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Chapter 8: Paper Parenting

I had to go through the discharge process from the psych hospital again, but I don’t remember it. I am sure it was similar to the previous one. I do remember Grace’s demeanor upon discharge is different this time than last time. There is a defiance where last time there was more of a tentativeness in her.

I have left the craft paper on the wall in her room for Grace to express herself, to give herself an outlet when she is “triggered.” Remember, this is years before this word was mainstream, before we had celebrities talking about mental health and people in public office discussing their own difficulties. It was still a word that was new for me in the context of someone’s behavior and the choices they made. She uses black paint and writes the words of all the piercings she wants, in 12-inch letters on the craft paper. It looks like those Helter Skelter letters with black paint dripping down from the letters. She tells me it is the “true” her. It was so jarring hanging on the room walls that her sister, Holly, and I had painted bubblegum pink for her (with sparkles!) one summer.

Her new routine, which starts immediately, is to go to the outpatient “school,” which again, is associated with the hospital she just left. I can either drive Grace all the way to the school, which is about a 35-minute one way drive in the opposite direction of my job, or I can take her to a drop off location, which is at a gas station, right off a major highway and closer to our house. I opt for the drop off, and begin to deliver Grace to a seedy, non-descript gas station every morning at 9 and wait for the white, unmarked 16 passenger van to arrive. When it arrives, Grace gets out of my car, walks over to the white van and gets into the van with the other kids who have already been picked up at other stops, and off she goes.

There are other kids who meet at our specific gas station for their ride to school. All of us congregate in our cars, at the gas station, waiting for the white van. The van returns by 4:30 and it is at the same pickup spot. This means for the next six weeks, I need to see if I can adjust my work schedule to get her there in the mornings and leave in time to pick her up.

As a side observation, and in retrospect, I wonder what if I had left my comfort zone, and my car, and talked to these other parents? What if I had gone and knocked on their windows and just simply said, “Hey – we’re clearly in a similar situation. Want to try to get through this together?” It was easy to tell by the vehicles, clothing and ethnicities that we were all very different. But we were all united in that we had a child, possibly grandchild, who was in a very bad place emotionally, mentally, spiritually. What if we had gotten to talking? What if I had taken the chance to meet any of them and started a prayer group? I don’t know that it would have ended our journey any sooner, but it would have at least made it more bearable and possibly given me hope at a time I had little. How many more of these missed opportunities were there that I didn’t see at the time, or even see years later? I think, now, in looking back that God provides us opportunities all the time that we do not see, cannot see, won’t see. But, I believe He also keeps trying.

Over the course of the month and a half that I am there, I see a homeless man who stands by the access road to the highway with his sign, asking for money. He is there by the highway, most days. One morning, I stay a bit later after the van has left and send some work emails from my car. I watch the homeless man leave his usual post, cross the street back over to the gas station, and walk over to a car that has just pulled up. He kisses the girl who drove up, they open the trunk to their car that is newer than mine, put his “Homeless, need money” sign in the trunk, then drive off. Things are rarely what they seem in my life right now.

In outpatient school, the students have individual therapy, group therapy, and school

work. The outpatient staff help the child continue their regular classwork, with the parent serving as the liaison with the school. That is about the extent of what I know that happens at outpatient school. The outpatient students are not to talk to each other outside of the school, but of course over time I find that Grace has notes from other kids suggesting that they meet up. Each night at home I fill out a behavior form. Her behavior is inconsistent. Since all of her things are still removed from her room per the discharge instructions, I have told Grace that she is to begin to earn things back by exhibiting compliant and safe behavior. And these are basic level behaviors that you would expect of any child much younger than Grace: respond when spoken to, be polite, do your chores, clean up after yourself.

Below are a few of the “homesheets” I was instructed to fill out hourly.

A checkmark indicates positive behavior, and a circle indicates negative behaviors. The behaviors I am supposed to monitor are on the left side. When you mark a circle, you are to explain why the child earned the negative mark. And, you are to note what your child did well. Grace responds to the writing prompts that are on the backside while she is at outpatient school. The parent/guardian is to fill out the front side, and I also made comments on her prompt answers pending their relevance to the day.

