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The Dam Breaker

April 29, 2008

This past Friday night we attended a Silent Auction at the kids’ school. It was complete craziness, but we had a great time. We ate too many cold hot dogs and soggy Sloppy Joes, wandered in and out of the building checking on our latest bids, strategized the best way to win the treasures we really wanted, and ended up spending far too much money. While My Hubby, Shaggy, Daphne and I manned our individual bids, Velma spent most of the time with her closest friend, we’ll call her Courtney.

Courtney and Velma have been stuck together like glue all school year long. At first, we were really excited for Velma. She’s not the type of kid that makes a million friends. She’s not a social butterfly. There have been tears upon tears in the past several years because of her difficulties with making friends. So when she came home and announced that she had made a great friend–not just an acquaintance, but a best friend, even–we were excited for her.

Courtney has been an interesting influence over the school year. We’ve heard about Courtney and Velma’s tendency to get together and act silly at school (I believe “lose a rung or two on the maturity ladder” was the exact verbiage used by their math teacher), and we’ve witnessed it firsthand at home. I worked from home one day–when school was out and daycare was closed–and Velma invited Courtney over to hang out with her for the day. I figured it would be no big deal. I mean, they’re fifth graders, right? How hard could it be?

Seriously. I could hardly even hear myself think over their raucous giggling. Velma transformed, right before my very eyes, from a quiet, almost meek, kid into a loud, boisterous, devil-may-care, rule-breaking and downright defiant child in Courtney’s presence. I had several discussions with her and, at one point, even threatened to send Courtney home if she didn’t get a grip. Worse, I had to have the same conversation with Courtney. With the other kiddos that have graced the doorstep of our home, a stern look from me followed by a discussion with the kiddo who did the inviting usually does the trick. Our kiddo seems to be able to pass along the house rules and the guest seems able to understand and comply. Healthy respect for authority and all that. Not so much, Courtney.

When Courtney left for the day, I sat Velma down and we discussed the expectations, should she want Courtney to come back over any time in say the next 50 years. She understood. She apologized. She said she was just so excited that she had such a wonderful friend. She didn’t mean to be disprespectful. It wouldn’t happen again. Could she, please, please, please, please, just have one more chance? I relented. And we haven’t seen that kind of behavior for awhile. But I still have felt a little uneasy about Courtney. I can’t really put my finger on why.

We’ve managed to work through the school issues. And we’ve dealt with our fair share of fifth grade drama (watch out Middle School, here they come). But things seem to have settled a bit. I still watch them together and wonder how Velma moves, almost immediately, into another emotional world. The smiles are bigger, the giggling is louder, the body is more animated… she’s a different child. Did I do that when I was her age? I don’t remember it, though I imagine it was quite possible. I’ve just never seen her do it before — and though she hasn’t had a million different friends, like Daphne, she’s had plenty of them come over to the house in the past few years. Weird.

Anyway, Velma spent the evening with Courtney. When it came time to leave, she was disappointed. We’d been there for almost three hours. It was late. We were tired. My Hubby headed to the car with Daphne, Velma and Shaggy, while I stayed a minute to say goodbye to Freddy who was leaving with his Dad (you know, the sane one–the one that we can actually attend things like the Silent Auction with and enjoy each other’s company).

When I arrived at the car, Velma was in full-blown meltdown mode. She had tears pouring down her face, and she was screaming at the top of her lungs. She’s 10, OK? But picture a three-year-old in the middle of the most amazing tantrum you’ve ever seen and that’s our Velma. I sighed, because this is not a new thing. This is one of the reasons we started going to therapy in the first place. I know in my brain that she can’t help it, can’t control the emotions, can’t keep it inside. But my emotions get the better of me, too, and darn it, we’d just had such a fun night. I hate to end things that have been enjoyable with something like that.

No sooner had the sigh left my lips, than Velma crossed her arms over her chest, screwed up her face, her eyes sparking with a glare that could melt the paint off the car, and spat at My Hubby, “And I’m NOT MAD!” Clearly. I can’t even find the words to describe the tone in her voice — disdainful, angry, venomous. I had an immediate picture of her mother fill my head. He turned, slowly, breathed deeply and said, “You, young lady, are grounded for the next week. Do not EVER speak to me like that again. Do we understand each other?”

The anger in her voice and body melted away into sobbing, her shoulders slumped and her feet dragging as she shuffled her way to the car, still howling like a wounded animal. Love those moments, don’t you? A thousand kids and parents pouring out the front of the school, all eyes turned toward us and the spectacle that Velma was making in the parking lot. Ugh. As we drove out of the parking lot, My Hubby’s face hot with embarrassment, I asked what had happened.

Evidently, Shaggy asked her if she was sad. She said she wasn’t. When Shaggy then suggested to My Hubby that she was sad, that pushed her right over the edge of the cliff into insanity (really, those people that care drive me nuts, too). She bit Shaggy’s head off, and then My Hubby suggested that she wasn’t sad, she was mad. That was the end of it all.

Alrighty then…

I don’t know what to do. It seems like her time with Courtney precedes these meltdown moments. It’s like she moves into some heightened emotional state and she can’t come down from it.

