Cruel Summer

By Beck

“In headaches and in worry, vaguely life leaks away,” wrote W.H. Auden. And that is how life is feeling these days for me – leaking away while I fret over things, the seasons flitting dully past. This has been a rainy, muted summer, not full of our usual beach trips and happy farm visits but having, instead, 7 trips to the emergency room, a whole house full of sick kids and more family worries than I’ve ever known before. When I have felt extra-self-pitying this summer (which has been quite frequently, since this has been a notably crappy summer), I have felt like I had an allotment of happy days and have used them all up and that’s it, they’re gone. And why do I think that? BECAUSE I AM MELODRAMATIC.

One of my kids – my oldest – does not take after me in this regard. She is a sensible, calm child and quite frequently politely interjects quiet little statements of “That’s not exactly what happened.” while I’m telling people stories, which are embellished, FYI, for interests sake and not because I take a dim view of the truth. But my other two are as highly dramatic as their mother and in fact, WHILE I WAS WRITING THIS, The Baby cried out “My life is OVER!” as her Lego tower tumbled to the ground. And a little while earlier, she hurled a banana at her brother – the very banana that he had refused to eat when she offered it to him – and shrieked “Fine, then, IF YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR HEALTH.” But my oldest child is a sensible, steady girl, and I regard her with a type of startled bemusement as though she is some sort of exotic creature from a distant planet where everything is not a big deal at every minute of the day.

Of course, her calmness comes with a downside that always surprises me: whereas everyone I know knows that I’ve had a hard summer, and O Woe Is Me and all that, and while The Baby and The Boy announce their every mood and problem, The Girl keeps things quiet and private and it takes me, for example, all the way until last night to find out just exactly how rough a year she had last year. And this haunts me, this knowledge that while I am having my big loud dramas and while the Baby and The Boy are having THEIR big loud dramas, the Girl is quietly suffering by herself. Oh, my heart is broken.

That’s not exactly what happened,” my Girl would say quietly and politely.

Last night, I had a nightmare that my Girl was a little child again, running bare-legged in the winter fields at my parent’s farm, and that I was desperately searching for her, running blindly through the snow until at last I turned and saw her standing quietly behind me, that she had been suffering right within my grasp all along and that I had been too loud and too self-centered to possibly hear her.

28 Responses to Cruel Summer
  1. Chantal
    August 27, 2009 | 12:12 pm

    Oh Beck, it is so hard isn’t it. My oldest son is like this. He has been upset recently and still refuses to divulge the cause of his sadness. I try to get it out and he just keeps saying he doesn’t want to tell. I cry every time we get into these discussions.

  2. SSB
    August 27, 2009 | 12:16 pm

    I completely ‘get’ The Girl. I’ve got one kid who is v. dramatic & his father and I find him exhausting. It’s a good thing he’s also funny.

  3. Nowheymama
    August 27, 2009 | 12:22 pm

    Perhaps having more time together will be another added homeschooling benefit. Um, obviously.

  4. Heather
    August 27, 2009 | 12:23 pm

    My middle child is like that, and it always shocks me how much she is THINKING about things and not saying anything about it until months later when it turns out it has been bothering her heart all along.

  5. Louise
    August 27, 2009 | 12:37 pm

    My oldest child is very–um–open. Everyone knows exactly how she is feeling every moment, and it’s usually either really good or really bad–never in between. I worry that my younger daughter–all of three months–will end up falling between the cracks of her sister’s more exuberant life. But if her three-month-old self is any indication the girls will probably be throwing bananas at each other in a couple of years and I will be the one who slips through the cracks. Which is fine by me, actually!

  6. Mary-LUE
    August 27, 2009 | 12:37 pm

    Not knowing something that one of my kids is going through is my torment… Ugh. It’s horrible when I realize that I’ve missed something so important. And then I have to try to wrench myself from what has now become my trouble to refocus on them.

    Heart-wrenching and beautiful, Beck.

  7. Alison
    August 27, 2009 | 2:12 pm

    Beautiful post, Beck. Miss Pink is like you (and me)–high highs, low lows, and always communicating how she feels. Mr. Blue is still in the toddler stage, but he seems to be more even-keeled. Still, this is a good reminder not to pay attention to how he may feel as he gets older.