The outpatient school did not return phone calls; I resorted to communicating and parenting via these homesheets. It was a one-way communication vehicle. I was not sure what exactly happened on a detailed basis at the school. And, don’t downplay the position they have the parent in: If you question, if you press for things, the school administration and staff get defensive, they get annoyed and there is always the threat of another entanglement with CPS that they can initiate: Non-compliant parent. They trade in fear at possibly the most vulnerable time in a parent’s life.

For our first homesheet, Grace did well on day one, but I’d like to point out, Grace was doing well on things that even a 4 year old can do well – like saying please and thank you.

On another homesheet, I called Grace out for saying “crap,” a word we just don’t use because I don’t like it. And it’s not so much that I think the word is incredibly offensive, it’s that when I called her out on it she simply denied it by saying, “I didn’t say that.” Which to me signified a larger problem. I just heard her say it. She lied about it, because that’s what she does when she cannot take responsibility for something: she lies. And, me calling her out on it leads Grace to choose her weapon of choice, her power of choice: she isolates herself. No eye contact, no talking, body language which indicates that no one else exists in the room. After this minor episode, she wants to stay in her room, and she wants to cut. It’s just a sick cycle that she can’t see, and if she can see it, it’s a sick cycle of her not caring about it.

Her chores are a continual struggle especially her room. I recognize this is not atypical for a teenager, yet, it was one of the things that Grace knew she had to maintain in order to get her things back. And were this me: I would be doing everything I could to walk the straight and narrow, to get my things back, to get my mom off my back.

She also has some good days, as reflected below.

And the backside, below, shows the prompts she answers each day:

There are some days when she does make an active effort. She does her chores without reminding, she keeps her room clean and on a particularly stellar day, we were able to talk about some serious issues, and she did not isolate. So, I knew it was possible and it reinforced for me that the negative and oppositional behaviors were oftentimes choices for her.

I knew that a difficulty we were going to have would be when stepdad and step siblings reentered the equation. Every weekend that stepdad was either with us, or that we were at his place, which was an hourish away, was not good. It was rather, which weekends were less bad. I felt the need to play intermediator: between stepdad and my two, between his double standard rules for his three and my two, between making myself available, or present with him and being present for my two. Some of this is common for step-families, but our dynamic was complicated with the two households, and with issues with Grace, and with the backdrop of Ephesians and Love and Respect.

Stepdad was adamant that she apologize and take ownership for the chaos she caused, and for her disrespect previously shown. I did not care so much about the past as I did on the present: how was she now? Was she making an effort? Was she being compliant? Polite?

Nine days in, we had a terrible day as described on the home sheet below. The home sheet was the only place I could fully express my frustration as seen with the overuse of my underscoring.

On the backside, I continued my assessment of the afternoon:

When I had picked her up from school and we arrived home, I followed her upstairs to her room to check that her chores had been done. Her bed was not made, her room was not picked up. She knew the rules. I told Grace the obvious: you didn't do your chores, and I will devise a punishment for it. Then the volcano:

She went from being quiet to a full-blown eruption: “Oh My God!”

“In addition to cleaning your room, you will also wash my car,” I said as matter of factly as I could.

She screamed “Shut Up!” repeatedly as I was trying to get that 12 word sentence out.

I didn’t engage. I told her I’d see her downstairs in the driveway to wash the car. After about 10 minutes, she was not downstairs to wash the car. I went back upstairs to her room and saw that Grace had taken her baby blanket, one that she loved, a quilted cat blanket that her great grandmother had made for her and had literally torn it to shreds. It was on the floor in her room. She was standing in the middle of her room with the last shred in her hand when I walked in. I don’t know if my expression revealed my shock; it probably did. Out of everything she could have destroyed, why that? It was sentimental, she loved it, her great grandmother was now deceased. I asked her, in obvious disbelief and surprise at what I was seeing: “What are you doing?” No answer, just a stare at me. I told her again, as controlled as I could get my voice, to come wash the car and that further she owed me an apology for telling me to shut up. She continued to stare me down. I left the room and went downstairs. I stayed in the kitchen replaying what happened and I was monitoring any noises I was hearing from upstairs in her room. Who destroys a baby blanket? I didn’t understand that at all.

She came down a few minutes later, walked right in front of me and slammed the back door on her way outside.

