On a good day, parenting will test the integrity of your character. On a bad day, parenting will test your will to live. Parenting children with trauma histories will cause you to test the integrity of everything and everyone you thought you knew, for the rest of your life.
~J. Skrobisz

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Relegated to the Garage

I've been relegated  to the garage.

See, if I was a RADlet, I'd just leave that sentence as it is, not providing any background information or further commentary to give the reader more insight into what exactly "relegated to the garage" means. Because if I were a RADlet, I'd prefer that my listener take a negative connotation and therefore be sympathetic to my perceived plight, however misconstrued it might be. Only the wise, cynical and cautious individual takes such open-ended comments with a grain of salt. And in most cases, that wisdom, cynicism and cautiousness are earned through painful stripes, welts and bruises from other equally idiosyncratic homo sapiens.

Ergo, yes, I've been relegated to the garage. No, I won't leave you hanging on that thought. (Although I wouldn't mind a little sympathetic commenting, ego petting and otherwise generous lavishing of love and cheer). However, I will first take a brief detour by recounting the last few days of thoughts and events before I acquiesce to your heartstrings and tell the WHOLE truth about my garage status because unlike my RADlet, I'm not afraid of the whole truth.

Many years ago, I sang on a church worship team. This, after several concerts at the university choir level, a few small ensembles, several solos, assistance with the college campus ministry praise team, and other such exciting events involving music; primarily my vocal cords with some piano. In fact, I once played a fugue for a church new year's eve coffeehouse gathering. That is, a fugue introduction of three pages adapted to a contemporary christian song. The score was written by Rich Mullins, the vocalist was Amy Grant. Yes. I sang and played. Simultaneously.

May wonders never cease.

Why did I choose this particular song for that event? Because when I was 12, I'd decided I would learn how to play it, I would perform it, I would, yes, I would. Then one of my older sister's friends came over to hang out. She sat down at our piano and began to play it. I was enthralled and told her of my desire to accomplish the same goal and she said I couldn't do it.

All my life, I never understood why I continually met roadblock after roadblock in my attempts to sing and be musical. I got mixed reviews. Many said I had the voice of an angel, many others laughed and jeered. Literally. In my face. (Wish I was kidding.) It has been split down the middle, 50/50 for whether or not I have had any musical talent to speak of. And so, with 50% negativity to go on, I began to believe it. Except when I didn't.

I practiced that fugue. Sissy and AB were tiny babies, soaked diapers, hungry, needing naps and I played and played and played until I perfected eight bars and then I'd return to my maternal duties. I had every.single.note. Every one. And I showed up for the coffeehouse, my score copied and taped out on one long piece of cardboard. I got laughed at for that too. Oh well, I guess cardboard is funny. Then I played.

And sang.

If mouths make sounds when they drop, I heard it but I didn't look up at the audience. I was lost in the music. When I played the last note, I got a standing ovation ... from some.

Six months later, while rehearsing with the praise team, the worship pastor was making some minor adjustments to the alto and soprano lines. We were in a small cluster around the piano with our written music and one acoustic guitarist who was warming up. Four part harmony with the worship pastor as the lead. I asked him what note I should change my music to within a particular bar and his wife, who had taken a dislike to me said rudely before he could answer, "Can you even READ music?!?!"

I had the thought to walk off the stage right then and there, toss my music on the ground and never look back. I wish I had done that. No one else said a word. They all just stared at me. It was her mother-in-law, seated at the piano who vouched for me, "She played a FUGUE at the coffee house!" And I said nothing.

Why? Why did I say nothing? Because I thought the right thing to do was to say nothing, to turn the other cheek. Shortly afterward, we switched churches (there were MANY reasons, this one incident was by no means the impetus for our exodus) and found ourselves at another church with a praise team. They held auditions. I went. The worship pastor loved my singing, couldn't say it enough, wanted me on his team, told me i was definitely on the team and then by email a few days later said, "i've decided that it would be awkward to have a soprano on the praise team when I'm the leader and I sing the lead. It would be too heavy on melody. I don't need you."

After so many years of rejection, meanness, and downright disdain for who I am as a person and the talent I felt my genetics had afforded me, I vowed to never sing for an audience again. Never. And over time, my piano gathered dust. And that talent was expediently eradicated by Sissy who raged every time I played. And I do mean, EVERY TIME. Perhaps I practiced the fuge once too many when she was a toddler. Or more likely, in her RAD mind, a happy mom is a mom to take issue with. Because music? It makes me happy. It is my soul. It is who i am.

