“I don’t feel good, Mama. My head hurts. My chest hurts. Am I going to be sick until I’m seven?”
Gamera (6) had been whining or crying or complaining about how awful she felt for at least 2-3 days. And like the excellent mother I am, I had been ignoring her and chocking all her complaining to the fact that that is just who she is in life. A complainer. A man-cold/man-flu haver as a personality trait.
I mean, I wasn’t mean. I knew she didn’t feel good. I massaged her several nights in a row with fancy essential oils. I made her the foods she loves when she’s sick. I made her rest and didn’t force her to do anything. I’m not a savage.
But inside, I mocked her. I made fun of her to my friends. I joked about it to Facebook. After all, Cookie Monster (8) and Glow Worm (4) had also been sick and they weren’t feeling great but they weren’t acting like they were dying. She acted like she was the only person in the whole world to have ever gotten sick.
I mean, I know her, right? She’s a drama queen. She cries about everything.
Plus, Sasquatch (1) was also sick with something similar and was absolutely miserable and quite frankly, I was a little more concerned with him.
On the morning of New Year’s Eve Day, I noticed that Sasquatch was breathing really fast and lethargic. Since it was a Sunday and the day before a holiday, I decided to make an appointment with urgent care in case he got worse on New Year’s Day, when everyone would be closed.
When the advice nurse heard that Sasquatch was up to 63 breaths per minute, she told me to head straight to the ER. We had just been there on Christmas Eve with Glow Worm (4) – yes, we do have a frequent flyer card there – so I was annoyed about yet another giant hospital bill, but obviously, Sasquatch’s health and well-being were paramount.
We got to the ER and they took blood samples to see if he had the flu, inserted an IV, and gave Sasquatch a chest x-ray to see if he had pneumonia. The chest x-ray came back positive.
At this moment, when the on-call pediatrician came in and explained what was going on with my baby, it hit me. Gamera had had the same symptoms as Sasquatch this entire week.
Gamera probably had pneumonia.
We ended up being admitted into the ICU until the next evening. I cancelled our New Year’s Eve party at our house and tormented myself with the possibility that Gamera had pneumonia.
Finally, I asked the pediatrician if I should bring her in, too. Since Gamera sounded as if she was on the mend, the doctor said that it would be wise to schedule an appointment for her and for Sasquatch for a follow up appointment on the day after New Year’s. But if she also experienced shortness of breath, to bring her to the ER immediately.
I set up the appointments right away.
On the day of her appointment, we ended up seeing someone who was not our regular physician. As he listened to her heart with the stethoscope, he casually mentioned, “You know about her heart murmur, right?”
“Wait. Her WHAT?!?”
“Her heart murmur.”
“Is this something her regular doctor would miss?”
“Oh, no. It’s really obvious. If you put your ear to her chest, you’ll hear it, too. Instead of ‘ba-bum, ba-bum,’ you’ll hear ‘ba-shhhhhhhh.'”
I put my ear to her chest but didn’t hear anything. Clearly, this is why I am not a doctor.
He gave me some more information, saying there were many causes of heart murmurs and possibly, this was a temporary thing caused by pneumonia, and that we should follow up in a week and see if it’s still there. If it was, then there were some pediatric cardiologists he could recommend.
Oh, right. She also for sure had pneumonia. He then gave me a prescription for the same antibiotic Sasquatch was on.
I stumbled out of that appointment in a daze.
All I could hear in my head was the memory of my therapist, Dr. T, saying, “I feel sorry for Gamera. You see only rebellion or stubbornness or her trying to make your life more difficult. You don’t see her. You don’t see her at all.”I feel sorry for Gamera. You see only rebellion or stubbornness or her trying to make your life more difficult. You don't see her. You don't see her at all.
I felt like the world’s worst mother.
That Friday, I told Dr. T about the whole situation. First, she mocked me when I said that I almost cried several times when Sasquatch was in the hospital because I was so worried. She said, “OMG. You almost cried? You almost had an emotion?” (This is why I love my therapist.)
Then, Dr. T asked me why I had such a difficult time taking Gamera seriously. I had no good answer for her.
Part of it is that I often feel like Gamera is overdramatic and trying to get attention. But Dr. T suggested I think about the whys behind her behaviors. Was she crying because she was overwhelmed? Feeling bad (physically or mentally)? Afraid? Angry? Anxious?
Even if Gamera was doing things to get attention, it was my job to teach her appropriate ways to get attention (instead of say, NOT CRYING ALL THE TIME). So, I told myself to start taking Gamera seriously.
I truly did not want to because I was convinced that she would start to take advantage of me. But Dr. T told me that eventually, some of the consequences of me taking Gamera seriously would no longer be fun for her and she would stop. For example, going to the doctor or making her stay home and rest and not getting to eat fun things because if she is too sick to go to class, she is too sick to have fun at home.
The other part is that I worry that Gamera isn’t tough enough; that she is too soft. In my mind, softness equals weakness.