I wasn't sure what she was going to do. Run? Sit in the garage? Do something destructive out there? I tried looking out different windows to see if I could see her; I couldn't. Then I hear the water hose turn on. Relief. She’s going to wash the car.

She washed the car and then came in with her apology: “I’m sorry about yelling at you to shut up but you being annoying is what started it!” was shouted at me on her way back upstairs.

Not an apology, and what was clear was that the pattern was still there. She won’t take responsibility for her actions. At least she spoke to me.

This was an entirely different Grace than the one I saw last week. Simply not knowing which way Grace was going to decide to behave on any given day was fatiguing. I began reminding her of the possibility of a residential facility if she did not start making better decisions. I used it as a threat. I had used every bit of leverage I could think of and nothing worked and hoped this one would. As I said earlier, a lot of decisions I would make differently now, and this is one of them.

A week after this episode I noted on her home sheet:

At the therapist on Monday, Grace said she didn’t care about anything or whether she went to residential. Maintains the previous behaviors of sneaking out, lying, past sexual behavior is no big deal; rejects having to listen to authority, yet she can be so sweet and kind when she wants to. Her choices are a puzzle.

Two days after I wrote this, she drew me a very sweet picture, did her chores yet not her room. As the home sheet was my main way of communicating with the therapists at the school, I let them know on one of the sheets that the upcoming weekend would be important:

She will need to demonstrate to me and step dad politeness, be helpful, and civil. This family can’t heal until we get the message that Grace is sincerely sorry for her behaviors of lying to me over and over, saying fuck you to step dad, in general – letting the family know we have a “new” Grace. We have given Grace every resource we have to the detriment of our jobs - time, money, professionals. I need to see some ownership and willingness to change on her part.

I started worrying about the weekends before they were even here. Me asking for her ownership and apologizing for past behaviors would now become like the dog who won’t let go of a stick. So, some background on this specific issue:

At our regular therapist sessions, our conversations routinely centered around Grace taking responsibility for her outbursts, her destructive behaviors, her language. Stepdad wanted a full-blown apology; I did, too. This became a central talking point between he and I even away from the therapist’s office. It was my parents who said very frankly to me one day on a phone call: You may not get one.

It was a point of contention for step dad. Anytime we had a disagreement on something Grace had or had not done, her lack of apologizing came up. I wanted to be unified with my husband, yet I suspected my parents might be right. I don’t recall that the counselor ever threw out the option of: What if she doesn’t? For step dad, as sure as the sun was coming up, Grace must make apologies all the way around and to everyone, including siblings and step siblings even though they were not around for many of the things that happened.

Grace apologizing to me for all the lying she had done would have been great. Apologizing to me for all the times she had not done as I had asked would have been great. Apologizing for all the times she told me to shut up or go away or that she hated me would have been great. But, she clearly didn’t know/didn’t care/doesn’t see herself as responsible. My reasons were less about making amends with others and myself and more about needing to see some growth in Grace for her own good. And sure, as a mom who had gone to bat for her over and over some kind of, any kind of “Hey mom – I am trying,” would have been welcome at this time. Even if it would have only lasted a day, and even if she had to hit the re-start button every other day.

I would have loved to have had one. But even I was coming to agree with my parents that it wasn’t going to happen. Yet, I continued to press this issue with her because, in order:

1. Step dad was adamant.

2. Therapist said it could be part of Grace’s ability to recover for herself and us.

3. It would have affirmed for me that at least some of the behavior I had seen was an act – Grace knew better and was actively trying to be oppositional.

4. We could get some closure, and move on.

So, I seemed to press for it more and more, even as I believed it was important less and less. But, step dad had drawn a line in the sand: she must apologize. We are not going anywhere until she does. I was trying to get help with the issue from the therapist at the school.

On the successive homesheets, I continued to make pleas to the therapists:

“We must get to a healing spot where Grace can come to family and own her behaviour, most of which got us all here! We are stuck in limbo until this happens with each of us.”

Grace continued making notes on her home sheet prompts. She was routinely asked what her struggles are (chores), what her goals are (chores) and what she is willing to do to make it happen (comply) and one day, I note that where it asks Grace what she is willing to do to make her goal that day (which was “to do everything plus more that my mom tells me to do”), she wrote: “swallow my pride.”