Lately, I've not been allowed to be me. I've had to be who the therapists and doctors need me to be for Sissy. I've had to be who AB and WG need me to be in all the crisis. I've had to be a steady force for The Dad because he's had to surrender so much too. So when Sissy returned and the discussion to keep her safe room as bare as possible came up, the matter of her displaced possessions came up. After calling a local piano company to size up the issue of our 120 year old baby grand upright piano with ivory keys, the decision was easy. "An explosion waiting to happen" she said. "Tuning such an old instrument will put too much stress on the harp. It has lived it's days." She recounted how several older pianos had recently met such a fate locally and how her company had been called to help clean up the messes.

It's gone. I paid them $175 to take it away and dispose of it properly with the promise that we would make a family Christmas gift of a keyboard this year. Then I bought stack-able cubby storage bins and as Sissy has earned them back, filled them with her possessions.

Where do you go after that emotionally? 25 years that piano has been with me. I've wept and pounded out my sorrows on those keys, I've sang and sobbed. I've put many therapy miles behind me through music. For me, it boils down to the cruelty of humanity, sin and brokenness that I now find myself equally broken and trying desperately not to be equally cruel. With all that has happened, I still find the need to turn the other cheek.

Who am I now? I ask myself. What am I? What is my purpose? To be Sissy's therapeutic caregiver? Christians like to say pretty things like, "God gave you Sissy because He knew you could handle it." or "Being Sissy's mom has made your faith stronger." or the one that stings the most, "if you'd had biological children, they might have had special needs." Really. By God and all His power, I am not, nor will I ever be defined by Sissy. I am not nor will I ever be defined by the humans that have judged my musical abilities and found them wanting. I am not nor will I ever be, by God, a parent that is labeled an abuser because Sissy is too much for one mother to parent.

Sissy had a string of good days. It made me nervous because we made it past the three day mark, her typical "and now I'll be good for three days" cycle. She was a little wobbly on the fourth day with a mild tantrum but she got through it with little consequence to anyone. Then Saturday she was "off". It was as if she wasn't connecting with reality, space or time. She was physically present but not mentally. To prevent a rage, I gave her a v.istaril as a precaution.

Sunday came and I said to The Dad, "I can't quilt. Sitting here in this tiny house at this table, cooped up indoors with the kids at each other's throats, I can't quilt. I'm moving the operation outside." So we set up an old kitchen table on the back porch and I quilted while WG played and talked and Sissy whined, moaned, bemoaned, dozed, napped, complained, paced, ugh. She drove me insane. The words of the therapist echoing in my head from the week before, "if you're feeling annoyed, she's trying to get attention. Call her bluff by providing POSITIVE attention." So I tried. A colossal fail.

"Sissy, come sit with me." She tripped and knocked over stuff, moved my stuff, huffed and fumed, fussed and moaned, harrumphed and complained. Finally I said, "Sissy, why are we here?"


"Why are we here, born, on this earth. Why do we exist? What's the point?"

"To live."

"To live," I said to my ironing board. "To poop, pee, eat, sleep and work all day, every day until we die?"


"Ok, what is 'to live' mean to you?"


"So there's no other point to life?"


"And God would say...?"


"Come on, you know this. Why did God make humans?"

"To live!"

"Change one vowel."

"To love," she muttered.

"Yes. To love. To love our family, our friends, our neighbors, ourselves, to love as God loves. Loving is hard for you isn't it?"


"a very honest answer, thank you."

"Would you like a hug?"

"i'm hot!" whine, whine, whine, change of subject, blah blah blah. Sure, it's RAD crap. Whatever. I'm tired of her RAD crap. I'm tired of playing racquetball with her RAD crap. She lobs 'em hard and I have to hit the rebounds off the concrete wall without getting hurt, without cussing, without wanting to check her butt to the floor, without letting her know it hurts me. You know, turn the other cheek. Because she's not capable of understanding that depth of emotion. So I just have to suck it up and deal. Again. Like I did with the music and the piano and my career and my life. And at the end of those wonderful little chats, all I hear in my head is the conversation I'll have with her therapist about how it went when I tried her new approach to Sissy's behaviors. And in my head, i DON'T want one more 50/50 take on my ability to succeed.

Get this, I KNOW I can't succeed with Sissy. Have said it for a LONG TIME. But unlike Casey Anthony, if I surrender to my inability to parent my daughter, I'll be charged with willful abandonment and neglect, a third degree child abuse charge that will stay on my record FOREVER. Casey Anthony will likely be a multimillionaire with all her book and movie deals before Sissy gets her first period.

