Strange things happen to your body and mind when you become a trauma parent.
A judge awarded Husband full custody of Middle and Little in 2013, and ever since my body has been going bonkers. My blood pressure has been all over the place, my teeth have become “stressed” from all the jaw clenching I do (both awake and asleep), my weight has been fluctuating and my sleep patterns are totally out of whack. I’ve developed a stronger sense of smell and am frequently knocked into Migraine Land when I catch a whiff of someone’s perfume or walk into a room that’s been subjected to aerosol freshener. I get nauseous. All. The. Time.
Mentally, I’m not a total mess, but I’m pretty sure I’ve developed a case of Secondary Trauma stemming from parenting kids with trauma issues, which sends me into bouts of “burn out” and “compassion fatigue” every so often. The first time I heard about “secondary trauma,” I thought it was a lot of hooey, but it’s a real diagnosis recognized by the DSM-V (under a PTSD diagnosis).
But I’m not writing about my questionable self-diagnosis today.
Instead, I am writing about an emerging “trauma mama telepathy” that I first mentioned in my blog post, “The Candy Cane Lesson.”
When I wrote that post, the ability to just know what my kids were going to say and do (or what they had already said and done but were trying to hide from me) in response to certain stimuli was a new thing… It didn’t strike me as odd at the time. However, as time goes on and my predictions happen more and more with increasing accuracy and detail, I’m getting progressively more creeped out.
And I’m hoping you, dearest readers, will weigh in on this strange phenomenon in the comments.
Let me explain with an example:
This weekend, Husband, the kids, and I made a family portrait with our “power animals” (per the descriptions on this website) that we’re going to hang up just as soon as I take my happy rear end to the hardware store for some more nails.
We painted our spirit animal totems with no problems…
Husband suggested to Middle that she lightly mark her picture with colored pencils before diving straight into using the paint, because Middle is an artistic perfectionist and teaching her to plan her artwork out before using markers and paint has significantly cut back on her disappointment with the final outcome of her work.
I overheard this suggestion and my mind sighed. Great. I know Middle’s going to use a heavy hand while planning out her painting – or maybe she’ll use a marker instead – and it will show through the watercolor paint and she’ll be upset with the way it looks in the end.
Two seconds later, I looked over Middle’s shoulder and guess what I saw?
Heavy markings made with marker! Bam!
Ladies and gentlemen, I may just be the next Miss Cleo. Get me a 1-900 number, stat! (Do they even HAVE those pay-per-call, 1-900-lines anymore? Man, I am feeling my age today!)
Thankfully, she only marked with some washable markers that blended nicely with the watercolor paint and we avoided a my-artwork-is-not-absolutely-flawless-and-therefore-I-hate-it meltdown. But I spent the next hour or two asking myself, “How on earth did I know that was going to happen?!”
Little has been trying to get out of using the tooth timer when he brushes his teeth lately. And by lately I mean for two months. And brushing properly isn’t an issue we can just “let go” because he and Middle had some major cavity issues when they came to live with us and woe be unto us if Little needs to get silver caps like Middle.
He’s also started this super obnoxious behavior where he only expels a some of the contents of his bladder before bed (we can hear him do this… There’s an audible trickle at the end of his urine stream when he’s not engaging in this behavior, not a sudden stop after two seconds!!!). Holding like this accomplishes two things: 1) it gives him a great excuse to get out of bed an hour after he’s been tucked in and ask to use the bathroom, and 2) the need to urinate keeps him awake, which makes him feel great while he’s doing it (he doesn’t like to sleep… likely due to nightmares) but makes him horribly cranky the next day when he’s exhausted. And he’s been doing this for about four months.
Not so consistently that it’s become predictable mind you – some nights he actually does brush and pee like he’s supposed to. So we have to listen for the sounds of him using the bathroom and pay attention to the amount of time he’s back in the bathroom to ensure he’s used the tooth timer. If we don’t pay close attention, he easily gets away with these shenanigans and we are none the wiser until he calls out that he has to go to the bathroom.