I was struck by this.

Because this means, she knows. She is battling something we all battle and something that has probably caused more damaged personal relationships in the whole of human history: pride. I see this as a possible awakening on her part.

Except she follows up a perceived awakening less than 12 hours later with deceptive actions sometimes over really silly things. Like instead of folding her clothes, she just moves the basket of clean clothes to her closet so I won’t see it, yet tells me she has folded them. At some point in here, Grace says she is ready to start a plan to begin to earn her things back, like her computer privileges or video games. I note on a home sheet that this is great. And I revert back to the stick, the apology, and note it on the homesheet:

“We are glad to devise a plan for Grace to earn things back. What must come first is for Grace to sit down with us or have her come to us and own the oppositional side of her behaviors that led us here.”

During her outpatient school stay, we are afforded two meetings with therapists at the outpatient school and they do not hold meetings any later than 2 p.m. which means leaving work early. One is with myself and Grace, and the next one is for myself and stepdad. I also requested an additional one with myself and the person who was working with Grace on a day-to-day basis.

The first counselor and I talked about how Grace was doing during school (fine) and about her behavior at home (mostly not fine). The counselor told me that “parenting is like a bank. You have to make deposits.” I have heard this when I’ve been in couple’s therapy that there have to be enough “love deposits” before you can make a withdrawal. And the counselor followed that up with a question for me: “Have you thought about the way you talk to Grace?”

I answer the question with sincerity and respect but its only after I’ve left that it upsets me. The entire paradigm of our session was turned around to where my behavior was causing Grace’s behavior, something I strongly disagreed with at this point: After investing in counseling, after hospitalizations, after the meds, after following professional’s suggestions on how to interact with Grace, how to secure her room and the home, after attending this outpatient school with its limited transparency, at what point do mental health professionals and the juvenile mental health system start to become part of the problem? At what point do they begin validating and enabling? My additional problem was that my counseling session was with a very young counselor who has interacted with my child for two to three weeks, likely has no children of her own, and only knows of our history through what she has chosen (or not) to read in the files. But offers advice and suggestions that could have come from a counseling Wikipedia page: Am I making “love” deposits?

After this session, I show up for the next one just to fulfill my requirement; they cannot help me. Recall, I had no choice but to place Grace in this outpatient school, which is affiliated with the hospital and both are privately and conveniently owned by the same group of doctors. I cannot overstate the enormous amount of power they have once your child is in the mental health care system. As example, via a homesheet, I was notified that they were changing Grace's medications. I wasn't asked, even though she was a minor, I was just informed on the homesheet. In fact, Grace said she was already given a new dose there at the school.I called the administering doctor and left a message inquiring about this change. I did not get a call back. The next day, I called the outpatient facility administrator and did not get a call back. I called again later in the day and the administrator told me that she did not know why the doctor did not call me back and she herself did not call me back because she "figured if was serious, I would have called again or the therapist would have filled her in.” It took another full day before I got a call from the doctor about the med he gave her, and I told him I was not in agreement as we had been seeing a psychiatrist on our own for medication management. He said he would remove it from their schedule.

I continue the routine of taking Grace to the gas station, picking her up in the afternoon, filling out the homesheets, wondering each morning after the drop off what she is doing during the day, wondering what our evening will be like.

Meanwhile, her regular school was getting close to ending the year. By the time Grace would officially finish her outpatient school, she will have missed her finals. All told with hospitalizations and outpatient school, she was out for over 6 weeks. She had missed about half a semester at the school I had tried so hard to get her into, and that I had initially thought was blessing, and a new start. She would likely have to repeat a grade, an extremely tough thing to do at the high school level, and especially at the same school. Summer school might be an option but it would be expensive, and if I could get past the financial hurdle, I would need to figure out how to get her there every day. Stepdad wanted her to repeat 9th grade, period. I did not. I believed it would be an added hurdle that I was not sure she could clear at this moment, but I was willing to do what the school wanted us to do. I looked online at summer school offerings and saw that they were offering some of the core classes she might need. I noted cost and schedules. If this was offered to us it would be hard. I called the school and left a message, giving them an update on her; I also emailed the dean. I had stayed in touch with them during the outpatient stay.