WG came to my rescue. "Mom? What can we do?" I said, "Why don't you girls sweep the pine straw off the trampoline and have some fun?"

"YEAH!" escaped WG's lips faster than my sentence was said followed by a "Come on Sissy!"

She waddled and lumbered to the ladder of the trampoline, took one step up and then said, "oh wait, I forgot. i have to pee." As she walked past me on the porch I eyed her surreptitiously. She caught my gaze. "Not that I'm trying to get out of anything or nothing. I really do have to pee."

"Mmm." I mumbled. Sissy went in, I watched WG sweep it off and jump around. Sissy eventually came out and took up residence on the swing under the tree. not trying to get out of anything my ass but of course, I said nothing. AGAIN.

Rain threatened to ruin my quilting so The Dad helped me walk the table around the house and into the garage. The garage door has not functioned properly for months making parking in it unrealistic as I would have to get out, open the door, drive the van in and then manually close the door again. One more household thing put on hold because our family has been in crisis for going on three years now. Let's not discuss the rotting trim, shall we?

Thus, I merrily quilted away until way, way too late in the night. Sissy went to bed without a rage and all was well. The last two quilt panels that I'm donating for the auction at the end of the month are nearly finished. I have a lamp, music, wifi, an, iron and ironing board, a quilt table covered in scraps of fabric that some readers have donated, camp chairs, bugs, it's been great.

Tonight Sissy was back to full on rage mode. A few days shy of her typical cycle. Nope, it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH HOW I'M PARENTING. There are NO THERAPEUTIC TECHNIQUES that are going to help this child. There is nothing. And I am going to become dust in the wind if this continues ad nauseum. Tonight she came out of the shower with her hair barely damp and her head band still on. "Um, yeah. Go back. That hair isn't washed." rage, rage, rage. blah blah blah. Whatever. She rewashed. Then rage, rage, rage until 11 pm because she couldn't sleep. Yeah, well, when she sleeps all day despite my incessant prodding and reminding her that she can't nap without consequences, it was still MY fault at 11 pm that she couldn't sleep. Oh, and the other gem for today, SHE offered to help me prepare the recycling to take to the center. I gladly accepted. Then halfway through said, "Don't you think you need to ask WG and AB to help?!?"

"uh, no. you OFFERED. Offering help is not the same as me TELLING you. Now do you WANT to help or are you hoping to get something out of it?"


Two minutes later, "Still, they should be helping."

I stopped. I drew in a deep breath and I calmly but deliberately said, "Sissy, 206 days you've spent in a hospital in the last 15 months. How many of THOSE days do you think WG and AB insisted that I get you from the hospital to come help me with the recycling?!?!"


"If you can't help without keeping your mouth shut, then I don't want your help because that's not the kind of help I'm looking for."

She finished the job and then said nothing to me for an hour and the first words out of her mouth were "OH!!!!! you said I could blah blah blah"

Yeah, because I'm just so unjust and unfair. I'm THAT kind of mom. Yup. Yessirree. I suck. Horrible, wretched, loathsome woman that can't sing, play a piano, parent or quilt in her own gosh darned broken down, falling apart poor little excuse of a house that I try so very, very hard to take care of.

Yes, I've been relegated to the garage and I like it that way. Cause guess who I can't hear screaming when I'm out here? And guess who I can see coming before Sissy gets to tell her convoluted, twisted, narcissistic side of the story to?

Come join me. There's always coffee and free wifi and I have an extra camp chair to spare. I might even sing for you if you ask me kindly. I'll start with a rousing rendition of Henry the VIII.

Yes, I really did play this song and sing it.

Seems the insanity of life and woeful state of humanity
has reduced me to a wise, cyncial and indulgent curious type
so that this song is more befitting of my current life.


Elizabeth-Anne said...

Glad you have a garage! Definitely praying, and sending a (I-hope-not-too-painful) quote that I've recently been getting a lot out of. "We're not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be” - C.S. Lewis. Also, absolutely last, I think you should read "You Can Fight for Your Life" by Lawrence LeShan. No, you don't have cancer, but I think it may save your sanity.

Angela :-) said...

Oh sweetie! I miss you. SECRET SISTER HUG! Make that ten of them. Put the extras in your pocket and pull them out as needed. How many days until Orlando?

I'm glad you got to quilt until way too late in the night.

Angela :-)

Frankity said...

I wonder if there's any weight to the fact that a fugue is a circular song, it comes back to where you've been. Maybe not in the same key, but it comes back. I hope playing the piano and singing brings you back to a happier time.