  8. Hannah
    August 27, 2009 | 2:49 pm

    You seriously had a dream that dovetailed with your actual emotional landscape? I thought that only happened in book or movies with Vaseline on the lenses. Maybe if you’re melodramatic enough, your dreams cooperate. Hmm.

    Anyway, maybe now you could feel validated about your decision to homeschool, giving the Girl a chance to recover and weather the storms of life along WITH you, instead of bearing them silently by herself. Just thinking. Sorry your summer was such a letdown.

  9. LoriD
    August 27, 2009 | 3:56 pm

    My oldest is like your daughter. Luckily, so am I, so I can always tell when she is suffering, even when no one else can see it. The drama of her sister drives me nuts sometimes.

  10. carrien (she laughs at the days)
    August 27, 2009 | 4:09 pm

    I have the opposite problem, tending to be on the understated side myself. I am exhausted by the drama that is my middle child.

    I worry that my automatic tendency toward downplaying her over the top mood swings and calling them silly and foolish, at least to myself, might not be leaving her feeling just as unheard. Because honestly, I just want to get away from her when she’s like that. It wears me out. And I worry that she senses that in me.

  11. Shari
    August 27, 2009 | 4:13 pm

    This post made me ache, in a sweet way. My daughter is only two, and I’m already afraid that I won’t know when she’s going through trauma or hurting when she’s older. I want to protect her but I know I can’t.

  12. Omaha Mama
    August 27, 2009 | 6:31 pm

    Oh Beck. You know she would have sought you if she needed help. Your girl is a person I admire so much. She with a character trait I am so lacking. Me, who has to moan and groan my every ache (physical and otherwise). The side notes about the baby made me laugh. My daughter and she could make quite a pair. :0)

  13. bea
    August 27, 2009 | 7:01 pm

    Still, it’s a resilient personality to have. It will serve her well.

  14. Lisa b
    August 27, 2009 | 8:12 pm

    oh beck how heartbreaking. my oldest is the same and I worry about her so much.

  15. PastormacsAnn
    August 28, 2009 | 2:06 am Bec. So lovely and so heart-wrenching.

    Hoping this Fall is wonderful! (I understand about cruddy summers, had one myself-ugh)

  16. Courtney
    August 28, 2009 | 8:03 am

    Guilty as charged right here. I spend a lot of time “O Woe Is Me”ing and not enough time enjoying what is right infront of me. I often wonder if this is something i will pass on to my kids as i can already see the overdramtic signs in my eldest son. Beautiful Post!

  17. Kyla
    August 28, 2009 | 9:13 am

    Oh, I know what you mean. BubTar can be that way, he bottles things up and then eventually melts down (like this morning). Breaks my heart.

  18. patois
    August 28, 2009 | 9:55 am

    I’m sorry. I have one of those, too. Don’t be so hard on yourself. (Or I guess I should say BE hard on yourself because that’s how you prefer. Me, too.)

  19. tracey
    August 28, 2009 | 10:56 am

    For as emotional and sensitive as my Evan is, he often holds things in for a LONG time (as in, I found out this spring that he was bullied LAST spring…)

  20. Painted Maypole
    August 28, 2009 | 3:25 pm

    oof. you seem to me as if you listen to your children quite well, but even still, things manage to slip by. keep listening…

  21. edj
    August 28, 2009 | 3:53 pm

    Oh Beck! “That’s not exactly what happened!” “Fine…if you don’t care about your health!” Your children are so awesome! I love this.

  22. Deb
    August 30, 2009 | 8:08 pm

    This was beautiful and haunting. I love reading you.

    And as the only calm, rational person in a very melodramatic family, let me say two things: 1. Thank you for noticing. That will go a long way. And 2. Don’t beat yourself up too much about it. She’s going to be okay.

  23. pieces
    September 2, 2009 | 11:35 am

    Heartbreaking. Remember, you are always there and she knows where to find you. And when she opens up I know you drop everything to listen.

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