Finals came and went and obviously Grace had missed them; summer school started on the upcoming week. Grace’s outpatient school did not end until mid-week the following week. If she was allowed the opportunity to go to summer school, and if I pulled her out of the outpatient school to do this, I was told it would be AMA or Against Medical Advice. The outpatient school told me they would be forced to call CPS. It was only a difference of days so in hindsight, I think it was more about insurance dollars that the outpatient school would be missing. And, I did not even know if summer school was going to be an option for Grace. I had heard nothing from her school about it. She would probably have to repeat her entire year. What would repeating an entire year and all that accompanies that with peer groups do to her?

This is one of the few times in my life that I remember a specific date: On May 28, in the morning, I was fretting about summer school, the cost, if the school would even allow it, how the schedule conflicted with her outpatient check out date, the threat of AMA if I pulled her out on Friday to be able to enroll and start school on the following Monday and having to talk to stepdad about it who still believed she needed to repeat the grade, regardless of what the school said. Then I caught myself about two hours later and realized this was consuming my entire thought life, especially this morning. I stopped, confessed to God that I needed to trust that He already had it worked out. I confessed my lack of faith, and that I just gave myself over to anxiety for well over two hours; I prayed a prayer of confession. I truly laid this issue to rest; whatever He has planned is what will happen. End of issue. How did I know to do this? I don’t have an answer. Probably from devotional readings, or hearing enough sermons on it – I don’t know. But, it is what I did in that moment. And the thoughts did leave my mind, and I did get mental rest from the issue.

At about 2 in the afternoon, the thoughts about summer school returned. But this time it was different. I had an overwhelming feeling of hopefulness. Not sure why, but I did. I shared it with Grace when I picked her up. I told her that at about 2 p.m. I had a sense of optimism that things were going to work out for her in general. She said: “Ok.” No emotion in her response, as if I had just said put your seatbelt on. Maybe it was because she no longer felt like she controlled what happened to her? Or more likely, she didn’t care what I thought.

At 5 that same day, I received an email from the school: No repeating of 9th grade. No summer school. Instead, Grace could work on her regular finals over the summer, take them when ready, and be done with the school year. They would work with her schedule and get her work to her. This was a solution that I never imagined!

I’ll state the obvious: What a testament. I never even dreamed that she could just prep for, and take her finals this summer and be finished! I thought summer school was the best shot we had and even that was a long shot.

In hindsight, because I certainly did not see it at the time or know it at the time, this was Ephesians 3:20-21 in real life. And I only know this now years later. I don’t think I even knew this Scripture then. It was years after this event that I read a book by Priscilla Shirer just on these verses, that I realized we had literally walked that Scripture. All I knew was that I had trusted that He had it all worked out, regardless of what “working it all out” would look like.

Here are the verses:

Ephesians 3:20-21

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

If I could only recognize that I was living out Scripture right when it was happening, not years later.

I share this fantastic news about no summer school with my parents on a phone call. I don’t tell Grace just yet. I want to surprise her. What a blessing! She will be able to start fresh her sophomore year! This meant Grace could start her prep for finals when the outpatient school ended and I would not face an AMA, no summer school fees and trying to coordinate transportation with my job. I am happy, for the first time in a very long time. My parents wanted to help in any way and offered to let Grace come stay with them Monday-Friday to prep for her finals. They will look for tutors, if any are needed, and this also satisfies the supervision requirement that I need to have for Grace during the day while I am at work.

Grace’s last few days at outpatient means that we are nearing the end of a really terrible period of time in our lives. I wanted to make this a celebration for her. We have finished with the psych hospital stays, the outpatient school, and she is about to get another new start opportunity. On Sunday morning, I asked my parents to make the hour drive into town on the next day so we could all go to a coffee shop, surprise Grace with the good news, and then talk about next steps. It is mentally and emotionally a great weekend.

On Sunday afternoon Grace asks if she can play Mario Kart. I agree. She had a good weekend, and she has been entirely off electronics for close to 6 weeks. No cell, no laptop, and I had kept mine locked in my home office typically, no video games, and not even television without me present. I had no reservations about her playing a video game. We would ease her back into electronics, and playing Mario Cart was harmless. This was her first time to ask for something specific back.

