I’ve been quiet on the blog front for a very long time because shame is a powerful emotion.
Many memoir workshop facilitators tell us to write about the stuff we don’t want to write about. They say the things we’re scared to share are the things we should—so here I go….
* * *
In late December of last year, I’d noticed Lindsey’s anxiety had increased. Magnified really. Over little things. Or things that I thought were little. She’d loaned some money to a couple that live in her apartment complex and who also have developmental delays. Lindsey didn’t tell us about this loan. Apparently when they begged for three, five or ten dollars, she couldn’t say no and gave it to them. Again and again. Till the loan added up to about fifty bucks.
Around Christmas, Lindsey finally let this information slip.
“But I didn’t think it was wrong,” Lindsey said, sounding defensive. Her eyes darted right, then left. “They needed it for Red Bull.”
“I disagree with you,” I said, using terminology our counselor had suggested when Lindsey was a youngster. “Red Bull isn’t something they need. It’s something they want.” I shook my head, knowing that part of my girl’s disability is a short in her neurological system that does not allow her to process information the same way others do.
“You know how I know you knew this was wrong?” I asked.
“No,” Lindsey said, crossing her arms and planting her feet firmly on our hardwood floors.
“Because you kept it a secret. If you thought it was okay, you would’ve told us sooner.”
Lindsey’s face turned to surprise. “I didn’t think you were that smart, Mom.”
From then on, my daughter fixated on getting her money back. She talked about it every time she called, every time we saw her. John and I told her we wished she wouldn’t have loaned the money in the first place, but since she did, it was best if she didn’t give anymore cash until, at the very least, they repaid what they already owed. We suggested she write this fifty bucks off as lost and forgive the debt. But Lindsey wasn’t receptive to any of our suggestions.
Then, in late January, we hired a second provider for our daughter. Medicare allocates money to Oregon for state providers—individuals who assist adults with various disabilities to do their grocery shopping, cooking, daily activities, even fun outings—so they can live independently. Providers must pass a background check and drug test before being approved, and are, in many cases, lifesavers because they offer respite for families or primary caregivers. Since John and I planned to be out of town a lot in the coming months, we wanted to make sure Lindsey had extra support while we were away. Besides, we figured, an additional provider might help ease some of Lindsey’s recent worries.
During the interview with her new provider, Lindsey said, “I’m flexible, but I don’t like change.”
Hmmmm, I thought. Lindsey really isn’t flexible. And she really doesn’t like change. I warned the provider of this.
Despite this warning, the new provider was constantly late. She made changes to their schedule and often canceled at the last minute. Once she fell asleep on Lindsey’s sofa. Suddenly, she quit driving—sold her car or possibly lost her license—we weren’t exactly sure because we could never get a straight answer.
The new provider received food stamps for her and her small family. One day she talked Lindsey into trading cash for an equal amount of the provider’s food stamps. And for a while, Lindsey kept that a secret too. When she finally confided in us, she loudly defended her actions. “It wasn’t a loan! I got food for the money! It’s not the same as the neighbors!”
Fast forward to March. My husband and I were home for a couple weeks. Lindsey called and said she’d confronted the neighbors about their loan. She demanded they pay her by the end of the week. According to Lindsey, the couple promised to pay her on Thursday, causing my mind to wander to the Popeye cartoon where Wimpy promised to pay on Tuesday for the hamburger he ate today.
Flurries of texts were exchanged between the couple and my daughter. Lindsey tried to read them to me over the phone but kept confusing the neighbor’s responses with hers. She promised to visit our house the next day so we could sort through them together.
When she arrived, I made her a sandwich, poured her a Pepsi, and she sat on a stool at our kitchen island, munching away as I read through the texts. The neighbors had begged for forgiveness and promised to pay up. My daughter had written: Your (sic) liars. Your (sic) bullies, Your (sic) mean.
I told Lindsey that there was nothing offensive in the neighbor’s texts, although hers seemed rather rude. She said she’d erased most of theirs. I found that claim a bit suspicious since she’d previously told me she’d saved them all.
“I’m your daughter,” Lindsey said. “No matter what, you should agree with me.”
Believe me, I wanted to agree with my daughter. I didn’t like how this couple continually took advantage of Lindsey’s generous nature. I didn’t like that she was out her fun money, possibly even food funds. But from the text exchanges, I couldn’t side with her.
