Our (soon to be) Preteen

conversations with hank


(while very slowly (painfully) climbing the two story staircase to my mother-in-law’s apartment at the end of a lovely and our last day of vacation)

Me: Go a head, Hank. I’m gonna take this slow.

Hank: No, I want to walk with you. I don’t mind and I’ll be here in case you need me.

Me: (smiling, wincing due to my RA/AS)

Hank: I can’t believe our holiday is over.

Me: Tomorrow we go home.

Hank: I can’t believe I haven’t been home in two months.

Me: It wasn’t the same without you, but I am so glad you had such a wonderful adventure, alone and with us.

Hank: I can’t believe I start my new school in two weeks.

Me: And since you have punched fear in the face for two solid months: being away from your parents, going to new places, making new friends, helping lost tourists…

Hank: (giggling) More than once!

Me: Being adventurous with food and learning how to ride a ten-speed bike starting a new school should be a piece of cake.

Hank: Ha! You’re funny, mama. I can’t believe that I’m going be ten in a few weeks. I mean TEN.

Me: Me neither. You were just born yesterday and I am 27.

Hank: (positively purple with laughter)

Me: You’re going to be a tween.

Hank: (deadly serious) Actually, I prefer the term pre-teen.

Me: Noted.

Hank: And I am going to start changing and my voice will get deep and I will get acne and have to shave and I will have… what do you call random emotional outbursts?

Me: You’re entire life?

Hank: No, mom! Seriously… OH! Mood swings.

Me: Heaven help me! I think we are safe for another three years, although, your sass has definitely increased.

Hank: Ten is when everything changes.

Me: Truth.

Hank: I am actually excited to be more independent.

Me: When you become a teenager I am going to back off. By the time you are 13, 14, 15 I am going to stop talking and start listening. By then you will have absorbed all the mama wisdom you’re ready to handle and unless the words, “Mom, I need your advice,” fall out of your mouth I am going to trust that when you need to talk you will know I am always, always listening.

Hank: (determined) I am just going to focus on school. I am going to raise my math grade. I am not interested in dating or drama.

Me: (riots of laughter echoing down the stairwell) Good thing since YOU’RE GONNA BE TEN NOT 25!

Hank: (reaching the apartment door first, turning back) And mama?

Me: (wincing up the last two steps) Hum?

Hank: Never, ever stop talking to me. I never want you to stop. (walking into the apartment and not looking back)

Me: (taking a moment to savor the last bits of my sweet, sweet nine year old before entering the fray)


A Rainbow We All Have on the Inside

When we got home I showed Hank the ColorBrewer schemes, a colorblind friendly way to show data, invented by Cynthia Brewer and the visual way I use to describe the spectrum of mental illness in everyone.

When we got home I showed Hank the ColorBrewer schemes, a colorblind friendly way to show data invented by Cynthia Brewer and the visual representation I had in mind when describing the diverse spectrum of mental illness.


(sitting outside of a café after Hank’s first morning training run)

Hank: (sipping fresh squeezed orange)

Me: (sharing his gigantic double stack of Portuguese style toast which puts American Texas style toast to shame)

Hank: I am sorry I am not very conversational today.

Me: No worries. We’re doing one of my favorite things.

Hank: Eating torrada (toast)?

Me: That and something called people watching.

Hank: Like just kinda… watching people?

Me: Exactly like just kinda that. We’re observing. We’re enjoying people’s outfits and imagining where they are going.

Hank: I bet she is going to work and those girls are going to the gym. And those grandpas aren’t going anywhere just talking.

Me: See… people watching.

Hank: Mama, this man here walking by, he’s homeless isn’t he?

Me: He is.

Hank: I have seen him a lot.

Me: He has a place he feels safe around here. I don’t want you to be frightened of him, but I want you to give him a lot of space. This man doesn’t live entirely in our world. He suffers from mental illness.

Hank: Oh.

Me: Did you know that every single person has a bit of mental illness? Mental illness is like a spectrum. We all have irrational moments where our brains lie to us, just some more so than others. Mental illness isn’t a choice and you should never judge someone for something we all share.

Hank: Mental illness is a spectrum? So like a rainbow? Like a rainbow with no color only grays and blacks?

Me: That is a good way of thinking about it in the extreme. Mental illness is like a rainbow that degrades from blinding, too-bright color to only grays and blacks, but every person’s rainbow is different. My mental illness rainbow is beautiful and dazzling around the edges but in the center of each color there is a bit of a shadow. That shadow is where my pain and grief about my poor health lives. There are days when I am more in the shadow than I am in the beautiful light and vice versa.

Hank: I totally understand. I think my rainbow is solid color but with cracks in it where I get nervous and scared like around new people, crowds and stuff or about going to my new school.

Me: (nodding, sipping my coffee) But those cracks are also important. Cracks are how the light gets into dark spaces.

Hank: (nodding) That man? He speaks to himself and I have seen him hit himself before. His rainbow is gray and black.

