I’m sitting on the couch with Flora curled up in my lap, her tear-stained face crushed against my chest. I’m not sure what she’s crying about—she does not want to tell me. I’m not sure she remembers what she is crying about, now. But this much I’ve learned from by Emotional Eight—as I watched her struggle from Inarticulate One to Tormented Two to Traumatic Three, Fragile Four to Ferocious Five, Struggling Six to Sensitive Seven—all she needs from me now is quiet acceptance. All she needs is for me to hold her. All she needs is for me to shut the fuck up.
It’s hard, it’s so hard. To not say anything, you know? To not press. To not find out. To not offer a solution. To not—repress. To not say, “It doesn’t matter.” “Why on earth are you crying about that?” “Get a grip, get some perspective.” So hard.
I hold my Emotional Eight a little tighter.
“I’m calming down,” she whispers.
“Good,” I whisper back.
“I’m so sad,” she says.
“It’s all right,” I say. And that’s so hard for me too. To give her permission to be sad, to feel, to suffer. I rarely grant myself that permission. Flora’s the child of mine who I feel I fail, if not quite constantly, than certainly more often than her brothers—and it’s because she feels, she feels so fully and so acutely, and she’s been cursed with a mother who has severe intimacy issues.
(You, reader-who-knows-me-only-from-my-writing, I see you scoffing. You’ve perhaps told me that you read me because I’m so naked, raw, honest? Lies, all lies. I am a competent writer. That means I control the narrative. You see only what I want you to see. And, you, reader-who-knows-me-in-real-life, that glimmer, glimpse of what’s behind the curtain? I meant for you to see it. I’m that manipulative—and that skilled.)
Flora is my opposite: so open, so vulnerable, so transparent. It terrifies me, because oh-god, will she suffer. Suffers. And every time she is torn open, every time she feels too much—I need to combat my desire to arm her, repress her, wall her off, turn her into me.
Because, you know, she is such a gift. It is people like her—not people like me—who will save the world. So I hold her. Say nothing. And later, when she is calmer and the immediacy of the wound recedes into the past, discuss coping strategies that may protect her—help her react and process—but not wreck the power, depth and fullness of feeling that make her who she is.
I so suck at this.
But. I try. I keep on trying. And when I know I’m absolutely failing… I call in her Dad.
(Do you want to deconstruct with me what I’ve done here? How I’ve played you? I dare you. Do it.)