I know there’s a lot more on her mind than leaving the Silent Auction earlier than planned. I know she’s conflicted about all kinds of things, not the least of which is our next court date. I know that she was thinking about spending the weekend with The Egg Donor (ED). I know she has a million emotions swirling around inside of her–about her parents, about the whole ugly situation, about losing more time with ED, about starting Middle School next year, about world peace, for all I know–and they’re bound to come out somehow.

But Courtney seems to be a trigger for her, the crack in the dam that, under just enough pressure, causes every drop of emotion inside the child to come gushing out, flattening everything and everyone in its path. I don’t want to ban her from spending time with Courtney, her one and only best friend on the planet. But we just can’t take the aftermath of time with her. There’s got to be a solution out there — I just can’t seem to come up with it.

Any of you run into something like this? What did you do?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Lurker permalink
    April 29, 2008 11:50 am

    Long time reader, first time writer here. I love your blog.

    Velma sounds a lot like I used to be when I was a child. I used to cry my eyes out when one of my few friends had to leave to go back to her mother’s house. I just couldn’t control my emotions very well and couldn’t handle the aftermath of an emotional high in a “normal” manner.

    Is it possible that Velma has Asperger’s syndrome? I’ve not been diagnosed with it myself but, upon hearing the description of it, my mother said “Holy cow, you just described my daughter perfectly.” Aspies can have a difficult time dealing with changes in expectations or routine. I know I still do. I also get worn out by being around people for very long. I just have to get away from everyone (my husband included) sometimes or else I get so stressed that I can’t function.

    I’m not saying your step-daughter does have Asperger’s but, from what I can tell from your blogging about her, it might be worth exploring with her therapist. She could just be having a hard time due to the adult things going on around her. She sounds like a real little trooper, though, to be doing as well as she is with all the stuff going on in her world.

    Sorry if I overstepped here by suggesting this.

  2. April 29, 2008 12:12 pm

    This is completely my own opinion – take it as you will. I know that when I have met someone (at any point in my life) that has truly touched me and made me feel alive (y’know?) my eyes sparkle, my body gets tingly, it is almost that excited gigglyness that you can’t shake off. Does this make sense? And with all the stress I am sure Velma is experiencing in her life it is probably a full on relief to be with her girlfriend who makes her stop thinking and just be a kid for a little while. But I would not discount your instincts either – I think our instincts are usually right. Keep an eye on the situation, but being a kid is really, really hard. I think you are handling it well. Good for you for setting boundaries. Keep up the dialog with Velma. And much luck.

  3. lyndaspix permalink
    April 29, 2008 4:38 pm

    I think I would try my best to make sure she understands and complies with the boundaries you and her daddy have in place.

    At the same time I would also validate her feelings. They are real, they do hurt and they should be acknowledged. When she is up to it

    I know that my most frustrating times as a kid were the times when I was really upset and my parents would treat me like it was all in my head, or ignore me and act as though there was nothing wrong. But looking back, I know there was something wrong! I think their not acknowledging my pain was a big part of why I learned at a young age to stuff it all inside.

    Well, you and I know how successful THAT has been for me, don’t we? 🙂

  4. April 29, 2008 5:11 pm

    Good for your hubby for clearly telling her she was out of line and disciplining her appropriately.

    One of my girls has a friend like Courtney too, but she doesn’t have quite as much of an emotional reaction to her. But that heightened animation, voice, mannerisms? I know exactly what you are talking about, and not only is it annoying, but it creates problems long past when the other child has left. My gut tells me that my kiddos friend is not ‘alright’, even if my kiddos gut tells her the opposite. We limit their time together. That’s all we can do.

  5. April 29, 2008 5:13 pm

    Oops. Hit sumbit and still had more to say.

    I do think it’s good that Velma’s emotions come out when she is with you guys; you and your hubby have the tools to handle it appropriately, and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a kid who lets it all out than holds it all in.

    Heaven help me.

  6. April 29, 2008 7:38 pm

    We had a friend like this with Britt in sixth grade. It was Britt’s only friend. I mean O-N-L-Y friend for nearly the whole year until April.

    Britt would have these emotional breaks when she spent time with the friend. After much therapy and many moments of wanting to kill said friend and Britt… it started to dawn on me. Britt was terrified of losing her one and only friend. She knew the friendship was unhealthy on one level and terrified for it to go away on another level.

    As Britt grew in therapy, she was able to branch out. Two years later, she is doing so much better with choosing friends and the triggers for her out breaks have broken down to mostly “perceived wrongs”.

    Good Luck! Its so hard to watch a child hurt and be disrespectful at the same time. You want to kill them and comfort them at the same time.

  7. April 29, 2008 9:08 pm

    Ummm, just re-read my comment…I have no idea what I was going to say when I started typing “When she is up to it”.

    I came back to say that I think you and your hubby are doing a great job with the kids and I know that they are in a much better place with you two than when they were spending a lot more time with ED. I strongly believe that with your guidance the kids will come out on the other side of all this much stronger and emotionally healthier than if you guys hadn’t fought so hard to do the right things for them.

  8. April 30, 2008 9:25 pm

    Gosh this is SO hard, especially because she’s a girl, and girls are relationship-driven. You might want to ask her about how she feels when she’s with Courtney. Try digging to see why her behavior changes so drastically when Courtney leaves. Is Courtney the dominant friend? or is Velma?

  9. theresa geir permalink
    December 5, 2008 12:53 am

    Help! I forgot your password and I am DYING to read the next entry! PLEASE send me the password again!

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