Thursday, February 28, 2008

As the Air Clears

I shouldn't be surprised after all this time, but I was taken aback again last night. Our older daughter has been brooding for days about an unspoken situation, her attitude and cooperation waning day by day into an abysmal pit of malaise. It would be one thing if it were only herself ebbing downward, but she has the ability to pull our entire family system into a quiet, sullen place that makes everyone ill at ease. So, by the time she and Claudia engaged in an interaction that resulted in Claudia being assaulted, I was not surprised. Well, that wasn't the surprise, because we had been expecting this to occur at some point. The cycle of history is a hard thing to break in the world of emotions. The surprise for me was how relieved everyone else was when the police finally arrived and eventually removed her from our home.

I was in my office yesterday afternoon when I received an instant message from our younger daughter.

Daughter: Hi, daddy.
Me: Hello, M______. How are you?
Daughter: Fine. But the police are here?
Me: What do you mean the police are there?
Daughter: : Yeah, the police are here.
Daughter: Yeah mom and S_____ got into it and mom got hit or something. But yeah, the police are here.
Me: Are you OK?
Daughter: Yeah, I'm fine.
Me: Do you think I need to come home?
Daughter: I don't know. If you want. I don't care.
Me: OK. I'll come home.
Daughter: Bye.

I arrived home, the police were with the other daughter and Claudia in the living room, and I went to the family room to see how the other children were doing. They were nonchalantly, happily engaged in electronic pursuits. There was no tension in the room, no expressed concern. They were calm and content. I asked some ordinary questions ("How was school today?") and assessed the situation as well in control.

In a few moments the older daughter appeared at the stairs, came down to the family room and entered in grandiose, dramatic fashion, moving directly to her younger (birth) sister. Sobbing uncontrollably she managed to pull her younger sister into her chaos, pushing both of them to tearful hugs. The remaining siblings and I, along with the friendly police officer, watched the scene unfold, and he finally said, "OK. We need to get going now." Hoodie pulled over her head and face, older daughter was escorted from the room and into the waiting squad car. Our younger daughter went to her room to cry a little longer, while Claudia and I took a few moments to debrief. Then I headed back to the other kids while Claudia went to talk with the remaining crying chid.

We went about the rest of the evening's activities, which on Wednesday means a number of church-related things. By the time I returned home at 9:00 from my responsibilities, nearly everyone was gathered at our kitchen table (which hasn't happened for some time, because older daughter is usually nearby affixed to the television or on the telephone, and her mood isn't exactly welcoming to others). We sat at the table, ate some Girl Scout cookies, and the children chattered happily with Claudia and me. The air had cleared, and everyone felt relieved that the emotional stress had dissipated.

Younger daughter was gregariously recounting her sixth grade health class discussion of sexuality, which led to fairly (I thought) appropriate comments from her brothers, including a few giggles and such. Claudia and I had to laugh when we heard younger daughter describing the reproductive process. After describing the female contribution to conception, she declaimed, "And then the guy gets an expression or something so that the sperm can get in there." I said, "An expression?!" "Oh, dad, you know what I mean, something like that." "You mean an erection?" "Oh yeah, that's it."

We all laughed. The air had begun to clear, and we were happy again, enjoying one another's company, unassailed by the dark, menacing mood that had attached itself to us for so many days. I only wish we could have as much joy when all of us are together.

It seems unfair for so many to endure so much emotional duress when one person is unhappy and committed to not resolving her issues. This path is a difficult one to navigate, but for now I am simply enjoying the momentary emotional freedom we are experiencing.


Angela :-) said...

That is one issue I haven't been able to resolve in my head. Is it unfair to ask the rest of our children to deal with a difficult child or is that just part of living in a family?

Angela :-)

Bart said...

This really is a provocative and difficult question to ask. The way we have resolved is several-fold: (1) none of our kids are immune from their own challenges, some more obvious and disruptive than others, but everyone has their "issues." (2) We remind our kids that we are all broken humans and that we need, at its most basic, a family to help us through life. (3) We tell our kids regularly that what they experience in our family is not unlike what they will find in the "real world." There are challenging people everyone. (4) We remind our college-bound kids that they will never have a roommate nearly as irritating as one of their siblings : )