Channeling my Inner Anna

Something interesting happened tonight with my daughter and I shared it with my friend who had quite a powerful emotional response to it as I recalled what happened. We talked about it and I realised it was actually really important to make a note of this kind of parenting learning curve/triumph… so here it is.

Therapy had been hard, as I wrote about earlier, and after I wrote out my notes, played a cars game with my son, painted both kids nails and had dinner I was still feeling kind of activated so I decided to go for a drive. It was beautiful weather this evening so I drove through the empty back roads enjoying the scenery and felt myself slowly relaxing. There’s something about driving that seems to ground me. I don’t know if it’s the physical act of having to coordinate all my limbs and my mind… whatever it is, I love driving, I love being in the car.

When I got home the kids were in my neighbours garden playing. She is in her 50’s and has been very kind and sweet with my kids through the lockdown. She usually works abroad for most of the year but because of the pandemic she has been ‘stuck’ at home which has been a blessing for us. She has played ball games over the fence with my kids, baked them cookies, given them water pistols and all sorts of other things. This week we’ve allowed the children to play in her garden while keeping distance and they’ve loved it. My neighbour says she really enjoys their company and that they make living alone more bearable.

So the kids were in Vera’s garden and as I walked in my husband spoke to me under his breath that they’d all been setting up Vera’s new gazebo that had just arrived. In all the excitement Gracie had cut the box open and sliced through a part of the tent covering of the gazebo and there’s now a 12 inch gash in the top of it. I spoke to Vera over the fence asking how I could help as she tried to tape the hole up with the only tape she had. I browsed on my phone for gaffa tape and replacement gazebo tents to go over the frame… all coming back at around £150. I was pretty annoyed. To be honest I was mostly annoyed that Vera had turned her back and let an 8 year old loose with scissors… of course she cut through the fabric, kids don’t know how to cut through the tape of a box. But I was also annoyed with Grace for being so slap-dash and annoyed with Adam for being so passive! Vera doesn’t have kids and isn’t aware of how you can not turn your back for a second. She seemed really chilled about the whole thing and I didn’t make a fuss either. I said we would sort it later and I went in to run a bath for the kids.

Gracie started crying, she was still in Vera’s garden. Part of me wanted to see how this would play out. Vera started saying things like, ‘don’t cry, its okay… you’re fine, why are you crying…?’ in a cheerful, light way. Eventually I text Vera with a few links to some options online offering again to pay for it and then called the kids in for their bath.

Reuben got in the bath but Grace was hysterically crying. Sobbing, scrunched up face, repeatedly rubbing her face and curling over holding her tummy. I sat next to her. I noticed inside my body a discomfort. I felt emotionally disconnected from her and the urge to tell her to stop crying and be quiet and get over it was very strong. I stayed with her in silence. I concentrated on my breathing and channelled my inner Anna. Literally thought the words, ‘what would Anna do in this moment?’

Grace cried and cried, to the point where her face was screwed up and red as if she was crying but no tears were coming any more. And still she was holding her tummy as if she was in pain. It was a lot of loud, messy crying. I’m sitting there feeling very uncomfortable, numb, wanting to get away from her. Thinking, ‘not only did you break the tent thing that I’m now going to have to spend £150 on fixing but now you’re making this all about you by crying and making me comfort you, when you were the one who did it!’ I am aware from working on similar triggers in therapy before that in these re-enactments, Grace has become my mother. I remind myself that Grace is 8 years old and she’s not a narcissist. She is feeling genuine, real, valid emotions and it is my job to guide and support her through it. These moments are here to solidify our relationship, if I let them.

Again, I’m noticing all this happening in my body and mind. A very strong desire to get up and leave her. I put my hand on her back and asked her, ‘what do you feel in your body?’ she snapped at me, ‘I don’t know!’ and then started angrily crying. I felt annoyed and almost put out like, ‘here I am trying to support you and you don’t even have the decency to answer my question?’ – I know, from previous work with Anna that this is my child responding again… so I breathe. She leaned in to me and I put my arm around her sitting in silence. I was staring off into space struggling to know what to do or even find the emotional energy to engage with her. I was thinking, ‘I’m really not good at this, I’m failing her!’

Eventually we started talking.

