I have a child, a girlchild, who is somewhat highly strung. (I hear my own
mother's voice in the background, saying, wryly, like her mother.
Granted, I think Tess has been through a lot of life experience that most
nine-year-olds probably can't lay claim to, both positive and negative.
I was 16 the first time I ever rode in an airplane; Tess was nine. as in nine
days old. Like pease porridge hot. She was still a tootsie roll, wrapped in
a blanket, when we all took a little Cessna on a short hop from Port
Townsend, Washington, to Roche Harbor on San Juan Island.
Tess has all the advantages and disadvantages of a modern American child,
born to older parents. She has a ridiculous amount of stuff, being the
only grandchild of a large doting Chinese American family. She doesn't
have to suffer a lot of frustration - she often has more than enough people
around to solve most difficulties for her. But I have to say most, not
Tess has also been through more life-changing events than many adults I
know. She lost her maternal grandmother to ovarian cancer before she was
two. She doesn't remember Helen. She lost one of her favorite aunties, my
darling sister-out-law, when she was six. To ovarian cancer. That, she
was old enough to remember.
Most recently, she lost her other grandmother. To leukemia. You are
starting to see the pattern, here, I think. And has suffered through
seeing her mother experience treatment for breast cancer.
Don't forget that everyone Tess had ever seen "get" cancer, had croaked.
Remember, she has, for most of her life, been an only child of a single parent - I'm it, as far as she's concerned.
There was a long time when "family" meant she and I. Team grundoon.
She is close to her birth dad, emotionally, but he lives several states
away. She also is very close, now, to her stepfather, but initially, we
were all making it up as we went along. Kevin leapt into the fray. We all
got through it as best we could, but they forged a relationship during a
state of emergency.
Additionally, over the course of my cancer treatment, in addition to the
new stepfather, we moved, changed schools, dealt with immigration, etc.
etc. ad nauseum. This is a ridiculously high level of disruption, and
stress for anyone, much less a seven year old kid.
And the most amazing thing was to see how resilient she was. She surfed
stressland like an old hand. No problems in school, tight with a number of
close friends, no real visible signs of stress -except one.
Sleep. Or lack thereof.
There was a period of about three months where she almost never slept
through the night. She would come in, often sobbing, at any hour, unable
to go back to sleep by herself.
It took us several months to parse the problem. She presented it as
nightmares - monsters, fires, bad people coming to kill her - she was scared of something awful happening, and this morphed
over time. But after much discussion, we realized that she was coming in
the check on me - the inverted equivalent of a parent worrying
about SIDS. She was making sure I was still breathing.
During Sue's treatment for ovarian cancer, no one in Bob's extended family
ever discussed that Sue might not get well. Bob's family is
very prone to putting the best face on things, and in many cases I have no
objection to this.
But look at if from a six year old's point of view. She saw her aunt on a
Sunday in November, and Sue was still in treatment, getting chemotherapy. Bob spoke to me on Monday, the following day about Sue going into
hospice care, and this was the first time anyone on his side of the family
admitted that Sue was not going to get better. I didn't manage to explain
any of this to Tess.
Susan died three days later, on Thursday, still in the hospital. Tessie's experience? People with cancer can be
just fine on Sunday, (from her perspective) and then be dead by Friday.
No wonder the poor lamb was coming in to check on me.
Since then, we have talked a GREAT deal about cancer, and death, and what
it would mean if I got cancer again. Aaaand, she still has trouble falling
asleep at night.
I took a page from junkpile's book, and she and I have jointly
designed a garden, that is the safe place she can go to in her imagination
when she starts to think scary thoughts. It has a round house in the
center. It has a tree house. It has an elephant with a palanquin that she
"designed" for me, and horses, monkeys, actually quite a large menagerie.
And her bed is in the ocean.
I've attempted to teach her any number of relaxation techniques - but
falling asleep has that wierd zen effortless effort quality, where you have
to focus your thoughts enough to avoid the scary stuff, but no so much that
you can't fall asleep. By far the most successful one has been to get her
to breathe with the waves.
I tell her to breathe in slowly, and then as she breathes out, to make the
shhhhh sound that waves make when they back down the sand. The
sound helps, imaging a rocking boat helps, focusing on her breathing
And the bed is in the ocean.
For karma_debt - filling a nodeshell challenge.