Lindsey vented for close to twenty minutes. She started from the beginning of this entire ordeal—a story I’d heard many times since she’d made her confession. I listened, then tried to offer advice.
“Every time you int-rupt me,” Lindsey scolded. “I have to start over. You know I can’t ‘member stuff from the middle,” she added, returning to the beginning of her rant. The tension in my shoulders tightened. My neck ached. It felt like I was hearing a recurring reel at Home Depot on how to tile a floor or change out a toilet. The only difference was, I learned something new watching those videos. Lindsey repeated the same old tirade. My ears burned from the pitch of her voice. I reached up and tugged my earlobe, a signal we’d developed when Lindsey talked too loud. She shook her head and talked louder. I raised both hands in the air, brought my palms down quickly, and slammed them against the tile countertop—hard—hoping to startle Lindsey into silence.
The loud thud startled my daughter all right. Lindsey jumped off the stool, balled her hands into fists, and began beating the air. Immediately I realized slamming the counter hadn’t had the effect I’d planned. As she staggered around the island, batting fast, like a boxer, I wished I would’ve used a different technique to get her attention.
Lindsey heaved herself toward me, fists flying. Her eyes were fiery. When she was a teenager, she’d shown her anger in a similar fashion, forcing me to restrain her a couple of times, and we’d sought counseling. And even though we’d heard about a few similar incidents during her short marriage, I assumed, after additional counseling, we were past such displays of aggression.
In an instant, both her hands were on the counter. She swept prescription containers, a stack of papers, and my camera off the island. The camera slid along the hardwood floor, skidded down the hall, and slammed against the wall of the next room.
“Stop!” I said, using another counseling command. When Lindsey heard this order, she was to freeze in place, count to ten, and listen. Instead of halting, she raised her hands back in the air, clenched them into fists, and batted in my direction once again. Air rushed past my face. I grabbed her wrists. She opened her mouth, bared her teeth, and tried to pull my hand close to her mouth.
Somehow, someway, I got Lindsey to the ground. I placed my body on top of hers and lay there, waiting. Never in a million years did I think I would ever find myself lying on top of my thirty-five-year-old daughter. In all my life, I’d never had to restrain another adult.
“You’re strong,” Lindsey finally said. It didn’t sound like a compliment.
“I go to the gym,” I said, stopping myself from saying another word. Is this what a relationship with Lindsey has evolved to? Is this how she is going to respond when I disagree with her? Is it no longer safe to have her alone in our house?
I got up, tossed Lindsey’s half-eaten sandwich in the garbage disposal, grabbed her Dora The Explorer backpack and cane, marched to the back door, and flung it open.
“I’m taking you home,” I said as I reached the wooden staircase in the garage. Lindsey’s footsteps followed behind me. I tossed my daughter’s items into the back seat and stepped into the car.
Lindsey got in and buckled her seatbelt. She glared out the window. Halfway down Steelhammer Road, she shouted, “You’re a fucking bitch!”
In all the years I’d mothered my daughter, the times I’d yelled could be counted on all my fingers and toes. Typically, I don’t yell. Not at my kids, not at my husband, not at anyone. When my daughter rages, I tend to become quiet, cold, distant. I know words can hurt. I’m afraid to spew things I cannot take back. Generally I try reasoning, time outs, removing privileges, pursing my lips, gritting my teeth and hissing, but I rarely shout.
“You’re a fucking bitch!” I bellowed back, feeling completely broken. Yep, that’s mature, I told myself, gripping the steering wheel tighter, guiding the car toward my daughter’s apartment. I couldn’t get there fast enough.
Lindsey’s face froze. Great! Now she freezes! Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her staring at me. She’d never heard such language come out of my mouth, and for a second, Lindsey looked confused.
“You’re a terrible mother,” she finally yelled. “I hate you!”
“You’re a terrible daughter. I hate you!” I shouted back, mimicking every statement Lindsey made.
I was the “real” adult. I knew I ought to have shown restraint. But I was tired of being the responsible one, the one who always maintained self-control. I was tired of being this young woman’s verbal punching bag. So for the next two minutes, whatever ugly words Lindsey hurled at me, I hurled back.
When we arrived at her apartment, I put the car in park, grabbed Lindsey’s backpack and cane, opened the passenger door, handed Lindsey her things, put the car in drive, and stepped on the gas—just in time to see my daughter flip me the bird.
