only a mom

I know I’ve written a bit about Catie’s anxiety here, and she’s getting to the age where I feel like I should stop blogging about her for the sake of her privacy. But at the same time, I get a lot of good ideas from those of you who leave comments here, and lately I need all the help I can get.

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Catie has always had a hard time with what I call “losing her people.” It started from the time she was tiny – I very distinctly remember the meltdowns Catie used to have when my sister would come to visit and then leave to go home.

Rather than outgrowing them, her meltdowns seem to get progressively worse every time Dave comes to visit.

The last time he was here, a few weeks ago, he had a great visit with the kids. He came over the night before he left, to tell them goodbye. It’s become our normal routine for when he’s here visiting.

Lucy takes these things in stride – she’s never really known Dave as a constant figure in her life, and she’s generally the personality type that just kind of rolls with it and adapts easily. Her dad shows up, she has a great time with him. He leaves, she’s still ok.

But Catie grieves the loss every time, and it’s so hard. This last time, when he was tucking the kids into bed, I sat downstairs in my office and listened on the baby monitor as Catie sobbed and begged him to stay. It was heart-breaking. I wanted to rush upstairs and comfort her, but I also knew that I needed to allow her that time with her dad.

So I sat, and I listened to her cry. It was awful.

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This past weekend, my brother came to visit. (My brother and my boyfriend are both named Chris, just to make it extra confusing.) We had a nice visit, and took the kids out to Green Acres Farm, which has become an annual tradition for us.

We went on a hayride:
Lucy & my brother on a hayride.

And Catie also rode a pony. (Lucy took one look at the ponies and was all “oh HELL no!”)
Pony ride! Assistance provided by my brother.

[Side note: my Chris and his kids came with us, and I got a really adorable picture of Lucy with Chris’s daughter, but I’m not posting it because I have a weird thing about posting other people’s kids on social media. Plus, based on what I know of his ex, I don’t want to give her any extra ammo.]

Anyway, on Sunday, when my brother left to go back to Charlotte, Catie completely fell apart. My brother was kind of surprised, since he comes to visit at least one weekend a month, so it isn’t like she never sees him. But she just sobbed, and said that she didn’t want him to leave.

I shoo’ed my brother on his way and pulled Catie into my lap. I said, “Sweetie, are you really sad about Chris leaving or is this something else?”

She said, “I just miss Daddy.” And then she sobbed harder.

I said that I know she misses him, and it’s hard, and I’m sorry that it isn’t fair that he lives so far away.

She said, “I’m the only one in my class who only has a mom.”

Oof.

I mean, yeah ok, she does have a dad, not “only a mom,” but I knew what she meant. Dave isn’t there for her school programs and things like that. I’m sure there are other kids in her class whose parents are divorced, but I’m guessing the parents involved have stayed local.

So it sucks, and I’m not sure how to help her deal with that. Catie was really dealt an unfair hand in this. I can’t fix it, even though I wish like hell that I could.

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Meanwhile, a couple of weeks ago, I had a parent-teacher conference with Catie’s teacher. And I got confirmation of what I suspected: she’s great when it comes to things like science and math that she enjoys. But if it’s something that doesn’t actively interest her, or if she isn’t positive that she’ll be able to do it perfectly – like, say, reading and spelling – she digs her heels in, says, “I can’t do it,” and refuses to even try.

She’s at or above grade level for all subjects except reading. And I don’t know how to get her past it. It seems like the minute I try to drill her on spelling words, Lucy is immediately throwing a tantrum, demanding my attention, and therefore making it impossible for Catie to concentrate.

I had the idea to maybe get a tutor for Catie, someone who can drill her on basic sight words and phonics and things. And this is where oversharing about your kid on social media comes in handy: thanks to Twitter and Facebook, I got some really great ideas for where to start. Someone pointed out that at a lot of high schools, the kids in the honor society are required to log a certain number of volunteer hours for their college applications.

I called the nearest high school to me, got the name and email address for the school’s honor society advisor, and I’m waiting to hear back from him. Hopefully that’ll at least provide an avenue to start working her up to reading at her grade level. Catie is so eager to please teenage girls and win their approval, I think it might work out really well.

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Meanwhile! I hadn’t bothered to check Catie’s school folder over the weekend, until I was packing her lunch late Sunday night. The teacher doesn’t usually send home papers over the weekend, which is why I hadn’t looked at it.

I found out that – surprise! – this week is Catie’s week to be Star Student. (It’s first grade, these things aren’t based on merit, every kid gets a week to be Star Student. The teacher has all the kids’ names on popsicle sticks and pulls one at random to choose.)

And hey, being Star Student is great! Except there’s this whole poster with printed photos we were supposed to have ready for Monday morning. And I didn’t know about it until 11 p.m. on Sunday night. So I was scrambling to do it myself since Catie was long since asleep. Chris tried to help, God bless him – replacing the ink in my printer, digging out copy paper from Catie’s art supply bin, etc. We didn’t get to bed until after 1 a.m.

In the morning, I asked why she hadn’t told me that she was Star Student this week. She said that she hadn’t known this week was her turn. Then she burst into tears. “That means I have to read a book in front of the class and I can’t read!!”

(And yes, according to the sheet the teacher sent home, Star Student has a different “thing” each day of the week – Monday, they bring in their poster all about themselves. Tuesday, they bring their favorite book and read it to the class. Wednesday, I get to go to to school and have lunch with her, etc.)

I emailed her teacher and asked what to do. This is supposed to be something fun and special for her, not a source of anxiety. She suggested Catie bring in her Skylanders graphic novel and just re-tell part of the story. My parents kept Lucy busy last night so Catie and I could read through some of it (normally she just likes to look at the pictures), and we talked about it.

