Except it kind of is. You see, this quarantine came at a time when the worst possible thing I could imagine was being in close quarters with my kids 24/7. In fact, in the days prior to the quarantine, at the end of the school day, I would sit in my office, put my face in my hands and break down crying at the thought of going home to my kids. What kind of a monster of a mother does that?! It’s hard to admit. I am ashamed. But it is the truth. I have been in a depressive state for a while, and the only thing helping me to keep my head above water (besides meds) is the fact that I would force my ass out of bed, dress like a professional, and go to a job I am good at. No matter how heavy my heart was and how many tears I fought on the way to work, the load lightened as the day went on – a silly comment from a teenager in their broken English, extra endearing because of the effort to connect with me despite the generation gap and language barrier; the sweet “thanks for the class, miss!” when exiting the classroom, making me feel like, maybe, just maybe, I still got this despite my world falling apart. And my rock, my colleague, who pops into my office to eat lunch with me and naturally brings out the “me” that I have lost. The “me” that laughs, the “me” that loves hearing about wedding plans, the “me” who still sees humor in things, the “me” that can still find solutions… the “me” that gets lost once I pull into my driveway and I am overcome by something similar to a vacuum sucking out everything from your breath, to your voice of reason, leaving you empty.
Obviously I didn’t get to this point overnight. It’s been a slow and painful downward spiral, an accumulation of mental surcharge, juggling everything a typcial high school teacher would, in addition to weekly appointments with a social worker to animate family meetings regarding our differing parenting styles (my parents, who live with us, have basically been co-parenting and consistency is a huge challenge). To that mix, add a change in special educator assigned to our family, emotional fatigue, and physical abuse. From my 8 year old son. My 130 pound 8 year old son with defiant behavior disorder, in addition to his Autism and lack of impulse control due to his ADHD.
His violence has been something I have asked for help on for years. The multidisciplinary team supporting us through it has changed members several times, each with a different philosophy, way of working, observation periods, charts to fill, medications to adjust, advice to give… but at the end of the day, my bruises keep multiplying, both on the outside and, the ones that heal less easily, the bruises on my heart. I stopped believing this would ever get better. And to add salt to a very open wound, his psychiatrist last week, after agreeing to try a new med, added that changing doses and molecules will be en eternal cycle until we place him in a center. Put him away. My sweet, joyful, affectionate boy. Torn from the people he loves so intensely. That is the solution I was offered.
I spent the next few days on the couch, in a bit of a haze. Alternating between despair and numbness. When I was finally able to put into words all the noise that was in my head, I reached out to other professionals. I tried to make a plan. It’s how I deal. I plan. Except, what was missing this time was the convinction that my plan would change anything. And then the dispair comes back and I am back on the couch crying. In the meantime, my mom has stepped up to care for the children. When I finally give in to their pleas and requests for mommy, I try to put on a face and participate in an activity. Giancarlo wants to bake a cake. It’s something he has recently taken an interest in and I have stocked up on Betty Crocker mixes. His energy level is through the roof – a mix of excitement and anxiety. I know him well enough to notice that we need to write down the steps before starting. Reading gives him the pause to breathe, and the structure offered by a written enumerated plan also calms his anxiety. It was a strategy I had used effectively many times before. Except, he started insisting that we should not add salt. “No, Giancarlo, no salt”. “NO SALT, NO SALT NO SALT!” He bangs his elbows on the table The escalation has begun. “Giancarlo, no salt, look, first…” and I read the steps I have coped down from our trusty Betty Crocker box. “No salt mommy!” “No, my love!” (me trying to remain calm) He must have taken my no as a denial of his request for no salt. He skipped three levels of regulation and went full-on apeshit. Threw himself on the floor, punching the legs of the table, knocking over the mixing bowl. I get down to his level to try to reason with him, because clearly there is a misunderstanding. He locks eyes with me and reaches for the hair near the nape of my neck, right where it hurts most – his favorite spot. What happens next is a blur. I just know that how I reacted was out of character for me. “Me”. God, I can’t even recognize myself anymore, neither in my actions, nor in my parenting, and much less in the thoughts that have flooded my brain lately.
And then comes the news. Schools are closed for at least 14 days. WHAT THE FUCK AM I GOING TO DO?!