Ever since my mom died seven years ago (Wow, seriously? Seven years ago?) and I was never given a chance to go back to the house in which I grew up and say goodbye to the remaining tangible pieces of my past, I have been fiercely protective of what few trinkets and baubles I have left from my time at “home”. There is a tiny plastic Poochie box floating around here somewhere and I still have a few of the bookmarks that I purchased at some of my first book fairs when I was just learning to read.
If I fear at any point that one of these items is missing or broken, I start to freak out a little. For it seems that I feel as if the parts of me that are remaining from my childhood will vanish into thin air if these small items are no longer with me. It’s like maybe they are taking the place of the brothers and sisters that I don’t have.
Another one of these “sibling items” is a plastic green comb. A wide toothed comb that my parents had in the house before I was even born. This sucker is an antique. I’ve used it throughout my entire life. It has a hole drilled in it so that I was able to hang it on the shelf that my dad made me to hang in the shower of my apartment. These days it tends to rest in the cups from IKEA hanging next to the shower. Also in these cups are things like my razor, dental floss, shampoo. A funky modern twist on your typical shower caddy.
Ever since the moment that my daughter was wheeled away from me in the pre-op room on the day that she donated her bone marrow to save her brother’s life, she’s been dealing with some crippling anxiety. That day was over 2 years ago now and I’m just realizing that these issues of fear and paranoia are not going away but are instead getting worse. She can’t seem to enjoy simple things like a walk around the neighborhood without trembling in terror.
I’ve also noticed that she doesn’t like to walk down the hall alone. Now, please note that we don’t have a large house. In fact, our house is barely big enough for the five of us. It’s a ranch style house with a short hallway that ends in a cluster of three small bedrooms. That’s it. No dark corners or secret places. It’s a very small house. Still, she will literally RUN down the hall in order to get from one room to the other. She will NOSE dive on the sofa or a bed in order to avoid the zombies she imagines to be under them. Her thoughts are constantly being invaded by these fears.
Recently we were having one our “Ten Minute Tidies”: we all team up and get the house looking decent in a short period of time. It works beautifully. A lot of how this process works involves me handing the kids items and having them travel down the short hallway into one of the three bedrooms or two bathrooms to deliver the items to their homes. During this particular Ten Minute Tidy, I had sent my daughter down the hall to deliver my green comb to my bathroom. A couple of days later I went to use my comb and one of its teeth were missing. It was a snaggle-toothed comb.
How did this happen? How would a comb that was at least 40 years old without a scratch on it suddenly lose a tooth?
I had a feeling my daughter might know something about this. But when her dad and I asked her, she denied it. She had no idea what happened to my precious comb. We reminded her that no one was going to be in trouble… we don’t really do “in trouble”. We just wanted to know what happened as combs don’t just lose their teeth without just cause.
Finally her brother told me. The comb had ended up in the toilet the day that I had asked his sister to take it back to the bathroom for me. And rather than bother to come and tell me and her dad, she took care of it herself. Hence the missing tooth.
At first I laughed and imagined that this was simply an example of a kid doing their job poorly. She had delivered the comb but she probably threw it into the bathroom because she was in a hurry and….
Over the next couple of weeks I pondered the comb incident. I thought about it each time I saw the comb or used the comb. I imagined what would have been the cause for her to land that comb in the toilet. What on earth?
The more I saw her running down the hall and leaping onto beds and sofas, the clearer the story became. She had not thrown my beloved comb out of feeling rushed or for disrespect towards my stuff. No, she’d thrown it out of anxiety. And fear. When I had asked her to deliver the comb, she had been terrified. She didn’t want to go back to my bathroom. She didn’t like going back there alone. And so she had thrown the comb so that she didn’t have to actually enter the bathroom. She was simply coping.
The comb has more meaning to me now. Even missing a tooth, it is more valuable to me than it ever was when it was simply a relic from my childhood. It is now a reminder of what my daughter can and cannot handle. It’s a reminder to treat her gently because she’s dealing with some really heavy stuff. It’s a reminder to not send her off down the hallway without a buddy. And it’s a reminder that she sacrificed her innocence and became old overnight in many ways, so that my oldest child could live.
Of course we are addressing my daughter’s anxiety issues. We talk a lot. We have started using essential oils. And I’m collecting names of counselors for her. I suppose the most important thing that has changed, however, is that I’m aware now of the depth to which her fear runs and I’m paying attention. I’m compensating for it and I’m providing her with support. Certainly I am not offering up any judgment. I’m letting her be her and I’m loving her where she is at.