At bedtime last night, she decided she didn’t want to re-tell the story, and that she’d try to read “How Do Dinosaurs Play with Their Friends?” to the class. It’s a board book, it’s a little baby-ish, but it’s sweet, and more importantly: she can read it. We practiced it together a few times (and again this morning). She was ready, but I know she was nervous about it.

Honestly, after I dropped her off at school, I had a knot in my stomach for her. I could tell how tense she was, and I hated that I couldn’t fix it or make her feel better. I sat at my desk and I just cried.

I wish I knew how to solve all of her worries. I just don’t.

Sometimes only having a mom has got to suck.

  1. I just want to start with “you are an awesome Mom” because damn, we all need that affirmation and it is true. Second, from everything I’ve read here (anxiety, reading stuff) you are TOTALLY doing everything within your power to work on these things. But it sounds to me (outsider, non professional) like the issue with her Dad and people leaving might need help from a professional. Someone Catie can talk to and work through this, and give you things to reinforce at home. Not because you are not already doing an awesome job but we all get dealt hands outside of our area of expertise. And I love the honor student idea. Would she respond well to reading her Dad books via FaceTime? I know she likes the iPad, perhaps there is a fun read-along app (or just Kindle versions of her favorite books w/ audio) that might make it a more fun activity? Just throwing things out there, feel free to disregard any of them.

    • Thanks. 🙂

      She used to see a therapist, and we stopped going about a year ago because she really seemed to be doing well. And even though she LOVED her therapist, when I’ve mentioned going back to visit her, Catie says she doesn’t want to go. I’m not sure how I feel about forcing a kid to go to therapy against their will.

      And yeah, I’m trying to find some of the good reading apps for the iPad. And she does FaceTime with her dad sometimes, but I doubt he could convince her to read to him because she’s usually so busy chatting with him about all her latest news. (And trying to shove Lucy out of the way. Of course.)

  2. A therapist can help her with alternatives to melting down over hard feelings. It’s worth it now, and who knows, maybe she will need more as she copes with the loss of a daily dad presence. For her maybe this needs to be something she does regularly, along the lines of dental x-rays…just to keep up with changes as she grows. She has to learn to live with her temperament.

    That’s cool about the teen girls volunteering since she likes them. It also helps that they want to do volunteer work; if you had to make somebody do it, it would just suck. How does she respond to reward charts? I personally hate the upkeep on them and mine was never motivated by them, but if she will do one, maybe it’s a way to get in reading and spelling time less painfully.

    The Skype idea is great, unless it just means extra chances to say goodbye. I guess you’d have to be sure Dave would want to keep up with it, and maybe the therapist has some good ways to work that in. I wonder if you could try Skype with others (who are local?) first before you have her do it with Dave? Just to make it a skill she can practice and do, and not just a portal to Daddy. Perfectionist/anxious kids can struggle with the idea of practicing, but it’s an awesome thing to get down because even easy topics will get hard in time. I’ve been reading a lot lately about how boys are taught to try again and keep practicing, while girls are just praised for being “good at” things. Then the girls fall down on hard topics later, is the theory, because they don’t have practice skills and beat themselves up that they are no longer good at it.

    I think mothers suffer as much as if not more than the kids when things aren’t going well. The feeling of powerlessness burns.

    • She used to have regular FaceTime/Skype chats with her dad, but they seem to be a lot less frequent now. My rule is that if she asks to talk to him and it’s not some ungodly hour on the west coast, I ALWAYS text him to see if he’s free to talk to her. But she asks for him less & less now – maybe because it’s always hard to say goodbye, I’m not sure.

      I keep coming back to the therapist idea too. I’ve put it off because she doesn’t want to go, but I feel like I’m running out of resources. A professional who could provide some coping strategies would probably be really helpful.

  3. Hey I wanted to follow up on the twitter thing in a forum with more than 140 characters.

    The best best best thing our therapists have drilled into our heads is that we CAN NOT let anxiety be the driver of our life. We can’t avoid taking Alex to new restaurants because he hates them. We can’t stop taking him to therapy because he doesn’t want to talk. We can’t run inside the house whenever there is a bee because Alex is scared of them.

    When we do those things, we are letting anxiety be in charge and we reinforcing to Alex that it is right to be scared of these things, and that hiding from them and avoiding them is acceptable. We were actually making things worse when we thought we were being sensitive to his needs. We’ve spent a TON of time in therapy talking about when to push him on things and when to let him be the one to venture out…. turns out we need to push him a lot because DUH anxious kids don’t want to venture out.

    Anyway, I know it may seem like you’re forcing her to therapy but what you’re doing is helping her deal with very difficult emotions with someone much better equipped to help her and help you. And if you decide not to make her, I totally understand bc every kid is different and you’re the parent.
    Laura Case´s last blog post ..Back to work, with many lessonsMy Profile

  4. Breaks my heart hearing how she is suffering from anxiety. I hope if you do decide to go to therapy, it helps. It can’t hurt. Best of luck to your lovely family 🙂

  5. I’m sure it would’ve mortified me as a kid going to therapy to talk about my parent’s divorce, but now that I’m an adult, I wish they would have taken me — my mom tried to play therapist to me, and while I know she did the best she could, it didn’t exactly help.

    I’m grateful now for going through what I did as a child with the parents and situation I had, because it definitely made me the individual I am today — it really reinforced a lot of values I have and made me redefine how I look at almost all of my adult relationships.

    I really hope your Catie girl comes through this stronger — you’re an amazing role model to her, and I’m sure one day she’ll be grateful to have had such an awesome mom who raised two little girls as a single parent. It may take her years to get here, but she will — one day she’ll look back and see all the little moments you lifted her up and made her a better little human.

    Ditto to what Daisy said, we all need the affirmation that we’re doing this parenting thing right — and I don’t think anyone could think differently of you! Good luck**