforced by the disappointments of his young life, that made a huge impact on his world view. The hurricane that flooded his family out of their home when he was ten contributed. The time he rehearsed with the church choir for a Christmas program, but then the people who had been giving him a ride to rehearsals didn't give him a ride to perform, and he was kicked out of the choir.
It was reinforced when he found himself surrounded by children who were a closed group, bonded over their religion, which was different from his, in the new neighborhood (where they moved after the flood). It was reinforced when the neighborhood started to change in color and that bonded group fled to the suburbs. By the time he was supposed to go to high school, his inner city school was a nightmare.
He stopped going to school, withdrawing from life. Eventually this resulted in a visit from the truant officer. Even his health failed him: he had terrible headaches, and pains in his legs that could not be explained. His parents took him to doctors, even to quacks when the regular doctors could not figure out what was wrong.
It was into this dismal life that hope arrived on the wings of a neighbor woman's faith. She believed that prayer alone could heal. Harried admired her, and began going to Sunday school, and studying the teachings of this faith. He found that this helped him to function in a way that nothing else had up until now. He went to night school to get his high school diploma, finding that he got on better with adults than he did with people his own age.
But life continued to reinforce the negatives. He had a low draft number, and he was on the train on his way to college when the "Greetings" letter arrived in the mail back home. As soon as he graduated it was off to Army training as a draftee.
In the Army, he learned that he wasn't able to keep up physically. His flat feet kept him at the rear of the pack, "with the fatties", as he later would describe it. In the jungles of Viet Nam, he sent his mother letters telling that he prayed each day to not have to shoot anyone. He was wounded, a rocket hitting the vehicle he was riding on. Had it veered the other way, it would have been his name on The Wall, rather than a buddy's.
After that horror, dumped by the Army after the war, he had trouble adjusting. His negative view of the world was now reinforced by the job market. Harried left a job after a year, anxious over his personal safety on the job.
It was at this point that Harried went to a church conference in Boston and met Helen. Helen's outlook on life was so different. Harried and Helen exchanged addresses at the end of the conference and began writing to one another... Helen's letters were full of everyday doings from the Midwest... everything from movies to school classes she was taking to carving pumpkins with her kid sisters. It seemed so wholesome and upbeat... always upbeat.
Over several years, Harried moved to the midwest, they exchanged visits in a long and unusual courtship. Eventually, with that faith being the thing they had most in common... they married. Harried moved to Helen's town, and they set up housekeeping. Only then did the real learning about one another begin.
... to be continued ...
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Salvador Son was a kid, like any other kid. He didn't know that his life wasn't just like every other kid's life until he went to preschool. There he discovered that the other kids did not have a dad that stayed at home and a mom that went off to work every day. All the others in his class had either two parents who worked or their mom stayed with them.
This started Salvador out with an attitude of suspicion toward his parents and what they told him. He approached what they told him in Sunday School the same way, with suspicion.
Over the years he let snippets of his skepticism slip out in conversations with his mom, our Helen Heroine. When he was four, and Helen bubbled about something she'd done professionally as she tucked him into bed, she suggested he might enjoy this career when he grew up. He nailed her with a gaze and asked, "Do MEN fix computers?"
Salvador quickly learned the skill of children: to play the parents off against one another for what they'd give him. He knew to go to dad if he wanted things, but to mom if he wanted permission to DO something. He knew that his dad's first answer to anything was "No". He knew his parents were loud and argumentative. He knew they hardly noticed he was there, they were so wrapped up in their own conflict.
Once he hid out in his room to see how long before they'd even notice he was gone. The results were not encouraging.
When Helen went off to work in Jobtown, he had it pretty good. His dad, Harried Husband, was so wrapped up in his own misery and whatever his own projects were that third grader Salvador could pretty much do as he liked. Oh, he knew things would change... but for that year? Having one parent and not the other wasn't such a bad deal.
He'd lived in the same village since he was three. He knew all the kids in school. He could run about pretty independently, within limits. He played soccer and basketball on teams, and these were his good chums.
Then there was that horrible year when he was dragged off to Jobtown and enrolled in a strange new school where he knew no one. There was an undetected gas leak in the apartment that made him sick a lot of the time, before they got it fixed. When his dad was gone, his mom would drop him at before school care before he was awake, almost, and not come get him until late. And his mom didn't have a lot of energy to take him places.
When his dad came back, things got a little better. He didn't have to be in day care as long. He got enrolled in flag football, and basketball in the winter. He made a few new friends. His teacher was pretty cool. But when his dad was there, his mom and dad argued a lot. One day his dad used the "d" word in an argument... the one his friends had told him about. Right after that, his mom bundled him into the car and they drove off.
Over burgers, he voiced his concern, "Mom, are you and dad going to get divorced?" His mom asked him if he knew what it took to get a divorce. He did not. She said that someone had to hire a lawyer and fill out lots of papers and go to court. She assured him she would NEVER do such a thing, and asked if he could envision his dad doing it? Salvador laughed. No way would his dad pull that off.