Me: Even the darkest mental illness rainbows have bright sides. We can’t see each other’s rainbows, but we can send love and light into the darkest gray days.

Hank: Does he want a home, but can’t have one?

Me: I don’t know his story, Hank.  Many people with mental illness chose to live outside because it makes them feel safer and it allows them the freedom they need. As long as a person knows that there is always help and assistant available and they aren’t hurting anyone we should respect they are making their best choices. That man can walk into any health center or the hospital and receive help. He knows that.

Hank: Same with someone who is addicted to drugs.

Me: Correct.

Hank: Are people who use drugs mentally ill, too?

Me: Not necessarily in the same way. Again, mental illness is a spectrum.

Hank: A rainbow we all have on the inside.




Mouthwash (The Conclusion)

The scene of the crime and soon as my mopped floor dried when I returned to tidy up the bathroom counter.  (I don't take photos in the heat of the moment)

The scene of the crime and soon as my mopped floor dried when I returned to tidy up the bathroom counter. (I don’t take photos in the heat of the moment)


Pai: We’re home. Hello?

Me: (manage a groan, laying on the sofa, ice pack pressed against the back of my feverish neck, counting down the minutes to when the full extent of Molly’s flu hits me)

Molly: Papa! (play with every single one of her toys once before abandoning it in the middle of the living room floor for the next) MANO (Brother)!!!

Hank: Hi, mana (sister)! You’re feeling better.

Molly: Play? Mano, play toys? (nodding)

Hank: Sure, but I need to talk to mama for one sec, okay.

Molly: Okay. Mama, sick. (nodding)

Hank: Oh no.

Me: It was bound to happen. Taking care of a puking toddler with a suppressed immune system means it is only a matter of time before I fall ill.

Hank: I am sorry, mama.

Me: It’s okay. No matter how bad the flu is it will eventually end thanks to modern medicine.

Hank: Not about your flu, but I am also sorry about that. I am sorry about this morning.

Me: That was unfortunate. Why are you sorry?

Hank: Because you were right it wasn’t a big deal at all. I made it a huge deal and I am sorry.

Me: Did you feel better once you gave yourself permission to calm down?

Hank: Yes! And I was thinking to myself what was the point? It was just a small mistake.

Me: Raging over spilt mouthwash? Yah, there are much better uses of your time.

Hank: I was thinking that most of my classmates are ten and I will be ten soon and is this, like, puberty?

Me: Um… (really wishing I didn’t have a fever for this conversation)

Hank: Was that what you call a mood swing?

Me: Yes, you were chatty and wonderful the minute before you were screaming and crying. When you are a pre-teen or a tween your body fills with hormones and a lot of changes occur and some of those changes are emotional, but you have had issues with being far too critical of yourself and letting your big feelings over power your rational self long before now. Meaning you will need to work doubly hard to tell your irrational, lying brain to calm down and only you will be able to find the best way to do that.

Hank: This morning I kept thinking I was so stupid and it was so stupid that I was so upset and you are right I ruined my morning, not the mouthwash, me.

Me: How do you think you could have handled this morning differently?

Hank: I could have listened to you and papa.

Me: Listening to your parents when you are upset is a huge challenge for anyone. I want to know how you can help yourself. There was a part of you that knew you were out of control this morning. Did you notice that part of you?

Hank: (shocked) Yes! The whole time.

Me: And what do you think you could have done to better listen to that rational part of yourself rather than totally surrender to the irrational part of yourself.

Hank: (thinking)

Me: (so sick)

Hank: I could go into a quiet room. I could do that counting thing.

Me: Count to ten three times, that is a very helpful tool.

Hank: I could have done both and I could have asked for help with cleaning up because I was nervous about being late to school.

Me: Were you late to school today?

Hank: A bit.

Me: And was there any problems?

Hank: No.

Me: So you can scratch that fear off your list. And what about your shoes? Were they ruined?

Hank: No. They weren’t even wet.

Me: (shifting the cold pack from the back of my neck to my forehead) Now that you are almost ten and you have a tool box packed full of options to counter act a mega mood-swing-melt-down what will you do next time?

Hank: I will try and listen to the calm part of my brain.

Me:  (pinching the bridge of my nose, doing my best not to vomit) Punch that irrational, lying part of your brain that wants you to think you are a terrible mouthwash wasting person in the face and move on. You do yourself no favors when you collapse at the smallest crisis. Only a calm person can be at their best in a crisis.

Hank: Mama, go and lay down in your bed. I will take care of Molly.

Me: That is a wonderful offer and I will take you up on it, but watching your sister means playing with her and not YouTube, no phone just playing.

Hank: That’s fine. I understand. Who wants to play with a person looking at their phone? I can play with her until I have to stop and study. Amália, do you want to have a tea party?

Molly: No, doctor Amália. Sit down, mano (brother). Check eeearrs, check eeeeearrrrs. (gathering her stethoscope, and doctor’s bag) Check-up!

Me: (walking away, submitting fully to the flu now that my tribe is home)