I remember my dad chopping up my old, beloved piano when I was about five years old. I sobbed from the bedroom window. Thirty years later, I am sitting at a keyboard, wishing for a day where I get myself the Steinway grand I always dreamed of, and had the pleasure of playing at my university. Life, kids, responsibilities have gotten in the way of my own piano. But I still dream of feeling Chopin resonante through my fingers on a real piano again.

Alice said...

I read with a frown and sometimes a slack jaw from shock as I read about your experiences with the choir, the church and rejection after rejection. No one deserves to be rejected in such a manner, and my heart ached for you.

I wonder if there is any end to this for you. If one day there will be such progress with Sissy that you can be truly yourself instead of putting your identity behind and second to being Sissy's caregiver. I hope that one day that will happen for you, and that you will move forward and become a unified and calm family unit, free of rages and clashing of RAD wills.


Ashley said...

I'd come sit in our garage anytime <3

Barb G said...

I'm sorry Sissy is so broken. (((hug)))

And I would LOVE to hear you sing.

Love you, girl.

Singinpraises said...

First of all, you 100% have a beautiful voice and amazing piano playing ability! I don't beg you to sing with me whenever you are here for any other reason than the fact that you are awesome and you make me sound awesome too!

Second, I think the keyboard is a great idea and I think it, too, should be relegated to the garage so that those who wish to use it for therapy can do so without the ragefest interference.


GB's Mom said...

I so wish I could get to Georgia this summer. I would love to hear you sing! Know that I am (almost) always thinking of you {{{Hugs}}}

Kathleen said...

yay I can comment!

Will you sing for us in Orlando next March? ;-)

Jen said...

I believe you that you have done more then "enough" for Sissy. We are not meant to take abuse after abuse after abuse and just "turn the other cheek." That's not how healthy relationships work. It's perhaps related to the question I'm struggling with, when is therapeutic parenting helping to heal a kid and when is it helping them become a sociopath because we keep on nurturing them no matter how they abuse us. The day my daughter said, "Why should I stop hitting and kicking Mom? You're going to love me anyway," was a day I will not forget. We have done enough and then some.

marythemom said...

I cried when I read this. We give up so much for our unappreciative children. I'm proud of you for playing the fugue!

I used to sing all the time. Not for the public, but just singing in the shower, in the car, while doing housework kind of singing. One day I went to the hardware store, alone for once, and I helped a lady make a decorating decision (I used to be an interior decorator) and I realized how long it's been since I was truly happy. My life is totally focused on the kids and they drain so much from me without giving back that there is very little left. I'm glad you are setting aside a little piece of earth just for you.

Hugs and prayers,

Miz Kizzle said...

Fugues are lovely. Good luck in the garage.

Holly said...

I've recently found your blog and wanted to tell you that I'm thinking of you and your family. I hope that you can find music again.

Lisa said...

I'll bring you an iced cap and a fan for your garage! We can make it so homey you won't want to leave it and the kids will be BEGGING to come visit (lol).

People can be so cruel. Even Christians in Christian churches. WTH? I think I would have been mortified to even be the mother-in-law of that woman - shameful I tell ya.

I am going to use your line about being who everyone else thinks we should be for our kids and forgetting who we really are when I meet a RAD mommy today. I'm doing respite for her in a few weeks for her 13 yo RADling while her son has surgery. That is exactly it. We parent in a way that feels natural and instinctual and are told it's wrong for this particular child. Then we do all of these very "unnatural" and forced things to try to help them and that's a big zero too. I had one professional tell me that if I did something a particular way it would work 100% of the time - it didn't. Her response was that I wasn't doing it right then. Eegads - please take my kid home with you and prove it to me then. For a week, or two or seventeen :)

Sing to your hearts content girl - nobody can tell you who YOU are!

Bren said...

I sobbed thorugh this entire post. You put words to so many of my feelings! The gift you have for sharing your heart is such an encouragement and inspiration to me.
I am in awe of your ability to play that song (and sing it)...it is my all time favotire. It has always been a desire of mine to be able to sing and play the piano. Sadly, I have the voice only my heavenly Father can love, and no talent in music what so ever.

cinch said...

Sing at the barn with Kathy...she has a beautiful voice too. I love to hear the singing!!!! Makes us all feel better. Love ya!

kisekileia said...

I wonder if you've got one of those voices that sounds lovely to most people, but comes across as sounding very untrained to people who've taken voice lessons. Maybe that would explain why you've gotten such varied reactions to it.