I cannot countenance weakness.
Dr. T said, “Softness is not the same as weakness. Allow softness in yourself and in your child.”
I found that statement so important that I wrote it down in my phone because I knew I would forget. Later, I even ordered a custom lettered canvas of her words just so I could see it on a daily basis and eventually believe it.
Allow softness in myself and in my child.
Wouldn’t you know it, right after the session, Hapa Papa texted me that Gamera had thrown up and was feeling awful again. Since it was a Friday afternoon (my kids always get sick on the most inconvenient days), I immediately called our doctor’s office to get in another appointment and the only office that had an available time was 30 minutes away. I took it and rushed home to pick up Gamera.
There was no way I wasn’t going to take her seriously this time.
That doctor said she was fine and perhaps was reacting poorly to the antibiotics. She also told me Gamera’s heart murmur was no longer there. She explained that sometimes, heart murmurs occur when our hearts are working extra hard and the pneumonia was taking toll on Gamera but now that the antibiotics had kicked in, she was much better.
I almost sagged in relief.
It’s been about a month and a half since this incident and although Gamera still pushes my buttons the most, I am happy to say that something finally clicked into place.
I finally realized that when Gamera cries or refuses to comply, it is often because she is anxious. She has no problem doing things if it comes naturally to her; but if she’s not immediately excellent at something, she refuses to do it anymore.
Somehow, knowing this about her has made me have compassion on her whereas before, when it was purely about trying to understand her emotions (and OMG SHE HAS SO MANY EMOTIONS), there was a huge empathy gap on my part.
I had a hard time connecting with her emotions and with Dr. T telling me that I just had to empathize with Gamera’s feelings. I mean, that’s a tall order for me because I only feel anger and frustration.
Crying is just not on my radar.
In general, I find it a useless thing to do because short of relieving the need to cry, it doesn’t actually make anything better. Your situation is exactly the same. Better to just suck it up and figure your shit out and DO SOMETHING so that you no longer have a reason to cry.
But now that I have re-framed the situation into her crying due to her anxiety, I don’t feel quite as helpless. After all, I know how to deal with anxiety and feeling overwhelmed.
I constantly feel anxious and overwhelmed.
I deal with my anxiety by getting mad and screaming at everyone – which I realize now is just my version of crying. Getting mad and screaming ALSO doesn’t make your situation any better. In fact, I would argue that it makes your situation worse. At least crying makes you feel better without making other people feel worse.
Anyhow, it’s been better this last month because I have been consciously reframing Gamera’s crying and whining as her way of dealing with anxiety and fear. I try to figure out what is going on in her mind as it whirs around at 100mph (hmmm… this sounds familiar…) and she spirals into cycle after cycle of crying hysterically.
For instance, recently, I picked up Gamera from her Chinese tutoring session. She started sobbing, voice pitching higher and higher, about how she was so confused and that using the Chinese dictionary was so hard and she was so stupid and never going to get it and she was never going to be able to do her homework. Cookie Monster (8) did not help at all when he piped in that it was so easy! (He was trying to encourage her, but I think that backfired.)
My immediate reaction was to tell her to stop crying and to suck it up. I wanted to lecture her that crying wouldn’t help and that everything takes practice and to get over it already.
I remember learning how to use the Chinese dictionary. It is hard. And slow. And frustrating.
Gamera was the youngest in her class by about two years. She saw Cookie Monster figure out the dictionary so quickly and easily so she felt awful for not catching on quickly enough.
As we drove home, I tried to comfort her and tell her it’s okay to feel stupid, that she wasn’t stupid, and that I would help her with her homework and that she did not have to do all of it at once. That seemed to help and I didn’t even have to yell.
The next day, when she was doing her Chinese homework, she again spiraled into hysteria and this time, I did yell at her to chill out and to go to her room and take a break. Despite me not meaning to make her feel worse, Gamera thought I was yelling at her because she was in trouble.
I apologized and told her I was worried about her and then offered her chocolate. The chocolate disrupted her tears long enough to snap her out of whatever rut she was in. I told her I would help her after I put Sasquatch down for a nap.
Afterwards, it took about 5-10 minutes of slowly explaining how the Chinese dictionary worked and she got it. She finished a little more of her homework, and after that, she no longer melted down.
In the past, I likely would have attributed Gamera not wanting to do her homework with stubbornness or being a jerk or a second child or someone who was trying to make my life harder. When really, it was because of her anxiety. And because I actually saw her as a person versus a bunch of annoying adjectives, she felt heard and known and we also got her homework done.
Hopefully, if I do this enough, she will no longer feel as if there is something wrong with her as well as learn ways to cope and breakdown overwhelming tasks into bite-sized chunks.Allow softness in myself and in my child.
Baby steps for both of us.
Until then, I look forward to the day when I can finally see my sweet girl not through a glass darkly, but truly face to face.