One of our friends always says: "You are only as happy as your unhappiest child."
Last week Tallulah, nine, was up all night with violent stomach pains. This wasn't the first time - in the past the pains have become so bad we have taken her to ER. She said didn't want to wake up the next day, didn't want to go to school and when I eventually dropped her off, her face was ashen, completely drained.
Last night Kevin and I went to watch her perform in a sweet little singing group and took her out for dinner. At dinner I heard a sound and wondered what it was. Tallulah had chuckled. That deep sweet chuckle only a child possesses. I've not heard that chuckle in months and maybe a year. I had forgotten what it sounded like. And for just those few hours last night she was a nine year-old girl again.
About two years ago it became clear that Tallulah was struggling with reading. In this she confounded everyone who's worked with her and knows her. She finds it impossible to read quickly and fully comprehend what she's just read. But she writes poetry, songs and stories for hours on end. We have spent countless hours trying to figure this out: sitting with her over homework, driving her to every kind of test a child can undergo, trying every tutoring technique I hear of. After 20 months of this, two experts are confirming that it doesn't make sense. They are suggesting that Tallulah is so consumed and stressed by comprehending her social world, she can't concentrate at school.
Now I am seeing how your every move can be paralysed by an unrestful mind. For the past two weeks I have absorbed all her hurt and more; I can barely sit for a few minutes, I feel tearful much of the time. I don't want to go out, I can't stay in. I am thinking, thinking, thinking, and knowing I cannot think my way out of this.
Tallulah spends hours puzzled and pained by the unfairness of what someone said to her at school, analysing why they would say that, why that person doesn't like her, what she could have said to make it right and better. She is a straightforward person and her head is spinning with the circulatory moves, the linguistic ducking and diving. She can't come up with a clever come-back and she can't shake it off.
Blubber, a book they are reading in school describes a scene in the girls' toilets where bullies attempt to strip a classmate. The scene is unimaginably cruel. But as another book Odd Girl Out points out, much pain also comes from the subtle, the almost imperceptible, the sometimes undefinable. That eye-rolling lip-curling look that passes between two girls over another girl's head, the "Let's run away from her". The replies that make it your problem: "I'm just trying to help you", "Just kidding" and "Why are you so sensitive?" Finding weakness: "You're so far behind, you'll never catch up now" The many, many small comments in a day that strip everything from you.
The truth is I am an imperfect parent of imperfect children. In a past year it emerged that one of my other children was hurting the feelings of a classmate. It was very tempting to take the defensive. Not our child! What did that other child say first? But we realised that a child can do and say things at school that they would never do and say at home. We took it on fully; there were consequences, talks and constant checking in.
The honest questions are too: is Tallulah more sensitive... "overly" sensitive? Will she have a difficult passage through life being so deeply wounded by others? How can we help her shrug things off?
I find myself longing for the days when she was a baby and I knew I could make her smile and laugh and keep her safe.
Tallulah's teachers have been amazing and I just love our little school which has been so right for our three sons. My friends have been so kind in listening. One friend who is going through a different harrowing time says: "We have to believe: This Too Will Pass." Is it time to move Tallulah on? Whatever happens, I cannot rest until she becomes a nine-year-old girl again.
Dream and Hopes, song by Tallulah, age nine.
I see hugs and I see tears
Everyone hopes and everyone fears
There was a time when everyone would dream and pray
And the monsters go away, come back a different day
If there's no breathing in the world for one special girl
Please don't leave her there, don't stop and stare
Dreams and Hopes means everything, Hopes and Dreams means nothing
Why does it go that way, please don't cry but please don't stay.