Skye is still in Texas. We thought she might be coming home for a furlough in March, but it doesn’t look that way anymore. She is stuck again. She is face-to-face with the really difficult stuff she needs to tackle, the stuff that concerns how she feels about herself. Instead of Skye coming here, John and I are planning another visit to her.
I recently wrote a letter to Skye, inspired by remembering an old friend of mine who struggled with similar issues. He drank to numb his pain. He ran away to another part of the country rather than stay and deal with the hurt inside. I keep hoping that by giving Skye concrete examples of people who struggle and make it – or examples of people who let fear keep them from leading happy lives – she will be inspired to work harder on herself. I think, worry about, and love Skye everyday.
Interestingly, I found this email (below) about Skye, written almost a decade ago, as I was puzzling over what else I might say or do: and it stopped me in my tracks…
August 20, 2003
The school year began with a bang around here. On the first day of school, the children got off the bus. Emily and K.J. reported that the first day was “great.” Skye did not respond. We had a snack; and then I asked everyone to get out his or her homework. Emily and K.J. quickly obliged. Skye refused. She did more than refuse. After I repeated myself numerous times, she took out the homework assignment page and tore it up! Then she yelled, “You are ruining my life!”
I tried for a couple of hours to coax, cajole, beg, and bribe her into doing the homework. I was unsuccessful. John arrived home. Somehow, before bedtime, he was able to get her to put pencil to paper. It was exhausting.
The next days were not any easier. She didn’t want to go to school. She wanted to stay home with her new parakeet, Buddy. (Speaking of the parakeet — She said, “I only love two things in the world: God and Buddy.”) She refused to study her spelling words. She made a Zero on the first test. However, the in-class schoolwork that came home was all “correct.” Was this yet another case of Skye exercising control over us?
Now, the other thing you should know about Skye is that she is resistant to change in her routine. I thought some of her behavior could simply be about making the transition from summer routine to school routine. But John had just announced that he would be traveling for business every week for the next two months; and I was not looking forward to taking on Skye’s defiance by myself.
Yesterday broke me. John was gone and I was getting everyone ready for school and the bus. Skye would not eat. She would not get dressed. She kept getting the bird out of his cage. The bus arrived and she was still inside the house without socks or shoes. I snatched her, the footwear, and the backpack and whisked them out the door while she was wailing. I shoved the socks and shoes in her hands as I dropped her on the bus steps. Skye was crying and stuck her tongue out at me as the bus roared away.
I felt horrible. I called John and we made a long-distance plan to try harder with her, but I really didn’t feel any better. I readied Journey and myself for a trip to YMCA, thinking exercise might make me feel better. When we got there, Journey refused to stay in the Play Center. When I got back to the van, I just fell apart and cried. I love Skye and I hated that our relationship had degenerated to this. If I’m “ruining” her life at six, what will I be doing to it at 16?
I decided I needed to talk to Skye right then. I drove to the school, got a Visitor’s Pass, and borrowed her from the classroom. She was engaged with her friends and wanted to know why I was taking her away. If I wasn’t going to take her home, she said she wanted to go back to class. As we sat in the cafeteria — well, actually, she rolled around on the floor — I tried to explain how I was feeling and that I wanted us to be able to get along. I wanted her cooperation in that. She looked this way and that. “Yeah, yeah. Can I go back to class now?” she said. I let her.
That afternoon, the kids came home and I worked with Skye to get her to focus on doing homework so that we could all go to the neighborhood pool. She wouldn’t finish it. She kept leaving me to play with Buddy. But, since everyone else was done, we loaded up the van and headed for the pool. Skye understood that she could not swim until the work was complete. Though she complained about it, she finished her work quickly so that she could swim too.
As we piled back into the van to go home for dinner, Skye handed me a scrap of cardboard. She said, “I did this at school.” The cardboard read, “I Luv Mom.” I thanked her, and she was gone back to her activities.
Now, to be honest, Skye was the youngest six-year-old in her first grade class, having just turned six two weeks before. She also had undiagnosed ADHD – which we didn’t have confirmation of for many years. Still, if you know Skye, I’m sure you are nodding: “Yep. Same defiant, explosively angry, do-it-her-own-way kid.”
Wiring. How much can we really change? Oh, sure, with age and maturity, we learn to control our tempers (maybe) and to choose which authorities to defy (sometimes). But, in some ways, Skye’s 6-year-old unfiltered “Id” [Sigmund Freud’s term for that part of us that wants what it wants when it wants it] is preferable to the more sophisticated facade Skye has developed now to control her world. She has learned to pretend that she is what she believes others – particularly her peers – want her to be. But pretending only hurts her. When she is accepted for behavior that does not reflect who she really is, it confirms that who she really is is not good enough.
I find hope in the cardboard “I Luv Mom.” It comes from a genuine, REAL place inside her that “knows” she is loving and lovable. She “knows” that, in spite of her resistance, I will keep reaching for her; and THAT is what matters. And she knows she has a part to play. She, too, must reach.
Pretending to be beautiful with clothes, make-up, and the “right” culturally prescribed body when you don’t feel beautiful, or pretending to love with manufactured words or physical overtures when you don’t feel lovable and are afraid to be vulnerable, gets immediate gratification. But it never lasts and often sends us into deeper despair. Yet, pretending is hard to give up when you can’t quite believe you’ll ever get through “the valley of the shadow of death,” as it says in the 23rd Psalm – our doubts, our imperfections, our vulnerability that may lead to loss and hurt. The fear is overwhelming. The Psalmist speaks of the Lord’s presence. But I would like to think that we embody this “presence” for the people we love. The Psalm goes on to say, “I will fear no evil: For thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” Being a loving presence with discipline (rod) and staff (support) is our job as parents, isn’t it?
I remember the cardboard “I Luv Mom,” and I know that Skye’s gift was given freely and from a deep place, and I have hope – regardless of the wiring.