Hank: (dramatically belly flops on my bed)
Me: (awakened from my mindfulness practice)
Me: What’s up, buttercup?
Hank: (solid whine) I can’t find my pen.
Me: We have 10000000 pens in this house.
Hank: Not that kind of pen my pen for my school computer work.
Me: Oh, your thumb-drive.
Hank: I don’t know why you call it that. No one calls it that.
Me: Alright Sassafras, when was the last time you remember having your pen for the computers at school?
Hank: In Visual Education class. I had to do a drawing and I took it out when I was selecting my colored pencils.
Me: And is it in your pencil case now?
Me: And is it in your backpack?
Hank: NO! Argh, I am so stupid!
Me: No way.
Hank: WHHAATT? I am! I am so stupid! I lose everything!
Me: STOP RIGHT NOW.
Hank: (taken aback)
Me: You do not get to walk into this room and be self-deprecating. I REFUSE to participate in that kind of behavior. You can be frustrated. You can be annoyed. You can even think it is funny that things slip in and out of your life and disappear like snow flakes on warm pavement, but you do not under any circumstances get to come into my room, into my calm and loving space and expect me to participate in your insulting and punishing behavior over a trivial mistake. YOU are not stupid.
Hank: BUT I…
Hank: But mom, listen.
Me: I REFUSE! You made a mistake and it is time to learn from it. What have you learned, Hank?
Hank: (button pushing) That I am stupid.
Me: No matter how hard you try to get into trouble by sassing me I refuse to punish you because I know that is what you want. This is unacceptable behavior. STOP. What did you learn from this totally normal, happens-to-everyone kind of mistake, Hank?
Hank: That I lose everything.
Me: Stop. Sit up. I can’t sit up right now, but you can so sit up and look at me.
Hank: (sits up and meets my gaze, shoulders slumped, spine in a c-curve)
Me: (lovingly) Hank, I can see now that my suggestion of keeping your school thumb-drive, I mean computer pen, in your pencil case was a mistake. It is easy for something so small to slip to the floor or hide in a shadow and for you to walk away from it. Look for it tomorrow at school and if it is indeed lost we will just get you a new computer pen.
Hank: But I neeeeeeeed it for tommorrrroooowww!
Me: And I can’t do anything about it now. You’ve waited until too late to pack your backpack when I specifically told you this afternoon that if you have no homework then your first job when you walk into this house is to swap out your school books and make sure you are prepared for the next day.
Hank: ARGH! (slaps himself on the forehead very hard)
Me: STOP! Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare abuse and insult my son, WHO I LOVE, who is learning something new. You have never had so many responsibilities given to you to execute in such a short time and you have to be polite to yourself when you’re learning something new. Your teachers understand that which is why tomorrow you will stop into the Visual Education classroom and ask your teacher if he has seen your computer pen.
Hank: But he hasn’t he would have said something.
Me: You don’t know that. You don’t know if he found it later and placed it on his desk. After you speak to your Visual Education teacher if he doesn’t have it you will ask the functionaries (school aids and employees) if they have it in the lost and found box.
Hank: I don’t have that much time in the morning.
Me: You do if you make the time. You walk to school. Get to school 9 minutes earlier. I acknowledge that you made a mistake and lost something you need so be proactive enough to try and find it and I guarantee that your teachers will respect you for trying to correct your mistake. If you don’t find it then I will take you to buy a new one tomorrow and together we’ll come up with a better solution to keep it secure in your possession.
Me: You still want to punish yourself don’t you?
Hank: I just am so full of… ARGH!
Me: You’ve had a destructive habit of self-punishment since you were a toddler and it will take strength and practice to forgive yourself when you make a mistake and move on without self-abuse.
Me: How do you feel? Tell me about the storm inside.
Hank: My chest is like pressure and my breath is caught in my throat and I just want to scream, “I am so stupid,” over and over and over. My head hurts and my hands want to make fists and I want to cry forever.
Me: (deep, loud, exaggerated inhale and long exhale) A few years ago I would have wanted to take on all your feelings and absorb then like a sponge so you wouldn’t feel them alone.
