Chapter 9: Fear as Leverage

Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk.

1 Timothy 1:6

 

For as much I wanted Grace in a residential facility because I had no other resources to try with her, and as much as step dad wanted her out for whatever his reasons were, my parents did not. They were worried, like we all were. They could more readily remember the happy child who did Easter egg hunts in pinafore dresses, who danced around in a tutu, who invited them to grandparents day at school and drew pictures for them. It was getting harder for me to remember that child was the same one I was seeing now. Grace knew that the possibility of a residential facility was real and was something I was exploring actively.

 

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.”  She uses black paint and writes the words of all the piercings she wants, in 12 inch letters. It looks like those Helter Skelter letters with black paint dripping down from the letters. She tells me it is the “true” her.

 

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 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 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 got out of 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 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. 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 not being what they seem is what my life is about at present. The mirroring of this in my own life escaped me at the time. 

 

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. 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.  I have told Grace that she is to begin to earn things back by exhibiting compliant behavior. And these are basic level behaviors that you would expect of any child: respond when spoken to, be polite, do your chores, clean up after yourself.

 

Below are a few of what I had to fill out hourly – along with descriptions.

 

 

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 via these homesheets. It was a one-way communication vehicle – but 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 gets suspicious, they get defensive – 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 – she wants to stay in her room, and she wants to cut. Its 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 – mainly 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. 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.

 

 

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

 

 

When I 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:

 

OMG!

 

I continued. I told her she would wash my car as punishment now, in addition to cleaning her room.

 

She screamed “Shut Up!” at me repeatedly as I was trying to get that 14 to 15 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 see that Grace had taken her baby blanket, one that she loved, a quilted cat blanket that her great grandmother had made for her – and 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 of what I was seeing:  - What are you doing? No answer, just a stare at me. I did not engage, again.  I told her matter of factly to come wash the car, and that 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 so I could monitor any noises I was hearing from upstairs in her room. 

 

She came down a few minutes later and slammed the 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. Shes going to wash the car. 

 

She washed the car – then came in and her apology: “I’m sorry about telling 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 – will not take responsibility for her actions.

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 on every level. 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.

 

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

“At 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 made me a very sweet picture, did her chores – yet not her room. As the homesheet 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 in retrospect:

 

At our regular therapist sessions, the person we were seeing before Grace went to the psych hospital, 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 much of the time.

 

On the successive homesheets, I continue 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 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.

But, step dad had drawn a line in the sand: she must apologize. We are not going anywhere until she does. 

 

Outpatient school continued and 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 relationships in the whole of human history: pride. I see this as a possible awakening on her part. 

 

While she is in outpatient school, my schedule is taxing. I am monitoring her – in addition to regular tasks of taking care of a home, and caring for younger sister, and having two older ones in college, and working fulltime. Recall – stepdad is not in the home fulltime. I am largely a single parent.

 

 Grace continues 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.  At some point in time, Grace says she is ready to start a plan to begin to earn her things back. I note on a home sheet that this is great. And – I revert back to my stick, the apology: “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.”

 

As I said previously – 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. Even though Grace clearly knew this was a pride issue. - at least she knew it on the day she commented about it. 

 

 I continued to press this issue because, in order:

1.    Step dad was adamant

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

3.    It would have told me that this was all just a great big act on Grace’s part, e.g. given me an answer to what all of this was

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

But, I will confess here – I was beginning to press for it more and more, even as I believed it was important less and less.

 

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.

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We are afforded two meetings with therapists at the outpatient school and they do not hold meetings any later than 2 p.m.  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 respect but its only after I’ve left that it upsets me. The entire paradigm was turned around to where my behavior was causing Grace’s behavior – something I strongly disagreed with at this point: After counseling, after hospitalization, after meds, after following professional’s suggestions on how to interact with Grace, after successfully raising Grace’s two older siblings  – at what point do mental professionals start to become part of the problem? At what point do they begin validating and enabling?  My additional problem was that my mandatory counseling was with a very young counselor who has interacted with my child for two to three weeks, likely has no children of their 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.

 

After this session, I simply show up 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 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 are changing Grace's medications. I wasn't asked, even though she was minor, I was informed on the homesheet.

I called the administering doctor and left a message. 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.  

 

I continue the mandatory routine of taking Grace to the gas station, picking her up, filling out the homesheets, wondering each morning after the drop off what our evening would be like.

 

Meanwhile, her regular school was getting close to ending the year. By the time Grace would officially finish her outpatient school, she would have missed her finals. All told with hospitalization and outpatient, 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 new start. She would likely have to repeat a grade, an extremely tough thing to do at the high school level, 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 also did not believe that missing 6 weeks automatically meant the student/any student needed to repeat the entire year. I looked online at summer school offerings and saw that they were offering some of the core classes she needed. I noted cost and schedules. If this was offered to us – it would be tough. I called the school and left a message, giving them an update on her; I also emailed the dean. I had also stayed in touch with them during the outpatient stay.

 

Recall in Chapter 5 that I mentioned that once people got news, true or exaggerated, that Grace had left school, friends fell away? In my mind, we had turned into the freak show that no one wanted any part of. People I had known since Grace had been in kindergarten disappeared. No calls, no one reaching out to Grace to talk to her, certainly no parents calling me. Perhaps I should have reached out myself – but I was just in no way prepared to do so. Part of me still wanted this entire ordeal contained, damage controlled. Yet: there were two people who did reach out. And I will forever be grateful – this is no exaggeration – forever grateful, to these people.

 

One was a friend of Grace’s since kindergarten. They weren’t best friends, but they were friends. I was friends with the mom. She had been a teacher at the school my children attended and taught my oldest son. She was the lone person who reached out to me after she heard about Grace being gone from school. She left me a voicemail at first and had I not been absolutely convinced of her sincerity from the message she left, I don’t think I would have called her back. But I did. This lone parent, and her daughter, actually came to visit Grace when she got discharged from the hospital and was going to her outpatient school. They came over to our house several times. They brought Grace ice cream. They stayed and chatted. They encouraged Grace. The mom called me occasionally to check in and see how she could help. If there ever was a human embodiment of what God’s mercy and grace looks like – it is this mother and daughter.  At first, I didn’t tell the mother everything that was going on, only because I didn’t want to scare her off and I was partly embarrassed. And when things with Grace got really bad – I eventually felt comfortable enough to share with her – and at that time, the calls and visits stopped. Not because the caring was gone, but Grace was just at a point she needed to make some decisions. No amount of anyone saying anything to Grace would do anything. However, this mother and her daughter consistently offered to pray for us and consistently sent encouragement to Grace.  

 

The other was a young man who Grace knew from kindergarten as well. He lived in our neighborhood. He would ride his bike over to check on her. He showed up one day and asked me how she was doing; said he woke up early to go to Mass to pray for Grace. This was a 15 year old!  

 

It was in interaction with these people that helped me realize I was not going to be able to do this alone. Their visits and encouragement opened my eyes to something else: you often don’t know you’re in darkness until you see a light. It made me realize that I could not continue to live in a vacuum with step dad, and therapists, and Grace.

 

Next up: Chapter 10: End of Outpatient Stay

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