When they moved back to Oldtown, Salvador survived the strangeness of having missed a chunk of life there. Things were returned to a stable state, if not a perfect one. Then there was that awful Summer, when he prayed that the teachers would NOT ask for an essay of what he did that Summer! He told his mom he could write it in one word: "Grieved."
He had a fairly good Summer, if a strange one, when his mom took that leave of absence. Mom let him do things. She let him host sleepovers with a friend or two. Dad almost never did that sort of thing, thinking everything was too dangerous. Mom kept her promises, but didn't let him re-interpret them. Dad often would "forget" his promises, or pooh out on delivery of them... but dad wasn't there for most of that Summer.
But now, it had happened AGAIN! Here he was in a strange city, knowing no one, and about to go to high school. He'd had to leave a girlfriend behind, as well as his chums. And his dad's birthday present? It was a joke. Salvador picked out a fake rock to put on the front entrance to the house. It said, "So this isn't Home Sweet Home - Adjust".
On his own, it was a long walk to the mall, but the town was pretty easy to navigate. In the middle of August, though, he found himself not functional. He dialed the cell phone to get his mom at work. "I don't care what you're doing, I'm sick, I need to get home." Helen made excuses at work, and went to retrieve her son.
School started. Salvador knew no one, and no one appreciated his dry wit. When he joked the way he used to at the old school, no one knew him, so no one laughed. He ate lunch alone, in a school with two thousand students. He was a picky eater, and ended up eating junk out of the machines. But mostly, he felt unwell.
Helen could not keep him in school. Legally he was required to go to school, but he couldn't make it through more than a couple of hours. The church teachings said not to go to doctors, but prayer alone wasn't working, and Helen was desperate. When the practitioner of the faith she'd called for prayerful help "fired" Salvador as a patient, she took him to see a regular medical doctor, who mildly asked Salvador, "So, why aren't you going to school?" Salvador's answer, "I dunno."
... to be continued ...
Friday, November 19, 2010
Helen Heroine had always wanted everyone to like her, and most especially she craved the approval of her parents and family. As a child, she would listen to her parents talk and based on what her child-ears heard, determine how to behave and what to tell and not tell people about her life.
Because her mother seemed critical of anyone who asked for much, Helen would avoid voicing her own needs. Because her father prized intelligence, Helen avoided relating anything that showed her in a foolish or stupid light. Helen's friend Debbie Denial helped her craft what she would tell people about her life, and what she would "spin". The politicians had nothing on the team of Helen and Debbie.
Penny Pinkclouds had been a friend since childhood. Penny taught Helen how to deceive herself, and write fairy tale outcomes for actions that Helen wanted to take or had taken. Penny was great at rationalization.
These ladies came along for the trip back to Hometown. Helen didn't make hotel reservations, as her sister Selena invited her to stay with her during the work week. Helen would house hunt on alternate weekends, trading off with flights back to Harried Husband and Salvador Son, and to prepare for the big move that Penny and Helen had planned.
Helen and Selena talked a lot during her stay. They talked about growing up and various feelings they had. Helen also spent time with her dad. He was alone now, her mom having been gone for two years. She started going back to the church of her youth.
In all her conversations, Helen took the advice of Debbie Denial. She made her life sound happy, because "no one wants to hear that bad stuff". At church, only the good was considered "real"... you don't rehearse "error" (bad) or give it a voice. Helen wanted to be accepted, and the way to be accepted was to put on a happy face and relate the world as Penny Pinkclouds saw it.
Consequently, everyone who knew Helen, knew only what Helen told them... they knew that Harried was fine, not that Helen was resentful of his lack of support. They knew that Salvador was smart. Not that Helen worried about her absence from his life, and Harried's apparent inability to provide guidance for a now-teenaged son. They knew that Helen had a fine new job. Not that she was constantly worried about making ends meet and what the future would bring. Not that she felt inadequate.
Helen didn't admit even to herself that Harried was the only person in her life that she could even voice a negative to. The fact that he wasn't a person who could or would act on the information and provide substantial help? Well, that left our old chum Freddie Foodbinge.
Helen once again decided to "fix" things herself. Harried would come around. He always did, she thought. With her eye on the relocation package provided by her employer, Helen found a house that Harried approved from the online ads and photos Helen and his sister sent. Harried's sister helped Helen paint and prepare it on weekends.
The following Summer, Helen went back to Oldtown and helped pack up the furniture (or most of it) and move into that house. Harried and Salvador came along. They moved in around the 4th of July. Salvador's fifteenth birthday was celebrated by Harried going out and buying something Salvador didn't even want... and forcing Helen to expend energy shopping for accessories and setting it up: an aquarium. Yes, that energy thief was back.
Having given Helen more things to care for, Harried headed out, back to Oldtown and the old house. He was once again supposed to be selling it. Since Salvador was old enough to take care of himself, Helen thought things might be easier than they were a few years back in Jobtown. She worried... what would Salvador do all day? He was too young to drive and he had no friends here in Hometown! She pointed out where things were, and he had directions to walk or take the bus as he explored the town. Still, she was left once again, a "single" mom, with an older son this time, and a demanding job.
This did not look good.
... to be continued ...
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