About 3 hours later, there is knock at the door. I answer and Grace has come down the stairs. A friend of hers had shown up at the front door with a Slurpee for Grace. I stand at the door with both girls and ask the friend how she knew Grace was here? She said she “just figured.” I told her we just got home having been gone for a bit and told her she took a chance by getting something that could melt, in the Texas heat. The girl laughed. When she left, I asked Grace how she could have known Grace was even here? Grace said she had no idea.

Later that night, we were watching a nature show in my room, when Grace tells me around midnight, after I had fallen asleep, and was awoken by her leaving the room, that she was going up to her room because she couldn't sleep.

So - I rolled over and felt a pull to go upstairs after her but didn’t.

The next morning, I ask Grace what time she fell asleep after going upstairs. She said around 1. I asked what she did. She said she journaled. I asked her what did she journal about? She said she wrote a story. I told her that was kind of a surprise because doing that kind of creative writing generally keeps me awake.

After I dropped Grace off at the gas station for school, I went back home, and upstairs to see what she wrote. I knew she was writing things and tearing them out of her folder. I knew she was tearing up notes from the other kids at the facility.

I found nothing. There was zero evidence of Grace writing anything. So - the question was, where was it? Did she take it to school?

I get a call later that day from her therapist that Grace had gotten online on my laptop and contacted some of her friends. She told the therapist she wanted to see who had missed her.

I was angry, disappointed, sad, betrayed. She defied me again. She got into my office and got on my laptop when we were so close to being done with all of this. When I was convinced that we were coming out of the shadows. And today was the day that we were going to celebrate and tell her about not having to repeat a grade or even do summer school.

The therapist suggests that I be matter of fact and tell Grace I knew and would think about a punishment, two things I would have done anyway. Yet, I will tell you, the day was now somehow marred in my mind.

On our way home from the gas station pick up that afternoon, I asked her what she wrote last night. Partly as a way to make conversation and partly because I was curious since I couldn't find it. She instead asked me if Kari, the therapist, called. I told her she had, and that I would need to come up with a punishment.

Grace was almost incredulous with my stupidity in this moment. She had to spell it out for me. “I contacted her when I was in the Wii. I was bored! You won’t let me do anything! And – you haven’t changed your laptop password!

In that moment, I had not put what the therapist told me together with what happened with the Slurpee. I thought the Slurpee was truly a coincidence, because I guess we all want to trust our children. Even when they show us they are not trustworthy.

I ran through this in my head to make sure I understood all of it now because I was just piecing together that Slurpee girl and the “journaling” at 1 in the morning were two separate lies to cover up the internet activity:

“So, when I was asking you how your friend knew you were here,” I started.

Grace interrupted me, and yelled: “I lied! Ok?!”

“But, just now when I asked when I asked you what you did last night..,” again I am cut off.

“I lied!” she repeated, this time with an eyeroll. And then she just turned her body completely away from me to look out the passenger window.

She went to immediate anger. No apologies. Just anger. At me.

When I got the call from the therapist about Grace accessing the internet, I had no idea when it happened. It could have been weeks ago. I didn’t respond to Grace yelling at me, frankly, I didn’t know what to do. I was putting together that the Slurpee was not an accident and there was no journaling. She seemed almost proud of the fact that I had no idea what had happened.

The rest of the car ride remains quiet with Grace hugging the door. When we pulled in the driveway, I told her there were chores she needed to do and to be ready to go at 540 to meet her grandparents at a coffee shop.

She was so rude. When I say rude - believe me - rude. Ugly. Disrespectful. Hateful. Hate in her eyes. She slammed things in the kitchen as she did her chores. She stormed upstairs.

Found years later, in her journal.

When she came back downstairs, I asked her what was going on with her behavior and she told me I was mean and annoying.

I reminded her the occasion for the questions: She lied to me.

Her response: Nothing but a stare with hate.

I also noted when she had returned back downstairs that she wore a long sleeved shirt when it was 98. I know this scene.

I ask to see her arms. She says she didn't cut. I asked her to raise her sleeve. She raises her right sleeve, no cuts. I ask to see her other one. Cuts all over on that one. All the way from the wrist to the upper forearm.

