I think March Madness has struck early here. My daughters, except for the oldest, have gone mad. It’s like I’ve walked into the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party! People warned me when I was out and about with four little girls that I was in for tumult and agony, and I just dismissed everyone’s apocalyptic predictions. We are all so relational and talk about everything around here. Communication cuts down on a lot of that stereotypical adolescent behavior, but I was not prepared for Eadaoin and her angst last Friday night. Were those people right?
I took Milly, Grace, and Eadaoin out to Michael’s. Keeping these girls focused and occupied is very important particularly since we’re practically snowed in. We’re all going just a wee bit crazy. Well, I would have had better luck taking a brood of hens out and about because these girls clucked, nagged, bickered, and squabbled more loudly than chickens in a barnyard. All three of these girls have executive function deficits so walking into Michael’s is something akin to taking them to Pleasure Island crossed with camping on the island of the Lotus-Eaters, but I have experience with this. I’m patient. We survived, but I don’t know if the rest of the patrons and employees were unscathed by our presence. I swear I heard someone sigh as we were exiting.
Milly begged and begged to go to Target, and I had to pick up some essentials anyway. This is when it all went sideways. I felt like we had stepped into a Berenstain Bears book: “Milly Gets The Gimmes!”. We then hopped into a Nancy Drew novel thereafter: “Eadaoin and The Case of The Missing Empathy”. A stroll around a metaphorical bookstore is never complete without a trip to the sci-fi/fantasy section: “Zombie Child” (that’s for Grace who looked positively catatonic the whole time). I’m used to Milly and her over-the-top sensory needs. She can be a bit like No Face from “Spirited Away” when we go out so I have to remind her to be grateful for what she has. We have to be thoughtful consumers. I’m not going to buy her every awesome thing she sees because, let’s face it, it will only be awesome for five seconds. It’s Eadaoin that had hit a nerve with me. I was trying to negotiate with Milly about the constant asking for new things, and I had almost reached her. I could see it on her face. She has autism. It can be hard to penetrate her thinking. She’s also a very sensitive girl so I have to walk a very fine line so that she doesn’t become defensive. She has a very hard time differentiating between her behavior and who she is. This is called “splitting”. In her mind, if she does something “bad”, then she is bad. This goes for others. If a friend hurts her feelings, then that friend goes from being all-good to all-bad. I have to work very hard to use very specific language so that she can learn that we can make poor choices and still be good people. Well, as I was in the middle of this, Eadaoin comes along and laughs at something I said and then says something really insensitive, and Milly started crying. I wanted to put my head in my hands.
“Eadaoin, you are an empathetic person. So, tell me, where did you put your empathy? Have you lost it? Please go find it. And then, once you’ve found it begin using it again because I need you to bring your whole self to the family. Not just the lesser parts.”
Yeah, I was angry. Managing their collective intensity can be very difficult. I calmed Milly down, but she was now doing the very thing I had hoped she would not. She had applied all-or-nothing thinking to everything which is what I didn’t want her to do. So, I’m trying to get us to the check-out aisle while coaching Milly that it’s good to ask for what you need, but you don’t have to ask for every toy that you see. Eventually, I took us to the in-store Starbuck’s because I was parched from the stress. Sipping on a cool lime spritzer and hoping to avoid driving in all the snow, I sat down for a moment to collect my thoughts. Eadaoin said, “I know I haven’t been cooperative. I know that I’ve been mean to Jane. I know that I haven’t participated in my therapy. I just don’t want to go back to high school, but now that I know that I don’t have to go back to that high school maybe I can try. It’s just that if I don’t go back to high school I won’t go to prom,” she sighed and began to look starry-eyed.
“What?” I asked carefully.
“If I don’t go to high school, then I’ll miss prom.”
This might sound like a sentimental statement to anyone else. Aaw, look at that. We conjure up images of John Hughes movies like “Pretty in Pink” in our heads and recall our own high school experiences sweeping it all away in the name of teenaged angst. That is not, however, what is happening here. This is magical thinking. Eadaoin has not been cooperative in any way with Jane, her in-home therapist. She has refused to come to terms with the reality of her situation. She was removed from public school due to a paralyzing anxiety disorder, put on Klonopin in addition to her other medications in order to calm her down and increase her functionality as well as to prevent agoraphobia from developing, and admitted into a crisis stabilization program that treats kids in their home environment. This is serious, but she has chosen denial. She has refused to admit that her issues might influence her present trajectory, thus, determining her future. She has refused to come to terms with her learning disorder around math. She hides in her room playing “Animal Crossing: New Leaf” on her 3DS and bemoans the fact that she has lost her inspiration. She’s waiting for another mania to hit her so that she can sculpt again. She won’t listen to anyone.