And, because I’m so mature, I flipped her the bird too.
As I drove the mile from Lindsey’s place to ours, I didn’t feel anger. I felt incredibly flawed. Numb. Empty. Like a failure as a mother, a failure as a human being.
I walked into the house squinting. My glasses. What did I do with my glasses? I looked in the bathroom. No glasses. I picked up the scattered prescription containers, the papers, my camera. Oh, and there, on the other side of the island were my frames. Sometime during our scuffle, they landed on the floor across the room. As I bent over to pick them up, there was a knock at the front door. I quickly slipped on my eyewear and hurried to answer. A Silverton police officer stood on the front porch.
“Is Lindsey here?” he asked.
I shook my head. “I took her home.”
“She’s filed a domestic disturbance complaint,” the officer continued. “Can I come in?”
“Sure,” I said, stepping aside. I know orange is the new black, but orange isn’t my color, I thought, suddenly worried I might be arrested. But for what? In all my fifty-some years, I’d never even come close to being arrested. I’d received a handful of speeding tickets over my entire driving career, but other than that, I made every effort never to break the law. Even in my youth, I never considered smoking cigarettes, trying illegal drugs (not even weed), and today, I rarely drink alcohol.
“I don’t really know what to do with my daughter anymore,” I said, leading the officer into the kitchen, wondering what part of today’s fray could have been a domestic disturbance. I wasn’t proud of yelling at my daughter but I was pretty certain I had not physically hurt her in any way.
“We’re very familiar with Lindsey,” he said. “She calls us all the time.”
I blushed bright red, recalling another incident—in December, when an elderly man in Lindsey’s complex claimed he was being friendly.
Lindsey said the old guy patted her on top of her head or shoulder when he said hello. The way Lindsey described it, he sounded more condescending than anything else. Yet she asked him not to touch her and I totally believe he should have stopped right then. But he didn’t. Since he was in his eighties, it was unlikely that he’d ever attended sexual harassment training and didn’t seem to understand that “no means no.” Instead, he’d chuckle, say he was teasing, and tell her, “Don’t get so upset.”
So Lindsey called the police.
“I wanted to handle it by myself,” she told us after she’d dialed 911. And up to that point, we would’ve agreed she’d handled herself perfectly. We encouraged Lindsey’s independence. It was part of growing up. We just wished she had the ability to gauge when things were beginning to spiral out of control so John or I could offer solutions that might solve the problem with less drama. We would’ve been willing to talk to this old guy.
The police intervention caused an uproar in the complex. Some residents sided with Lindsey saying the man was annoying. Others sided with the guy, saying he was harmless. The dissension caused Lindsey even more stress. By the time she confided in us, the residents were equally divided and there was nothing we could do except hope the gossip died down quickly. We gave Lindsey coping suggestions and she promised not to call the police until she talked to us first—unless, of course, it was a true emergency. And yes, we gave her examples of true emergencies.
There were other times Lindsey had sought support from law enforcement. Some were reasonable appeals. Others not so much.
Now I was the recipient of police intervention, and I found myself standing in my kitchen, trying to explain to a Silverton police officer what had happened minutes before.
“I’d probably have done the same thing,” the officer said when I finished. “But I need to let you know, if she has any bruises, I don’t have any other choice. I’ll have to arrest you. In Oregon, that’s the law.”
My mind went wild. Could I have squeezed her wrists too tight? Could the weight of my body on top of hers have caused bruising? I didn’t think so, but . . .
John was playing cribbage at a friend’s house. As soon as I called, he drove directly to our daughter’s apartment. Later, I learned that a female officer inspected Lindsey and found no bruises.
Which was great. But I don’t want this to be about Lindsey being wrong and me being right—or vice versa. My goal is that we learn from this incident so that it never, ever occurs again.
When Lindsey was six and OHSU doctor’s initially diagnosed her as mildly mentally challenged, they also predicted she would likely live in a group home as an adult. I resisted that prediction. But now, almost thirty years later, I was on the verge of considering such a move. I worried the stress of living independently was getting far too great for Lindsey—that attempting to live a “typical” life was overwhelming her entire neurological system and causing her unnecessary anxiety.