I ask her, “When did you do that?” I don’t know why I asked. It was clear they were just done. I am sick to admit that I can now identify fresh wounds from older ones, a skill I wish I never had the occasion to learn. No parent should have to learn this.

She backs up to the door and eyes me like a cornered animal and answers, “Just. Now,” she says with almost a look that seemed to say she was glad to know it bothered me.

I press her because I am just trying to keep her talking to me, “When just now?”

“Now,” she responds not having moved or lost eye contact with me.

“How?” I ask.

She scoffs and answers as if I am dumb and should already know, “With a razor?!”

“That you got where?” I ask because I have removed easy access to them, I thought.

“From Caroline’s room,” she replies knowing she outwit me on hiding them.

‘Why?” I am truly hoping for the one time she will answer and I will understand. I am saddened by the whole episode.

“Because,” is her answer. And, end of discussion as she opens the beck door to go outside and get in the car.

She had done so well for weeks. This was such a blow. And on the day before her last day of outpatient school, and on the same day that she was to find out about not needing to repeat an entire year.

We get in the car and ride in silence to the coffee shop, Grace is sullen and quiet. After we have sat down with her grandparents, I tell her the good news, although it was not the celebratory event I thought it would be. My parents told Grace they would help her in any way they could. I felt badly for them driving all the way here for what turned out to be a 30 or 40 minute meeting because Grace was not very talkative, even with them. There was a definitive somberness over the meeting of we four, just sitting at table with our drinks. I guess just the whole reason we are even here talking about making up missed work is too overshadowing to make this much of a celebration of anything. Grace was civil to them – more than she was to me – but did not display the appreciative emotion that I had previously hoped for. In that moment, when she was so wrapped up in herself (and pain, or confusion?), she did not recognize the gifts she had been given: no summer school, staying with grandparents and working on finals, no repeating a grade.

The next day was her last day at outpatient school; it was discharge day. The patient is discharged when they are deemed stable and ready to operate within the family again. This is supposedly the outpatient school’s area of expertise. They counsel kids and families in crises, they teach them healthy coping methods, they teach them to avoid triggers, they get the child to a point where they are ready to go back to resume their lives. Recall, I could not have discharged her the week prior, because they said they would be forced to notify CPS. But, they are now discharging her and the irony is that she was probably more stable last week than this week. I’m angry.

I arrive for the discharge meeting and Grace comes into the room. One of Grace’s counselors accompanies her in. I am sitting in between them. The counselor starts by stating that we are here for the discharge meeting and slides me a piece of paper to sign indicating she believes Grace is stable and I am to sign, acknowledge and agree with this. I don’t pick up the paper. I don’t even look at it.

I tell the counselor what happened yesterday.

“I was told Grace could not be discharged until she was stable. I could not discharge her last week for this reason. How can you pronounce my child stable, and ask me to sign something when her lying and admitting to lying yesterday leads to her trashing her arm yesterday to an extent that she has not done in a while?”

The counselor is taken aback. Maybe all the other discharge sessions are formalities? She casts a disapproving look at Grace and says, “Well, I found out today and I would rate her as borderline right now…”

I interrupt her. “I have adjusted my life and her life for the past 6 weeks, doing the homesheets, showing up at the counseling meetings, following through on everything this facility and the hospital has told me and us to do. I have spent an enormous amount of time and money here, I have been fearful for my job for the time off needs to make your schedules and appointment times. What has been accomplished here? That’s all I want to know.”

The counselor shifts in her seat. “Well, I filled out this form yesterday. If I had to rate her today, I would say she is borderline,” she repeats.

“How is this borderline?!” I ask her. “She is right back where she was when we first came.” I’m frustrated with the entire system that we were put through for no apparent reason. I’m frustrated that this counselor who I have never met, heard of, or talked to is making a counseling diagnosis on my child and proclaims her “stable.”

The counselor doesn’t have an reply. She literally has nothing to say to me.

“I want a copy every homesheet I have filled out,” I announce, breaking the silence.

“I’m not sure I am allowed to do that,” she replies as she keeps her hand on Grace’s file. I took her answer as code for “No.”

“I’m not leaving without them,” I tell her, and for effect, I sit back in my chair. Grace has been silent this entire time.