So, when she looked off into the distance and told me that she would miss her prom if she didn’t go back to high school, I wanted to lose it. I didn’t, but I wanted to.
“So, the only reason that you should go to high school is for a prom that you may or may not be invited to?”
She looked away.
“What gorgeous, fantasy, animé boy will be inviting you to this prom?”
She blushed. “Mom! No! No one…”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, that’s not true. If you’re gonna go to all the trouble to construct a delusion, then go big. You’ve definitely got a boy in mind.”
She looked visibly uncomfortable now.
“Just how many times have you watched ‘The Breakfast Club’? How many John Hughes movies are you watching up there in your room when you ask for the iPad? I mean, we watched ‘Pretty in Pink’ together last summer, but how many times have you watched it since?”
“A lot. I like those movies.”
“Yeah, we all did. There’s a reason everyone in my generation connected with those films, Eadaoin. His movies tap into our deeper wishes. They are modern-day fairy tales.”
“I like fairy tales.”
“I know that you do. I like them, too. Eadaoin, listen to me. Fairy tales and movies are not real. They are stories, and stories are useful because they help us understand ourselves. They give us a language for talking about things that we often can’t articulate ourselves, but then we have to add our own words. You can’t steal someone else’s story and make it your own.”
She started crying. “I guess there’s no happy endings, are there?”
At this point, I had reached my end. I took everyone to the car, and we started driving. She was in the front seat weeping. She was ruminating in self-pity and some sort of despair.
“Eadaoin, listen to me. You want to live in a fairy tale? Is that what you really want? You love all the old stories? You want to be Cinderella? You want to be Sleeping Beauty? You want to be Rapunzel? That is your right. You are free to construct a delusion and live from that place for the rest of your life, but please pay attention to the truth of the fairy tales that you love so much. Every heroine in the fairy tales are rescued or saved by someone else. No matter what they did, it never affected their circumstances. Their fate was always resting upon the shoulders of someone else’s ability to show up on their behalf. If Prince Charming didn’t provide True Love’s kiss, then Sleeping Beauty sleeps forever. If the knight doesn’t show up to defend and rescue, then these girls are abandoned. Perhaps you like that idea. You are not required to do anything. You can just sit in your room all day long, while away the hours, never develop your character, never develop a good personality, never work hard to succeed at anything, because, in your fairy tale, some gorgeous guy is going to see you across a crowded room and fall in love with you. He’ll rescue you from your life and take care of you, and you’ll live happily ever after. Well, darlin’, I am here to tell you that no healthy man worth having would ever want a woman like that. A healthy, well-adjusted man worth marrying will want a healthy, well-adjusted woman who can take care of herself! Eadaoin, the fairy tales have lied! We rescue ourselves! We collaborate with the Fairy Godmothers, they give us the swords, and we slay the dragons keeping us in the tower. We climb down ourselves, and then we go out and show other people how to do it! You want a fairy tale? You’re in one! You’ve got a dragon or two to slay. You’ve got high drama in your life, and when you lack it you sure know how to create it. You’re beautiful, and you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. What’s missing?”
She just stared at me. She sarcastically replied, “I don’t have a sword, do I?”
“What do you think Jane has been trying to give you all these months? She’s trying to equip you, but you just sit on your hands and scoff at her. You don’t have the tools to defeat your own demons only because you refuse to pick them up and learn how to use them. Your happiness and ability to heal, at this point, is entirely on you. We are here to help you. We are here to collaborate and see to it that you succeed, but you have to come down from your tower and participate. Or, you can hold onto your delusions. But if that’s the case, know that you’ll probably spend the rest of your life living in your parents’ basement. Recall that the princesses who don’t get rescued are lost forever in obscurity. No one is going to rescue you. There are no princes. There are no knights. There is only you. We can help you, but you have to want something better for yourself than this.”
She sniffled and fidgeted. I haven’t seen much of her. She’s been in her room a lot. She’s singing the soundtrack to “Frozen” incessantly, driving Doireann completely crazy, but that’s a step in the right direction. Anna is the first Disney princess to save herself. If she has to choose a new story to tell herself, that’s a good one to start with.