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November 23, 2009 / allyo

Close to the surface

I started seeing a new therapist last week which is only relevant to this entry in that we had the usual first “getting to know you” appointment during which I talked a great deal about my family history. (She was very impressed by just how sane I am, heh.)

Another point of relevance is that I’ve been thinking a lot about over-protectiveness as a parent and how to find a sane balance between keeping the precious kiddo safe and allowing him (and me!) some freedom. I’m reading this book that talks about how we’re more safe today than ever but the perception of danger is disproportionately high. And we’re reading Ramona the Pest at bedtime and did you know? She walks to school by herself in KINDERGARTEN! I think if someone let their kid do that these days they’d be reported.

So MD and I are talking in bed Saturday night and for some reason I’m talking about coffee. Oh right, I mentioned that Sbux had lowered their price for a small coffee and raised the prices for the other 2 sizes and how that made me v. happy because I always get a small (in a grande cup so I can drown it with milk). Blah blah, I have this much money in my pocket so I can go Sunday before church and Monday and Tuesday at work. For some reason he asks, “Where is Jamie when you’re getting coffee before church?” Which, WTF? MD is insanely overprotective and it’s not unusual for us to clash on what are safe and sane boundaries but why that thought even crossed his mind I don’t know. I was busted though because for the past few weeks I’ve let him stay in the car while I ran in. He’s a) always within sight and b) it’s a stupidly safe neighborhood and c) we’re talking about 5 minutes max. MD says it’s illegal (cites an example from 15 years ago in a different Ohio city) and I’d better be careful.

I get really really pissed, cross words are exchanged and I finally get out of bed to google the shit out of the topic. I’m not going to redo the search but all my googling turned up was state bill to make it illegal to leave a child under the age of 5 in the car alone. I didn’t search any further so I don’t even know if the bill even passed but went back to bed triumphant and smug.

Then at church the next morning all the kids, preschool through 6th grade, sang during worship. Afterward the preschool group went out one way and the older kids went out the other but after they’re all gone I hear this “Mommy?” and there’s Jamie halfway to the door on the wrong side looking scared and confused. I go to him and he’s about to burst into tears so I pick him up and carry him out and he cries on my shoulder while I pat his back and tell him it’s ok. I tell him I know it was scary to get separated from the group but that church is a safe place and the grownups there are friends and will always help him if he needs it. He calms down, we go back to the preschool room. I’m feeling indignant – not mad- but peeved that no one noticed my kid was missing. When we walk inside the room I joke “Whoops, you lost one!” and the teacher says, laughing, “I’m sorry Jamie.” Well, Jamie turns around and walks back out and starts crying again because he thinks she’s laughing at him.

Instead of acting like an adult and calming him back down and having him go back in, I say, let’s go home. He agrees, we go back to the sanctuary and I’m immediately regretting saying we’re going home. Friend D calms me down, and I realize I’ve overreacted yet again. We did stay for the rest of the service and afterwards I explained to Jamie that Miss K was not laughing at him, she was laughing at herself for making a mistake. We went back to the room and she immediately apologized for losing him and for laughing and they hugged and all was well.

The thing is, I told the therapist last week that I have a lot of confidence in my abilities as a mother. It’s true. I think if you search the archives here you’ll find very little in terms of self doubt as a mom. You’ll find guilt and aggravation and a dose of self-deprecation but the thing is, I know what a bad mom looks like and I ain’t it. So when MD acts like I’m not being careful enough, I go to that place where my mom left me in a parking lot with friends when I was 3 and my very first memory of watching her being taken away by the police for shoplifting. Leaving my kid in the car for 5 minutes at the coffee shop can’t touch that.

On the flip side, one of Jamie’s biggest fears is separation from MD and I. It’s something he’s been afraid of before he could talk and has had very emotional reactions to shows or stories or books depicting lost children or parents. Since I know this loss first hand I tend overreact to situations like the one in church.

We talked about memory at therapy and I told the therapist that I don’t really have a set of memories as a child. I have moments that I remember very clearly but overall when I think of my childhood I think of loneliness. I can sit and concentrate and bring up specific memories that are neutral and happy, but I have to make an effort. The feelings overshadow everything else.

Those childhood experiences can haunt us even when we’ve moved on. Even when we’ve forgiven those involved. To me the day to day is so much less important than the overall tone. Yeah, I yell at my kid sometimes although with the help of this book I’m doing it a lot less lately. What’s important is that he feels safe. But it needs to be a safety that isn’t stifling, and that’s a challenge these days. It feels a lot like swimming upstream.

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