Hank: (looking up)
Me: Does that make sense, because I mean that sincerely. When someone that I loved was hurting I used to collect all of their big, terrible feelings and soak them all up and also feel them so that they wouldn’t hurt alone. No one knew I did that, how could they, but it made me feel like I was helping. I don’t know when I started that habit. Maybe when I was Molly’s age, but it took a lot of work to stop consuming other people’s pain and instead sit with them, listen to them and empathize without feeling their pain, too.
Hank: (rather quietly) I don’t know how that feels but I know what you mean if that makes sense.
Me: Makes perfect sense.
Hank: It is like how you’re sick and even right now I can see you’re all swollen and in pain and tired and I want to feel that pain so you don’t have to, but I can’t, but I want to, so like, I get what you’re saying.
Me: We can’t help someone if we take on their struggle. We can’t. It is impossible, because then we are struggling too. If you can’t break the habit of punishing yourself when something goes wrong you will never be able to grow and cope and function in this world. We all make mistakes and the key is to learn from them. You can be frustrated and you should be frustrated. If you had walked into this room frustrated about losing your computer pen then we would be having a very different conversation right now, but I absolutely refuse, flat out, never and no way will I participate in your self-deprecation, in the way you abuse yourself, because it is wrong and it has to end. Losing you computer pen the night before you need it is frustrating, but there is absolutely no correlation between an annoying mistake and your intelligence. Your father is a doctor and loses everything, a million times a day, all day long and he is soooooooo smart, not smarter than me, but still very, very smart. You’re argument about losing things being a direct result of stupidity does not hold water.
Hank: (giggling because he knows it is true)
Me: My amazing, loving, important GAWD DAMN DOCTOR OF COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT partner in life could not find his belt the other day, which I found in 0.8 seconds, but will they take away is Ph.D. for it?
Hank: (smiling) No.
Me: No. You’ve gotta learn to stay calm. Tell that voice inside your head that starts abusing you, calling you stupid and questioning you, to shut up. SHUUUUTTTT UPPPPP!
Me: You punch that voice in the face then take a huge, deep breath, because it is just a computer pen. It isn’t dire and even if it was a dire mistake if you fall into that abusive pattern you won’t have the ability to learn, fix, grow and evolve past that moment and you’ll get stuck. If you do the math and contemplate spending your entire life time crashing landing on my bed, broken by every little, small, normal accidental folly then you will have no time to laugh, take walks, enjoy life, eat ice cream, swim, puddle jump without that abusive voice inside telling you how much you suck.
Hank: (deep, accepting breath)
Me: The change won’t happen overnight, but I know you can do this.
Hank: How? That voice is loud and that voice is me!
Me: (trumpeting his victory) Whoosh, baby, you just halfway won the battle already!
Hank: (furled brow of disbelief)
Me: You know that voice is you. YOU. IT’S YOU! And if the abuser is you then you are the one with all the power to stop it. Do not let that lying, manipulative, ASSHOLE, part of you get to win!
Me: What? The abusive you is an asshole! I don’t want to hang out with the abusive, lying, asshole part of your brain and neither should you. We all, every single person on this planet have an inner voice wants to undermine us and, Hank, if you can punch that part of you in the face, that scared asshole part of you that abuses you, you will be doing yourself a life long favor because the longer you let that part of you win the harder it will be to gain the control over it in the future and eventually you will have to or he will win every time, every single time and you deserve better than to be consumed by hateful lies.
Me: How do you feel now?
Hank: (sigh) Tired.
Me: Battles are exhausting.
Hank: I am going to go and be alone for a while and listen to some music.
Me: Okay, thank you for talking to me and for listening. It isn’t your fault you have an abusive voice inside you, every single person has one, but you’re right that the voice is you, therefore you have the power to not let you hurt you anymore.
Hank: Tomorrow, I will go and look for my pen and even if I don’t find it I will be okay. I will be okay.
Me: You will. I promise you will be okay.
Hank: Thanks, mama.
Me: Love you, buddy. When you find your computer pen or we buy a new one we will attach a string to it and tie it to something you take to school everyday, like your planner or your pencil case.
Hank: That is a good idea. (oozes off the bed, worn out)
Me: (stares up at the ceiling, equally exhausted, because being a parent is no joke)
Hank’s current favorite song is My Funny Valentine, by Chet Baker.
He listened to it on repeat for the rest of the night.