Some clients say coming to see me is the best part of their week (awwww). A few ask to see me multiple times in a week (wish it were possible). Others say I am the only human being who listens to them (we work on widening the circle). Apparently, my office is “famous” for being the place where kids make stress balls out of balloons filled with moon sand, a squishy, fine sand that can be easily molded. My kids sing songs, make creatures out of clay, and draw pictures with themes ranging from dark to light. Are any of these things therapeutic? I have no idea, but we do talk about feelings as we push the sand into balloons. We discuss the themes in their artwork. I listen to them sing and applaud when the songs are over.
I am still filled with self-doubt, of course, and know there is room for improvement. A lot of room. There is so much I do not know, so many skills I have not yet mastered. However, if I am doing anything for my clients, it is providing that safe space, listening without judgment, and being present. How many of us get that?
I feel lucky to have this job, but luck should not get all the credit. It was my past intermingled with the desire to help others, it was life experience plus hard work, it was my essence meeting with realities of the world. Still, I am profoundly grateful for my placement and the opportunity I get to provide these kids with a welcoming space in which they can be themselves.
So, yeah. I am pretty damn lucky.
And what a difference a couple of days make.
So why don’t I feel exhilarated? Relieved? Instead, I feel like I am doing everything wrong, and I will never know how to do it right. Everything is mixed up inside. I feel exposed. I feel like a fraud. I feel alone.
Maybe it’s tiredness (late night/early morning). Or the sick husband (stomach bug). Or the death of one of my husband’s friends, something that has brought the whole family down (sorry, Grace). Or maybe I am letting that “motivating” anxiety run rampant now that I no longer have to contain it.
But mostly, I am feeling alone.
Or I was, until my (recovering) husband left his sick bed to sit beside me. We talked about the friend and the unfairness of life. We discussed my insecurities, how hard this semester has been, and how far I have come.
If I allow myself, I can almost believe it.
This is what I would like for you: sun, clouds, storms to wipe the slate clean, shallows to splash in and deep water where sleek fish await your hook. On a patch of fine, white sand, just far enough from the tide line, sits your cabin, connected to the grid by a thin thread of electricity. It may leak in blustery weather, and the propane heater sputters in the cold, but the cabin is (mostly) sound. It is small, square, and contained. It is enough.
I cannot wish you perfection or pure happiness. But I can wish you contentment, a steady, light rain on gray days, the warmth of the sun at its height, the fleeting beauty of flowers in bloom, the promise of their fruit. I can wish you stability, companionship, and flashes of joy. And when despair threatens to freeze and wither your capacity to love, I wish you the ability to rejuvenate yourself by a fire of your own making.
I do not have to know you to know what we all need.
Image License Some rights reserved by nathangibbs.
These lost years are long over. Our playground moments are becoming bittersweet. The boy grows, he is constantly becoming, and I want to absorb as much as I can of him at eight before eight morphs into nine and then I will bask in nine until nine becomes ten, and so on until maybe I am just holding on to what I can as we struggle with the burgeoning independence of a teenager.
When I watch my son, I revisit my childhood. I rethink it with every client. The kids I see range in age from five to twelve. Working with such a range reveals the developmental nature of human beings more concretely than my “Development Through the Lifespan” classes ever did. Each age has its glories and newnesses, its tasks and difficulties. Children are cognitively and emotionally different from adults. And we expect so much of them.
I told my therapist yesterday that I was beginning to forgive the childhood me for not being an adult, to forgive her her weaknesses and unmet needs. But why forgive a kid for being a kid? She committed no crime. It was not her fault that her very legitimate needs were not always met. Acceptance is the word. I still struggle with accepting that child. I still struggle with accepting myself.
As the boy tossed sand into the air, involved in a game of his own making, I saw not only him, but also my clients. I saw myself. We were just kids trying to figure things out. We needed compassion and love, support and acceptance. I wished I could go back and remake what had come before, could become myself at eight, occupy that 50-pound body, and tell myself that it was OK to need love, attention, and support. The fact that those needs were not always met was not my fault. It did not mean that I was a bad person. It was nothing to be ashamed of, just the sad truth that the adults in my life were trapped in the amber of their own existence. There was not always space for me at my childhood table, but creating that space was not my responsibility.
The closet I could get to embracing that girl was a feeling of profound nostalgia for the 1970s. I indulged it by taking pictures filtered to look like snapshots from the time. But the scenes I created were empty of people. The party was over, the girl’s tears had left salty trails on her reddened cheeks, the car was packed and on the road. I would have to catch her another day.
The Cramps song “The Crusher” was going through my head this morning. This was not a good thing. It is about violence on the dance floor, psychobilly style. It meant that something wicked bubbled beneath my mental surface. My id wanted to overpower my ego, to break through and wreak havoc.
I thought maybe it was school stress or leftover anger, or the fact that our car just died and the clothes washer was having problems, or that the relatively new oven just needed fixing and the dishwasher replacing. These little stressful events add to the general angst burden, and while within them is great luck – we own a house, we still have a car and can absorb the cost of payments when we buy another one, the washer hasn’t died yet, we had enough money to fix the oven and get a new dishwasher – they add a layer of tension to the anxiety strata.
But then I realized that I would not be able to relax until I wrote, and that I had to write about shame. It feels so much a part of me, woven through my being. So I work – and write – through it on the road to acceptance.
Not forgiveness. Acceptance.
Image 1970s style (including uninspired composition) of the picnic area at the park by me.