Always behave like a duck. Keep calm and unruffled on the surface but paddle like the devil underneath.
~ Jacob Braude
After meeting Winston, we took Miss A out to lunch with us. It had been a wonderful but stressful day, and Brooke was taxed. She was mostly quiet as we drove to the restaurant, happily ensconced in Brooke-land.
As we pulled up to the restaurant (yeah, I’m going to keep calling it a ‘restaurant’ because I refuse to admit that I took my kids to Taco Bell for lunch and you can’t make me), Brooke screamed.
I unbuckled my seat belt and turned around to see what had happened. Miss A confirmed that a bug or some other flying object had apparently come through Brooke’s open window and landed right in her eye.
As Luau stopped the car, I hopped out as fast as I could, unbuckled my crying girl and lifted her onto the sidewalk. I asked Luau to grab a bottle of water to try to flush out her eye.
As we walked into Taco Be – er – the restaurant - I took the girls straight into the ladies’ room. Brooke was still crying. She didn’t want to go to the bathroom, but I knew she had to. She continued to cry as she relieved herself.
As she finished up, I washed her eye one more time as gently as I could. She was understandably on edge. Scratch that, she was understandably well over the edge.
A baby cried out from the other side of the closed door. Brooke screamed in response. The day had just been too much.
Kneeling down next to her, I did what I could to calm her down. Her breathing finally slowed a bit. She sniffled in the last of the sobs. Home stretch.
Katie began to cry.
OK, seriously .. NOW? RIGHT now?
I looked over at her. I hadn’t said a word, but my frustration was obviously telegraphed on my face.
“Mama,” Katie said through tears, “I just feel like Brooke gets way more of your attention.”
Oh for God’s sake. Now? In the effing bathroom at a restaurant – er – um – oh, Hell, whatever, yeah, it was Taco Bell. I took my kids to Taco Bell. Sue me. But NOW? Here? How many times do we have to have this conversation? How many different ways can I say the SAME GOD DAMNED THING? I get it. I do. I feel for her. We talk about it. A lot. I write about it. I think about it constantly. I do everything I can to make it better. I spend as much time alone with her as I possibly can.
But I can’t do it ALL THE TIME.
I swallowed the words that were threatening to escape. I found others.
“Yes, Katie. Sometimes she does. Even a lot of times. And sure as heck at times like this.”
She sniffled dramatically. Brooke let out a shriek.
“She’s scared, Katie. And confused. She’s had a long, hard day to begin with and now we’re in a place that’s difficult for her at best. Her eye hurts and she has no idea what the hell happened in the car ..”
“Mama!” Katie said, aghast. “You just said a bad word!”
“Yes, I did.”
I was struggling.
“Katie, this isn’t the time. We’re a team.” And I’m a broken record. “When one of us needs help, they get it. Brooke needs my help right now. And I’m going to give it to her.”
“Brooke,” I said, “I’m going to flush the toilet now.”
She pressed one ear into my thigh and dug the heel of her hand into the other.
We washed our hands and walked out together, both girls now sniffling and their mother feeling like a walking yard sale. As I walked to the counter to order, Miss A joined me. She leaned over and said the very last thing I would have expected to hear at that moment.
“You amaze me,” she said. “You stay so calm.”
I nearly turned to look behind me.
She couldn’t be talking to me. I was NOT calm.
I’ve thought a lot about what Miss A said that day.
Of all the words in the English language, she’d chosen ‘calm’.”
The more I chewed on them, the more pride I took in Miss A’s words. Three years ago, two years ago – hell, maybe last year – no one would have called me calm. These situations used to do me in.
Early in this journey I’d have gone straight down the rabbit hole in that bathroom. But over time I’ve retrained myself. Necessity has taught me to deny every natural instinct I have when my girl ramps up. I’ve learned the hard way that the worst possible thing that I can do when Brooke escalates is to follow her. I’ve no choice but to stay rooted firmly to the ground if I have any hope of helping her find her way back to it.
And so it is that we work in direct opposition to one another. As she ramps up, I slow down.
But as much as I felt good about Miss A’s words, they also made me realize why I am so profoundly tired. Not tired – TIRED. It all suddenly made sense … Why the tension percolates so close to the surface. Why I cry. Why I all but lose it when the noise finally goes quiet and I know the storm has passed. Why I sometimes need to get up and walk away. Why I don’t sleep. Why I write.
Because ‘calm’ takes WORK. When my baby’s scared, when she’s confused, when something is hurting her – every bit of my physiology is designed to respond. It is in my DNA. And I don’t. At least most of the time.
Paddling like the devil is tiring.
But it’s EXHAUSTING when it’s all under the surface.