It had been raining all night, a hard, gully washer kind of rain. Occasionally, throughout the night I just so slightly woke up and heard the rain, thought groggily to myself, “Good grief it sure is coming down,” then rolled over and blissfully thought nothing more of it.
Until the morning that is, when just moments after I got up, a flash, a horrifying flash, filled my head and made me dart downstairs.
“The car,” I asked myself, “did the top get put up last night?”
Straight into the family room I flew, and, looking out the windows at the driveway I saw the answer.
I began to cry while simultaneously wishing I could wake up again, this time not into a nightmare.
For in the driveway, after a night of pouring down rain, sat the car, with the convertible top down.
Dressed in my nightgown I grabbed the keys and ran into the rain. I was drenched before I got to the backyard. The driveway was a river of rushing water and I slipped and cut my knee. Bleeding, soaking and crying I got into the car, started the engine and hoped the top would go up.
Unbelievably, it did.
But the damage had been done.
There I sat, the deluge had ended but I was sick to my stomach. Finally I made myself look at the inches of rain that had collected in the car.
I won’t get into all the details of how I got the car fixed, but I will tell you, thank goodness, it worked out better than I could have imagined. Within a few days the car was returned, dried out and in complete working order. (Again, unbelievable!) But there had been other damage done, unseen damage that took years to repair.
Long afterward, when I heard rain in the middle of the night I would wake and go through a series of questions, “Did I put up the top? Are the windows rolled up?” If I couldn’t be sure of any of the answers I would get up and go downstairs and look out the window to confirm the car was okay. If I couldn’t see the car well enough to be reassured I would go out in the rain to check.
I had to. It was a compulsion.
It has just been in the last few years, even though I still have a convertible, that I have not been as bothered by rain in the middle of night – almost a decade for the emotional wounds to heal – over a car.
This story though is about another emotional wound, one that stems from something much more significant than a drenched car. It’s about how for years, when I heard something like the sound of a child cry at a playground I looked to see if Teddy was involved and how, when my phone rang I looked to see if it was his aide calling.
But even like the car, with the help of the passing years, my reaction to these triggers has weakened, still, when events like the Denver shootings occur, the old fear, those old feelings stir deep in me and I know they are not forever gone.
You see, my son was aggressive when he was a little guy. He used hitting, biting, choking, screaming, as his way of communicating frustration, confusion, or upset with himself or a situation.
And this behavior scared me. I was scared of the consequences for Teddy if he didn’t learn appropriate ways to communicate.
In fact, because of his behaviors, I formed two flash forwards for my smart, creative and at times, out-of-control son.
- I was sitting at his Nobel Prize Awards Ceremony
- I was sitting at his arraignment
It became my job, beginning at the tender age of two, to see to it that if one of these scenarios occurred it would be the first.
We read anger management books together, he went to counseling, he took medication and for nine years he had an aide with him at school to help him through moments of frustration and to teach him how to ask for help, and how to help himself.
We modeled appropriate behaviors and interpersonal relationships. I even deliberately made mistakes, which were a major cause of frustration for Teddy, for he demanded perfection of himself. I would burn cookies so I could say out lout, “Oh silly me, look what I have done, I got busy doing something else and left the cookies in the oven too long. Now they are burned. I sure am disappointed because I was looking forward to having cookies. You know what, since we can’t eat these little black pucks, let’s go to the store and pick out some REALLY good cookies to eat!”
And as Teddy got older the hitting and other aggressive behaviors slowly stopped. That was a huge relief, but those behaviors were replaced by the less frequent use of angry words which culminated in a five-day suspension from high school his freshman year when he expressed these words.
We kept talking to him. We kept modeling. We kept reading.
The mantra we used when he was little, “Ignore and walk away” was replaced with “Use your powers for good, not evil.” Appealing to his love of Star Wars. (His favorite character being, of course, Darth Vader, which was consistent with his favorite Lion King character, Scar and Aladdin’s Jafar.)
When Teddy was seven, the height of his stormiest years, Columbine happened. That was very real to me. Not only because I was deeply saddened because of the kids who were killed and injured, but also, because, and I am treading so carefully here because this is really hard to write, I was scared that maybe one day Teddy could be the perpetrator.
I can’t be any more honest with you than that.
“Use your powers for good, not evil.”
I couldn’t say this enough to him and the words came from the deepest place within me.
And today, by the grace of god, I can say that he isn’t using his powers for evil. He successfully learned to control himself. He can now even express that he learned to because he knew he had to. Powerful words.
But even though I am not so scared I will be sitting at his arraignment, there is, still, 13 years after Ted last hit and seven years since his five-day suspension, an awareness of this vulnerable place deep within me and it is touched when incidents such as what happened in Denver occur. For Denver, just like Columbine makes me think of the perpetrators’ mothers. I don’t know them, I don’t know about their parenting, I don’t even want to know. An analysis of them is not what this is about. What I do know, and what this is about is these women have lived out my greatest fear, my one-time nightmare, my second scenario and my heart goes out to them. I feel very deeply for them. I feel compassion for them. And I just had to recognize them.
Here is a link to a letter Susan Klebold wrote for O Magazine in 2009, It’s entitled, I Will Never Know Why and it’s about her son Dylan, one of the Columbine killers.
And on a happier note, my current convertible, Daisy, safe and dry in the driveway…
And a grown-up Ted, safe and asleep in his bed…
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