Yeah, that’s me. Let me paint a picture…
Once upon a time, I had two kids. Despite the lack of a manual and the never-ending advice from everywhere—little that was repeated, and never knowing what was right—I thought I was doing okay. My kids were healthy, getting good grades, had friends, people generally seemed to like them. They shifted from helpless babies to temperamental toddlers to finicky school-aged kids to…
Ten months ago, when he was thirteen, my son committed suicide. No warning, no note, no drugs, no bullying, no idea what happened, other than we (now) believe he had demons in his head that no one else was aware of, and those demons managed to convince him that we would be better off without him in our lives.
And now I have one. An eleven-year-old daughter.
So now I reeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaalllllyyyyy think I don’t know what the hell I’m doing with this whole parenting gig. I mean, like I’m starting over from scratch, except I’ve been handed a girl on the verge of her teenage years instead of a helpless baby that needs care and molding.
My daughter is beautiful and funny and smart and is as emotional as my husband. To put it into perspective, the dog has a wider emotional range than the two of them. Not that they don’t have emotions; they just don’t express them.
So here I am, a highly emotional basket case on my best days, desperate to ensure my daughter experiences no more pain in her life—ever. I know, I know, it’s an impossible feat, but losing a kid does things to you. It makes you even more protective of the one you have left. It makes you try a thousand times harder to keep a smile on her face, and it makes you ache a million times worse when she’s unhappy—even when she’s insisting “it’s nothing” because goddamn it, I know it’s something. People aren’t unhappy for the hell of it. Okay, maybe they are, but she isn’t. And, frankly, we used to think my son was unhappy for no good reason, and that when he cleared those angsty teenage years, he’d be A-OK again, but obviously there were other things going on, things we missed. And every single moment my daughter isn’t utterly content with life, I have a bone-deep fear that she too shares those demons who took my son.
And I can’t let them take her, too. She’s all I have left.
Yes, I know this fear is irrational, but being irrational makes it no less real. And yes, I know it’s unlikely my daughter will walk that same path—after experiencing the pain of such a loss first hand, I can’t imagine she would ever let those demons win, if they even exist in her head, which is doubtful. Generally, she’s far too cheerful for demons to hang out in her subconscious.
Which is why it’s so damn poignant when she isn’t happy.
So then I try to goad her into telling me what’s wrong, and she keeps insisting it’s “nothing,” and I try harder, and she clams up more tightly. And then I’m frustrated and sad and trying really damn hard not to cry, because a) nothing, not even my goading makes her shut down faster than when I cry; and b) because it isn’t her fault her brother died and now her mother wants to cling to her so freaking tightly.
And then I start to worry that I’m going to screw her up somehow with all my emotional baggage, and let’s go back to that whole mom-who-doesn’t-know-what-the-hell-she’s-doing theory.
Because I don’t. And that scares the crap out of me. Even though 99.9% of the time, my daughter is perfectly fine, even-keel; over-the-top cheerful on occasion. Actually, more than on occasion. She’s fine. She isn’t depressed, she isn’t miserable; she doesn’t hate life. Or her parents.
Frankly, she’s probably a pretty normal kid, who I happen to think is rather exceptional. And even if I could convince myself that she really is just… normal, I’d still want to protect her from sadness and misery and anger and any other negative emotion or experience. Because she’s my kid. And that’s what parents do.
Shit, am I normal too?