We are returning from a school trip. I am here as we have agreed that on long school trips me or hubby will go, so Angel doesn't get so anxious. As the non working parent, this is usually hubby’s department but England are playing (football for the uninitiated!). Don't think I need to say more lol. So I’ve taken the day off work and Angel has loved having me here. On the way home, she is messing around with a friend taking their seatbelts on and off. The driver is stressed as traffic is bad and the noise in the mini bus is increasing. Me and Angel’s class teacher keep asking them to stop taking off their seatbelts and then the driver intervenes and says very sternly, ‘Can you please keep your seatbelts on! If the bus jolts you could easily fall forward and if you get hurt, I will be in a lot of trouble.’
This seems directed at Angel as she is in his direct line of sight when he turns around but the whole bus falls silent. I see Angel emotionally shut down, she sits very still almost like she is afraid to even breathe. I can sense her fury too. I try to reach for her hand but she pulls it away. The other children slowly begin to talk again, perhaps a little more quietly but the bus comes back to life. Angel’s friend, who is sitting next to her on the other side of me, tries to engage with her again but she is non responsive and sits in silence until we get back to the school.
Uh oh I think, I am going to be dealing with this for a while. I am really tired too. Angel had woken up at 5.30am with a nightmare and wasn't able to get back to sleep even in our bed, which means I hadn't slept either. Somehow my ‘Mum radar’ never allows me to go back to sleep until I know she has too.
In the car on the way home Angel's face is like thunder.
Angel - That man was horrible!
Me - Well he did have a point. I had been saying to keep your seatbelt on and you weren’t listening and it is part of his job to make sure that we all wear seatbelts.
Angel - He shouted at me!
Me - It wasn’t just aimed at you, it was aimed at you and Lizzy as you were the ones taking your seatbelts on and off.
Angel - It was just at me.
Me - I know it might have seemed like that but that’s just because you were sitting behind him.
Angel - You hate me, you just think I’m an ‘Idiot Girl’.
Me - He wasn’t saying you were bad, he just didn't like your behaviour at that particular time. Remember how we talked about how your behaviour is not who you are? ( I chose to ignore the ‘you hate me’ bit.)
Angel - He was, he thought I was a bad kid.
I knew it was fruitless to try and continue the conversation. Her brain is scrambled. She is angry and hurt and feeling rubbish about herself. Actually a better response would have been to say, ‘You thought the man was horrible?’ and just done that therapeutic parenting thing where you literally repeat back what they say. But it's bloody hard because the man was right and she hadn't been listening and I think a part of me wanted her to see that. What’s that thing a wise person once said, ‘If you can be right or kind, be kind’. Umm, not always so easy! My lovely fantasy of Angel being in this great space because I’d taken the day off work and gone on a very long school trip (despite me having a bad back!) was also shattered and I was tired of being ‘lean in Mum’.
We fall silent. I know better than to say anything. Five minutes later...
Angel - He was probably right anyway. I am a bad kid.
We have the conversation again about behaviour not being who you are. There is quite a lot of angry mumbling and I give up…. again. When we get home there is some stomping and bag throwing. I give her some space. Actually, I need some space. Presently, I ask if she wants to fix this toy I’ve been meaning to sew up. Standing side by side by the kitchen table, she says ‘I’m sorry.’ I give her a cuddle and we continue.
One foot in front of the other I think. A few years ago, this incident might have impacted for days. This was just a few hours. This is what progress looks like.
A few days later….
Hubby decided to go out to watch the football at the last minute tonight which elicited quite a major meltdown from Angel. She always finds it extra tricky if one of us leaves at bedtime, so much so that I will often leave early to avoid this.
After much sobbing and throwing herself on the sofa with me murmuring sympathetically, she says:
Angel - Why did he have to go out now
Me - Because the football match is on now but he will be home in a few hours. Did it trigger off some big feelings?
Angel - Yeah
Me - But Daddy is coming back and I know nine year old Angel-
Angel - Sweet Pea she interrupts (she has started insisting I call her sweet pea which i started calling her when we grew a sweet pea plant)
Me - Nine year old sweet pea knows this but maybe little baby sweet pea inside is remembering times when people didn't come back
Angel - Yeah like I know Mandy can never come back because she’s in heaven and when I saw Daddy with that blue bag all packed it felt like he might never come back too. Why did I have to move so many times, why couldn’t people keep me?
Me - It's complicated but you went straight to one foster carer right from the hospital. You know the ones in your life story book with Shadow and Sky (two husky dogs)
Angel - Yeah I loved those dogs. Are they dead now?
Me - I don't know
She starts to cry a little again
Me - They might not be as you’re nine and dogs do sometimes live quite a lot longer than that
Angel - I loved those dogs. they picked me up when I fell down (total fiction of course as she was only there from 0 - 3 months old)
Me - You’ll see when Leila has her baby how little you were when you were there (a very close friend is having a baby in August)
Angel - Are all babies born in hospitals?
Me - No, some babies are born at home. I was there with Aunty Carrie when she had Lila at home. I saw her head come out of her noony
Angel - Ewyoo, she laughs, I am definitely adopting if babies come out of there.
And just like that we are somewhere else. That's the thing with Angel, she guides me to say no more than she wants to hear at any one time. She gives me the cues and I just have to be present to tune enough to follow them.
Later, after Daddy calls on Facetime to see if she is OK, she says:
Angel - I don’t know why I got so upset. I know Daddy is coming home
Me - Sometimes it's good to allow yourself to be upset and then you can figure out if you're upset about the thing that’s just happened or something else. A lot of the time it's something else. I think if you have a good cry about the real thing you are upset about, over time, the upset gets a little less.
She listens carefully and then we have a lovely cuddly, easy bedtime.
PS. Angel’s nightmare was about her being taken over by bad robots and monsters! Continually astounds me how deep her sense that she is bad, runs.