The counselor scoots her chair back and leaves the room. She doesn’t say anything. Grace and I sit in silence; she is looking anywhere but at me. About 10 minutes later, the counselor comes back with my copies, some that you have seen above. And, Grace and I walk out. Just like that. The 6-week outpatient stay is over. The nightly hourly homesheets are over. The twice a day drive to the gas station is over. The rarely returned phone calls don't matter.

We got through outpatient school and the psychiatric hospital in spite of them, not because of them. And a post note here, this particular psych hospital has been sued, and shut down for now. And, the associated outpatient school is now closed as well. A local television station did a report on them years ago. I am sure it is tied up in the courts and insurance companies and attorneys. If you remember nothing else, remember this: once they get you in the juvenile mental health care system, your rights as a parent are severely limited. And by way of intimidation and coercion and fear they will keep you there. In the worst of scenarios, it is a money grab when parents and families are at their most vulnerable.

After we arrive home, I go my room and call my parents and share with them the events of Sunday evening with her cutting again, and the discharge session we just left. Grace’s grandfather still believes that if he can just word things the right way, he will get through to her. He asks me if he can talk to her later that night. I told him absolutely. He said he knows that she respects him and thinks he is smart, so he wanted to tell her that this “was serious stuff,” and that her future was in the balance. He said he had memorized two lines from a poem for her. While I had lived in that mental place where he was currently - thinking that using just the right words will make the difference – I no longer believed it. He asks me to have her call him.

Later that evening, the phone call happens. She makes the call in the backyard and is on the phone for a while. I see her walking around with the phone in her hand, listening mostly and talking some.

She comes inside, hangs up, goes to her room. I learn later from my dad that the line of poetry he memorized for her was from the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley. The full poem is below, and it was the last stanza that he had memorized for their phone call.

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

I’m overcome with many different emotions at knowing this. I know he probably spent a lot of time looking for the right thing to say. I know he spent time memorizing it and probably rehearsing how he would say it. He is hoping that Grace will say: “Oh! Yes, I get it now!” There is something both endearing and naïve about this. He was encouraged by their call. I had been burned so many times by her, I was jaded that any phone call would do anything. I was also still stinging from the foolish hope I had heading into that weekend.

My newest schedule will consist of taking Grace to a halfway point to meet her grandparents every Sunday afternoon and Friday afternoon. She spends M-F with her grandparents reviewing missed work, meeting with tutors for those subjects she is struggling with and helping her grandparents with whatever they may need. She cannot have a phone or laptop. She can watch television with them. These were limitations put in place to prevent triggering and to help her get focused on her one goal for the summer: prepare for her finals.

This routine required me to be in daily communication with them and also with the school. I would ferry work between the school and my parents, and they would parcel out the work to her. My father would send updates via evening emails:

Kate is a quiet child. Seems to me thats OK. She's been compliant with every request I've made. Her mood has been even. She laughs at my stupid jokes. She's shared nothing of a personal nature, but then I've asked no questions of a personal nature.

I see my immediate goal to provide an atmosphere in which she can concentrate on her finals. She & I also think it important to work in an hour-long exercise session daily and we exercise vigorously. She's reading her assigned books rather than coming in to the living room to watch TV.

Once finals are behind us, successfully I hope, we'll begin to find organized activities to keep busy.

She does seem to choose to behave better when she is with them than with me. It could be a respect issue, or it could be that she is keeping herself bottled up and on her best behavior there and waiting to explode when she sees me. Either way, it indicates to me that she is in control of her behavior when she wants to be. Toward the end of the summer, she gets to where she does not look forward to going possibly because she is tired of adhering to house rules.

I start looking forward to the weekdays because I won’t have the continual tension with Grace in the home, defying me, being rude, isolating herself from everyone, lying, and then me in turn having to walk a line between stepdad and her, or even defending her to stepdad when I felt like he had overstepped. Weekdays were me and Caroline, and occasionally stepdad. Weekends were chaos, depending on who was there, and how Grace felt like behaving that day.

After two plus months of the above routine, and driving an hour one way, twice a week on Sundays and Fridays, Grace took her last final at the school and passed her freshman year. She was ready to enter her sophomore year back at school like a regular child.

Next: Chapter 9: A God of Surprises

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