I asked Grace what she was thinking and she said, ‘Vera said it’s fine but I’m worried that she’s angry with me and only saying that it’s fine to not hurt my feelings.’ I was thinking, ‘wow that’s really such a mature and accurate feeling. So, I said to her, ‘I really understand that feeling, I’ve felt that before.’ I said, ‘lets imagine she is annoyed that it happened, because you know it’s a new thing that she just bought and it just arrived and now it’s broken, it would make sense if she was annoyed about that. So imagine that she is annoyed a little bit.’ I pinched my fingers together to signify the little bit of annoyance. I said, ‘why do you think she would hide that annoyance from you?’ Grace said she didn’t know and I said, ‘I wonder if she would hide the annoyance because she cares a lot about you and doesn’t want you to be more upset because she knows that you’re worried and you made a mistake… so maybe actually she might be a bit annoyed but she also knows that it’s a mistake and you didn’t mean it and that you feel bad… and she cares about you and she knows that you are more important than the gazebo so she’s protecting you from feeling more bad than you already feel’ Grace was listening and looking at me and nodding and crying some more.

I said, ‘do you feel like you’ve got a sore tummy?’ and she nodded. I asked if she knew what the feeling was and she shook her head. I said, ‘does it feel like guilt?’ and she started sobbing. I said, ‘it makes total sense to me that you’re feeling guilty because you did something that you think is bad and wrong. Remember you didn’t do it deliberately, you were very quick to open that box with the scissors and really its best to leave these things for a grown up. If Vera had opened the box and cut the fabric then it would have been her mistake… but it happened, it was an accident. That feeling you’ve got in your tummy of regret and guilt shows me that you’re a human being and that you want to do the right thing and that you care. These are human feelings that we all feel when we do something wrong and we regret it, even when we didn’t mean to do it. So I want you to know that it makes sense to me that you’re feeling as you are and it would be strange if you didn’t feel like that because then I would wonder why you didn’t care about Vera and her gazebo. Does that make sense?’ she nodded.

I wanted to get the message across that people can be angry or annoyed and still love or like the person. The gut instinct was to say ‘no she’s not angry’ but that creates more fear as if anger is the worst thing in the world. I wanted her to get the sense that she and the relationships she forms are more resilient than this kind of accident. That she’s a good kind nice person and it doesn’t change how Vera views her and that she will still welcome her into the garden. I also said, ‘she might not be angry, we don’t know how people feel without asking them and then it’s up to us if we want to believe them or not. Does Vera seem like the sort of person who can’t tell people how she feels?’ Grace shook her head. I said, ‘She seems to be very open and find it easy to say how she’s feeling so let’s believe her when she says she’s not angry.’

I later talked to Vera about all this and she said she was genuinely not angry, that it was her fault for not getting up quickly enough when the kids had the scissors. She said since her niece died when she was 5 of cancer, she realised that none of those material things are of any significance and there are far more important things in life. I later explained this in child friendly words to Grace which helped her have a bigger perspective.

Later I explained to her, ‘good relationships aren’t fragile,’ I asked if she understood what I meant and she said she didn’t so I elaborated, ‘imagine you had a glass vase and you dropped it and it smashed and it could never be fixed – that’s fragile… but now imagine you have a wooden pot or a metal bucket and you drop it and it dents… the dent will be there as a reminder that something happened to it but it is still strong and in one piece, it’s not fragile. That’s what good relationships are like. You might always remember that this thing happened between you and Vera but your relationship won’t be damaged or shattered by this one accident. You haven’t broken your friendship with Vera. Does that make sense?’ Grace nodded and took lots of deep breaths and we had a very big hug and then she seemed more ready to move on with the evening.

I sat with her while she had a bath, because she asked me to. I washed her hair, put it in pleats and read her a bedtime story. She went to bed happily and fell asleep quickly. I sat down with Adam later on in the evening and went over what had happened. I told him that I felt like I redeemed myself despite being triggered by Grace’s strong feelings. I wanted to help her tune in to her body and notice her feelings. I also wanted to teach her that she is worthy of care and connection even when she makes mistakes. Adam and I both felt quite moved by what had happened and talked about how no one had ever helped us understand our feelings. My mum would have shouted at me, punished me, sent me to my room or cried intensely demanding I comfort her.

This is the kind of moment I wish I could share with Anna… this is her work in action… her mothering transmuted into my mothering. The ripple effect of the therapy.

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