"Dark, but happy, little sprites dance around the forest under the trees," I tell my daughter. The story goes on, and I try to keep the tale steps ahead of my inquisitive daughter. My five-year-old chimes in, adding her visions to my story, attempting to redirect my tale back to topics she knows and loves.
"We saw the dinosaurs in the museum," she tells me. "They were scary and then the waterfall came. Whoosh! The water came down." She is animated. Always animated, with a sing-song voice and lovely blond strands which, not so long ago, were beautiful ringlets. "Then Princess Sophie asked to be Rapunzel," she adds. There is no rhyme or reason for her tale. It is all simply what she has heard once and can quickly recall. I struggle to continue with my story, and then find we both are sucked into the tale we weave together. The sprites, fairies and "Narnia-esque" characters that I had planned to share slip away as her story unfolds.
I drift as I listen to my daughter, waiting for the inevitable tell-tale signs that she had become mentally "stuck" again. Her subtle fidgeting and twisting her clothes while hyper-extending her fingers tell me she is either tired or over-stimulated. They are all I need to know that she is struggling. She struggles often, and I am constantly catching her as she flounders. These shifts are our gauge, though; they tell use just how far we both will go before we hit the wall.
"Bear Book Day" is our wall, the perfect example of the surreal reality in which we live. For me, it is a haunting, ever present reality. For her, that day is just another story. I surely prefer her explanation to mine.
It began just as many other days had over the past few months. We played, ate our meals and went through our normal daily routine. Then, just as many days before, the afternoon spiraled into emotional havoc. Without reason, our daughter unraveled. She became more than animated, and extremely "over" that day. Over-sensitive, over-dramatic and over-tired. You name it; she was there. Nothing we tried could calm her. We playfully had a pillow fight, jumped on the trampoline, and "sandwiched" her in blankets. Finally, I took her upstairs, to the little "nook" under her bunk bed and tried to read with her on my lap. She fought it all, and then she finally fought me. The fury and rage began and I was trapped.
I held my little girl in my lap, struggling to keep her there. She was crying, moaning, banging her head and flaying. She hit me often and she seemed to like doing that. Soon, I, too, was screaming, crying, pleading. It was useless to change any of this, though. It was like trying to hold water through my fingers.
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Usually, days such as this ended with sheer exhaustion and fitful sleep. "Bear Book Day," though, had given birth to anger and hatred. I felt her slipping to a place of no return, and it took all I had to keep my daughter in my reality. I was so uncertain of what her reality might hold for her that I instinctively just knew I could not let go. "Water through my fingers." Later, that was how I described my feelings as I relived that day to others. I did the hand gesture, too, wiggling my fingers with that imaginary substance running over them, trying to catch the water through my fingers. Obviously, though, there was nothing to hold.
I can still feel the bites and bruises. My sympathy for her quickly gave way to self-preservation, but, still, I was unable to let go. We had come so far together, she and I. I barked orders to myself in my head: "She is your daughter. Take it; hold on, squeeze tight, you can do this, you must do this!" My brain was hissing at me. I felt myself loosening my hand-hold on her. I needed to let her to go, to save myself from further hurt, but I could not. I cannot tell you why. In an instant, all I could do was think to read the book that lay beside me. The book was there, I saw an out, and I needed to refocus myself. Maybe I needed to shut down for a change, so I picked up the book and began. She continued to scream, cry, struggle and strain. I pointed at the pages. My husband stood back, helpless, unable to get into the small, tight space under her bed. She and I were present in the moment, each of us doing what was necessary, but neither of us liking it. I wished I was anywhere but where I was and with anyone else, as well. I was there, however, and everything I held dear was in that moment. It was vital to have her be safe, to keep her here.
I continued reading, labeling the pictures. Describing the brown bear in the forest, naming his friends and using my finger to underline the words as I read them. She did not care; she was uninterested. She was A-N-G-R-Y! Finally, just as I was about to relent, I felt it. I felt the "whoosh," that descriptive word she uses when she talks about water. "Dear God, here comes the flood," I thought to myself. I was going to lose her. I could not even brace myself for the physical pain that was about to come with that horrendous sense of loss and it came just as I thought it would . . . but differently. Suddenly, on page five, I had her and there she was, looking down at the book on my lap. Everything in an instant became again as it should have been.
"Mommy, there is a bunny on that page!" Ah, the bunny! I wanted to pull that fluffy-looking grey bunny off that page and hand it to her. I had her back, coherent, clear and calm. She was my daughter all over again, and I was able to completely and really hold her once more.