Nearly two weeks ago our house was broken into by someone to who took technology and sentimental jewelry. This isn’t about them, this is about my specific actions regarding parenting (and what my child is showing me) because google didn’t really seem to have a plan or pointers or clickbait or anything about such things.
We looked at long-term and short term goals and started behaving as if those were the truth. There were two easy short-term goals – get the entry route contained (they broke the glass on a side door) and find a way that felt safe for our 7 year old to sleep. Dave took care of the former, and Jeff said he wanted to sleep in our room and that took care of the latter.
That identified a mid-range goal, the return to “normal” sleeping where our 7 year old hangs out in his room after bedtime rituals and sleeps there. For the first night, that was clearly not an option but staying in the Emergency Situation Sleeping Arrangements would need to come to a swift end both for our sleep habits and to put perspective on the event in general.
First long-term goal – how do we process random bits of misfortune that are sad, or scary, but not tragic in a larger sense? What does it look like when the adults model that in an out-loud way?
My mom, who lives in another state, was concerned and needed an update and I needed to re-order our bedroom so Jeff sat in the bedroom with the speaker phone and talked to his grandma. That worked well because I trust that my mom knows the general parenting direction I point in and she is supportive of our communication style with Jeff. He told her that he was unlikely to tell anyone at school the next day except maybe the counselor (who he has an established relationship with). I was glad I was able to hear where he was in thinking about it and what his school plan was.
The basic rule in our house about secrets is that you need to find a way to share them if they make you sad, mad, or scared but that secrets that don’t feel that way to you can be kept private. It separates “birthday present” and “I have a crush” secrets from the ones we want to hear about immediately. I talked to Jeff about it, emphasizing that we didn’t *do* things that brought this on us.
We went to work and school the next day and at the end of the day we worked on the second mid-range goal: normalizing internal craziness that happens after that much adrenaline. While making dinner the three of us talked about two things that happened in common for all of us:
- Even the nice, normal, well-meaning things that our friends said and did was … exhausting and made us wish that they were quiet, or faster, or …. something. That we couldn’t focus on anything because it all just felt far away and strange.
- That it felt like our brain split in two pieces – the Imagination Brain that made up stories to fill in the gaps for the things we didn’t know (Why did they? How did they know? Why this and not that?) and kept running it past Thinking Brain that had to hold firm to the We Can’t Know That Because We Weren’t Here and We Aren’t THOSE Thieves Official Party Line. The Thinking Brain had to keep separating what was known from the stories we made up to fill in the gaps.
We worked on the original mid-range goal and Jeff suggested that he would be able to sleep in his room in a normal way in three nights. We agreed to one more night in the same room, and then two nights with a parent camping in his room with him.
We went back to learning a game we had gotten for Christmas.
Thursday went fine but we had a setback on Friday when a bunch of generally un-alarming things happened and we all had a huge adrenaline rush when we wondered if they had come back (for what? Who the hell knows).
Friday night when I saw Jeff he asked, “When you heard, did it make your head funny and your heart pound fast in your chest?” You betcha kiddo.
We didn’t worry about replacing technology the first weekend and it felt like things were heading back to a normal pacing. It was nice because we were heading into a week that is a physical gauntlet for Dave and generally an emotional one for me. I thought we were doing pretty well.
The second Friday after the burglary I was with Jeff at the end of his school day and he was in that head space where he was working hard to be the boy he wants to be. He told me a couple of hours later that it seemed like we hadn’t seen each other in a long time, and I agreed. Because of the nature of the weekend and the holiday I was able to confidently say that he and I could spend all of Sunday (today) together – with the help of having a Saturday to be ready for it.
You know how it feels when you look at a friend / lover / spouse / confidant and you are both stressed out (for different reasons or the same one) and your heart can only think, “You mean the world to me but you’re on your own for this one cuz my shit is barely managed and I just … can’t.” Well I took Saturday to gain my own health points and woke up this morning with the singular goal of helping Jeff feel seen and filling his cup.
Filling his cup isn’t about opening my wallet and closing my brain and letting him run roughshod over the place. It is about not asking him to be the only one in the room that is accommodating others. It is about showing that he is *known*. So there was breakfast and video watching. We picked a movie to see. I had a couple of grown up errands to do and we talked through if we could do them on Jeff Day (they were not urgent but they were fast and handy – and they are done now).
Mainly though, we played Little Wizards. Two things before I go on …
- There is a quote of something someone said to Neil Gaiman years ago that I can’t find. It was an author who said that the only person he has ever wanted to impress was the 7 year old version of himself. The years where his imagination and reality we on equal footing in his mind. A quote – that although unfindable – is the parenting mantra of this year for Jeff.
- Little Wizards is a role playing game for kids where he developed a character over the summer and I narrate an adventure for that character with dice rolls to see which way the action goes (D&D Jr or a Choose Your Own Adventure on the fly depending on your reference point).
For 2.5 or 3 hours today he and I told the story of the yellow, elephant sized dragon and his monkey having adventures with mysterious keys, strange girls named Emily, the cops, recently invisible iguanas used as magic wands, and the mystery of the birthday party 5 weeks from now. We didn’t even make it to why Dr. Cornelious (chaotic good based on a dice roll for those of you who track such things) wants to see Tarphoon in the first place.
The level of engagement for that sort of story telling is how I know that I’ll never be a novelist but I finally understand when writers talking about a character surprising them. Jeff brought Dr. C into the story … I had no plan for him or anybody like him so I rotated laundry and talked to Jeff about Dr. C and what relationship Jeff had that was like the one between Dr. C and Tarphoon (Mr. Mo it turns out – which helped a ton).
So, today, nearly two weeks past the burglary Jeff needed me in the way infants need food in the cluster feeding days. We spent the morning physically tangled into each other or romping through adventures shoulder to shoulder as we built an enormous world where the cops cared about what the child said. Where even the dragon wouldn’t go into a strange place alone. Where even friends need to reconfirm their friendliness now that things are strange.
By the afternoon his cup had filled up, we went to the movie and did errands much more as ourselves than we had been in the past couple of weeks. I was mentally exhausted because I still am drawn to being in my own head right now, but he had a different pace to his step. Tomorrow he spends with just his dad – I suspect that adventures will abound.