“You are sooo getting spayed!!!” I screeched at the puppy (now a officially a dog) who had assumed an extremely inappropriate position involving my leg.
“Ooh, eema, she’s hugging you,” said Second Daughter.
“THAT’S NOT A HUG!” I shout back.
“Why?” asked Second Daughter. “Why is that not a hug?” said her sweet innocent voice.
“Nothing, never mind.” I snapped. We’re a religious family, and we don’t talk about these things. Actually, it’s more that we spend most of our time in complete denial, assuming that these kind of conversations will only appear at pre-scheduled times, with the comfort of holy texts and authorities on hand to actually convey the message. An absolutely ridiculous approach, one that I’m ashamed I ever supported. Our whole community should be ashamed, and most of us are, as newspaper articles continue to expose instances where minors where sexually abused, and where community authorities worried more about how to hide the problem, than how to solve the problem.
But how do you draw the line? Where do you start? We’re all walking around with our heads hanging, but no one has any idea of how to actually effect change.
And in our family, what we talk about and how we talk about it, is never planned. We all react: One person screams, which causes the other person to scream, which causes the other person to cry. One person gets over the anger, and another is still reeling, even hours later.
“Eema, why are you angry? Do you not like hugs?” asks Second Daughter, so innocently. She’s always like that. Everyone in this house yells back and forth at each other, and none of the anger ever seems to stick to Second Daughter. She is such a delight, such a comfort, and I’m so frightened about what it’s like for her growing up in a house like ours. Second Daughter deserves a stay-at-home mom, warm oven-baked bread… and other touchy-feely stuff.
My parents have always insisted that I’m a terrible mother, and that my children are harmed just by my being present in their lives. They believe that the ADHD diagnosis is just an excuse to cover up for my abysmal parenting skills. Good parenting, in their opinion, involves expensive clothes, the latest toys (or else the child is deprived) and a large home in America. Most of the time, I ignore their judgments, and I am incredibly grateful for the different life that we are leading. But there are other times, even happy times, when their barbs come back to haunt me, and I get concerned that we aren’t making the right kind of home for our kids.
We’re doing the best we can, and I do know that the outbursts of anger are also matched by the outpouring of love. At least we have that, if not ongoing serenity. I hope that when they become adults, if they recall and judge the chaos, at least they also remember the fierce hugs and declarations of affection.
I take every ounce of strength I have, sit down across from Second Daughter, and focus on her. “I love you,” I start. “And I’m sorry for yelling,” I add. I then launch into an explanation of why puppy dogs shouldn’t be allowed to hug legs, where new-born puppies come from, and how an operation is in the dog’s future.
“DO I LOOK LIKE I FELL OFF THE TURNIP TRUCK?!” bellows husband.
“WAHHHHH,” yells First Daughter, “I don’t even know what a turn-up truck is!! EEEEEEMAAAAAAA!!!”and starts off yet another melt-down. Although perhaps the meltdown started earlier when First Daughter started peppering us with questions that made absolutely no sense, resulting in the argument where my husband felt a need to declare his aversion to root vegetables. Or maybe it’s all the school’s fault, with First Daughter being confined to a hard chair for too many hours. The experts say that triggers should be identified and dealt with. Maybe it was the Cocoa Pebbles for breakfast. I must write a complaint letter to Post.
“First Daughter,” I tried to start, “Sometimes-”
“IT’S NOT FAIRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR! WHY IS EVERYONE ALWAYS YELLING AT ME?! WAHHHH!!” and she’s off to her room. We live in a small apartment (though quite nice by Israeli standards). Her screams were heard throughout the entire place, and probably down the block, for the next hour and a half. What are you supposed to do during a melt-down anyway? We usually wait until the child has returned to reason, and then have the conversation about what could be better in the future. Which is a bit of a silly conversation, in my opinion, since First Daughter has no control over the outbursts anyway. Telling her to do better in the future is a hollow line. She wants to do better in her future, she really does. And when the house is quiet and I can think clearly, I can appreciate everything she is. Her beautiful determination, her brilliance, her joyfulness.
There have been a lot of these meltdowns lately, much more than we can endure. And the school phone calls are increasing. I think I need to find a better neurologist…
Third Daughter will not be outdone. She is a fierce little warrior, who thinks if everyone screams, she gets to scream too. Second Daughter prefers not to participate when First Daughter goads her, but Third Daughter will battle. Third Daughter will talk back, and her words aren’t the best in English, but she has a lot of them.
“THIRD DAUGHTER TOUCHED MY STUFF!!!” shouts First Daughter.
We groan, and hope we can hide from this request for parental attention. Really, who cares if stuff is touched?
“Owie,” cries Third Daughter, as she bursts into tears. Now we have to interfere. Maybe if we had done something earlier, Third Daughter wouldn’t have gotten hurt.
I pick up Third Daughter in my arms and run to my bedroom, leaving First Daughter in the front room with her Father yelling at her not to hit her sister. Third Daughter isn’t really injured, but no one should be expected to shake-off a slap. Why does she have to aggravate her older sister anyway, doesn’t she know how fragile she is? Probably not. She probably only understands how fragile she is, just at almost-six-years old, and not allowed to touch things that interest her. It’s not fair.
And throughout these past several months, Fourth Daughter has been making me incredibly sick. Throwing up each morning, blood-pressure drops, bouts of flu without the aid of decongestants. There were days when all I could do was lie in bed, not having enough strength to give my kids a clean home. And the perfection dreams are returning: For the large nursery with flowing curtains, rocking chairs and bumper pads: Serenity. Which is not us, and never will be us.
Even now, when she’s wiggling in my tummy as I type, Fourth Daughter is insisting she’s also going to be a force to be reckoned with.