The other night I was helping Oldest brush her teeth in my “adult” bathroom when Husband told Little it was time to brush and pee. “Use the tooth timer!” I called (our apartment is tiny – we can hear each other across the whole domicile).
“I will!” Little replied.
As I finished knocking all the food debris from Oldest’s braces, a suspicious thought flickered in my brain.
He’s not using the tooth timer.
Oldest and I emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later and Little was back in the living room, snuggled up to Husband.
“Did you use the tooth timer?” I asked.
“Really?” I asked.
“He was back there for at least five minutes,” Husband said. “He used the timer.”
I turned back to Little. “Little. Did you?” Little nodded. “Did you really?” Little nodded again, a little slower. “Did you really really reeeealllly?” I asked, trying my best to be silly. Little glowered.
“Uh-huh. I didn’t think so.”
“What?!” Husband asked. “I swear he used it! He was back there long enough and I heard him brushing!”
We marched back to the bathroom, Little getting more and more angry with each step. When we got to the bathroom, we couldn’t even find the tooth timer and Middle had to tell us she’d dropped it on the floor in a pile of dirty clothes when she last brushed her teeth.
“You didn’t pee all your pee, either, did you, Bud?”
::intense glowery stare from Little ensues as he slowly and deliberately flips the tooth timer over to get it going::
I stood there as he brushed, then ushered him in front of the toilet. He let loose for several seconds, but the stream cut off abruptly. “Come on, Kiddo! Get it all out!” I cheered.
“THAT’S ALL I HAVE!”
Husband came to the bathroom door. “He peed earlier,” he said. “I heard him.”
“Right. But he just let out a whole lot more, so he wasn’t finished when he went five minutes ago.”
“Are you done now?” I heard Husband ask as he walked Little to bed.
No, he’s not finished peeing. I guaran-effing-tee it! I thought.
We tucked him in, asked if he needed to go pee just one more time to be sure, and said goodnight when he denied the need to urinate.
And about thirty minutes later he came to the door. “Mooooooooom……….. I have to go to the bathroom…….. Daaaaaaad…. I have to go to the bathroom!”
I could go on and on with more examples of this fancy new superpower of mine, some upsetting and some funny, but that would put this post’s readability at risk (Also, these two moments in time embody relatively normal parenting situations (kid doesn’t want to brush his teeth, kid wants to stay up late, perfectionist kid uses the wrong art tool to plan her project), and it’s kind of nice writing about more typical struggles for once!).
Now that you’ve read about these events, I’m sure you’ll all agree that I’m a comic-book character “blessed” with telepathic amazingness, caught up in some sort of mildly insane and totally improbable adventure.
Seriously, though… I really need to get in on this Psychic Network thing – the company responsible for the Miss Cleo chicanery raked in an estimated $1 billion during their run (although the poor actress who played the silly psychic on TV claims she only received $1,750 for her two days on set!). I could attend ALL the conferences and pay for ALL the mental health treatment for Middle and Little AND I’d have tons left over for gene therapy for Oldest (that’s not an option for her particular disorder right now… but if I had that kind of money I’d have enough to MAKE it available)!
Our therapist says this is a good thing – that my gut feelings and silent predictions are a strong indication that I’m attuned to my step-children, their personalities, their behavior, their desires and their needs. But it feels so… strange, and it so rarely happen with Oldest that it’s really a non-issue in our relationship. I don’t understand how I can possibly be more attuned to my non-biological children than I am to my biological daughter.
So, what say you, readers?
Do you all deal with this phenomenon? How do you handle it?
Do you worry, as I do, that your negative assumptions are somehow reverberating through the air and entering the brains of your children, thus causing them to act out?
Are you more attuned to some of your children than others? Do you find yourself connecting mentally in this way to your biological children more than your non-bio kids?
Are you able to “risk” letting the kids do things when you know those things will end badly? Or are you more like me, who has so tightly pulled in the reins on the kids’ independence that I often worry I’m doing that “helicopter mom” thing all the parenting magazines warn us about?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
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