Tuesday, July 17, 2012


I would think that after 8, 10, 12 years on the job -- any kind of job -- most people know how to do it. Wouldn't you?

I mean, after a couple months helping my Dad put braces on kids -- that was my summer high school job, "Orthodontic Chair-Side Assistant and Occasional Front-Desk Chair Warmer -- I pretty much had it down. Sure, if some twelve year old had thrown up all over the place while getting an impression done (a classmate of mine once DID throw up in my father's chair but thankfully I was not present) I'd have shrieked and run away, but overall I got the suction, the water sprayer, the bibbing of patients and the handing over of instruments. It was not brain surgery.

And after a month of selling well-heeled women's clothing clothing for well-heeled women* at The Talbot's in downtown Boston -- to impatient businessmen who needed birthday presents for their wives and were willing to devote four minutes and a hundred bucks to the process -- I more or less figured out the cash register and the fake smile. (I did not EVER perfect the folding-and-inserting-in-bag-while-impatient-dude-taps-foot-and-frowns part of the job, however.)

And after, oh, I don't know, three or four years of teaching college English I was pretty good at it. Of course, there were always new courses and new material to master well enough that I remained smarter than my students (this is harder to pull off with graduate students) but overall I learned how to do that job and do it well.

So why the hell haven't I figured out how to be a parent? Because it's going on fifteen years and once again I am simply flummoxed.

Okay, I'm exaggerating. It's only EIGHT years since I've been parent to an off-kilter child (Benjy's mental health issues began at age four). But still.


Well, no. The thing is, I thought Benjy was doing SOOO well. He seemed happy enough, had made some new friends, was (mostly) making it to school. Then there was that dysregulated day in Connecticut I recently blogged about. And then Saskia told me he "doesn't seem right." And then -- because I am impressively inattentive these days -- I realized, retrospectively, that he's been  kind of downcast, and withdrawn, and unsmiling for quite a while. And now, once again, he is begging me to keep him home from school (the Joy School runs a summer program that is school, not camp).

The past two weeks it's been a struggle to get him to go. Now, I can't say I blame him. Go to school in the summer? that's not fair!

But he can't manage camp, and if he doesn't go to school he will literally sit in front of his computer ALL DAY LONG. And if I complain and ask him to do something else he will tell me, bitterly, that there is NOTHING else to do and his life is empty. Then he will suggest some impossibly expensive thing, like buying electronic stuff or inviting a friend to the aquarium, or some impossibly inadvisable thing, like finding a gun shop where he can fondle the Glocks.

So my question is: what do I do? Does this depression mean he needs a med change? More therapy? (We've taken a summer hiatus because he was simply refusing to go.) Should I be calling his psychiatrist or is that over-reacting? I do not know. If he would only talk to me maybe I could figure it out. But he is resolutely close-mouthed. He resists all of my questions, even benign ones. His affect is flat, his face unreadable, except for the sadness there. I cannot reach my boy, and I am at a loss for what to do.

Inevitably, in life, things cycle back. We might think we're done with this or that conflict, but we almost certainly are not. The repressed always returns, as does winter darkness and the full moon. Often there is comfort in these cycles -- thank GOODNESS the days will get longer again in spring, and stone fruits will come back just when we've forgotten their particular species of firm sweetness.

But this return, the return of my off-kilter boy, I find unnerving. And even though depression and anxiety have always waxed and waned around here, they throw me for a loop when they re-emerge.

So here we are again, and not for the last time I am flying by the seat of my pants, as Lars would say.

* English grammar was obviously not on my graduate school curriculum. My German grammar is far, far worse.

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