On the other hand, Lindsey’s doctor had recently increased the dosage on her anxiety medication because of all the recent drama. Could sudden, angry outbursts be a side effect of this? Besides her prescription for anxiety, Lindsey also takes pills for seizures, tremors, and migraines. Could the combination of these drugs be interfering with one another? If not, could Lindsey learn to control her anger?
For the moment, I was afraid to be alone with my daughter. I couldn’t trust her to control her rage. And if she couldn’t control herself, was there the possibility of accidentally causing harm if I had to restrain her again?
I needed to find out.
Because Lindsey had given John and I written permission to discuss her issues with her medical and social providers, I called Lindsey’s physician and was assured that the anxiety dosage was fairly minimal. Nor could her doctor think of any side effects from the combination of meds that would cause my daughter to be suddenly aggressive. I asked if Lindsey should be referred to a psychiatrist for further evaluation. The doctor said she’d be happy to discuss this with her patient during thier next office visit. The doctor later called and said she didn’t believe a psychiatric referral was necessary at this time.
When I called Lindsey’s caseworker, I learned that no group home openings were currently available in our area. At the moment she told me this, I realized Lindsey wasn’t likely to agree to move into one anyway. She’d always been as adamant about living on her own as we were. The caseworker did suggest that she would qualify for behavioral management training. “Well,” she paused. “If Lindsey agrees to it, that is.”
Five days later, I was ready to talk with my daughter. John and I drove over to her apartment. Lindsey sat in a burgundy recliner. I sat on the sofa; John pulled up a chair.
I looked my daughter directly in her big blue eyes. She sat stiffly, as if she’d been called into the principal’s office.
“I owe you an apology, Lindsey,” I said. “I’m sorry that I pounded my hands on the counter and startled you. I wanted you to stop talking, but I’ll handle it differently in the future. I’m also sorry I repeated all the ugly things you said to me. I’m not proud of that. But I’m not sorry that I held your wrists or put my body on top of yours because you were out of control. I thought you were going to hit or bite me.”
“The police said you have the right to protect yourself and your property,” Lindsey said. “I didn’t know that. But when I get angry, I black out. I can’t control myself.”
We suggested she might want to consider more counseling or behavioral modification classes.
“That’s a good idea,” she said, relaxing some.
We talked about trust and the responsibility to control anger. I asked if she’d ever seen Dad or I treat each other like this, if she’d seen anyone in our family react the way she had?
“No,” she said, shaking her head.
We talked about the last time she called the police and how everyone gossiped at the complex.
“But this time it’s private,” she said. I won’t tell anyone.”
“It’s not private, Lindsey,” I said, explaining that every time she dials 911, the call is recorded.
“I didn’t know that,” she said. Her eyes darted right, then left as she processed that information.
“If an arrest is made, the police need to document everything—especially if it goes to court,” I said. “Anyone with a scanner in the area could’ve heard your call being dispatched. A lot people probably already know.” I told her I’d tell people because it is better to hear about this incident from us.
“I know you have to tell the good, the bad, and the ugly,” she said. “And this is ugly.”
“Yes, Lindsey,” I said. “I agree. This is ugly.” I told her that I did not want to be alone with her for a while, that she could not come to our house without an invitation, and not unless both Dad and I were there together. We asked for our house key. “You’ll have to prove you can control your anger before you’ll earn it back.”
Lindsey jumped out of the burgundy recliner and retrieved the key. At that moment, I didn’t know that having to give up her parent’s house key would be a powerful motivator for our girl.
It has been six months since “the incident.” John and I can hardly believe the improvements in Lindsey.
When she calls our house, she asks if it is a good time to talk. She asks for advice before the situation snowballs, and she’s been listening to our suggestions. She fired (with our blessing) the unreliable provider and hired one that shows up on time. Gossip at the apartment complex regarding the old guy has died down. Lindsey says the neighbors have paid back all the money they borrowed. “And I’m not loaning them another penny!” she said, sounding certain in her conviction.
During a recent clothes-shopping spree for Lindsey, our daughter started to become agitated with us. She quickly caught herself, then stated her desires calmly. John and I complimented her profusely, told her she was doing well, and that we were proud of her attempts to act grownup.
“It’s really, really hard to be grownup,” Lindsey said.
We encouraged her to keep trying.
Back in May, on her thirty-sixth birthday, we invited her over to our house for dinner.
“Mom, I can’t come over unless I’m invited,” she said.
“Lindsey, this is an invitation,” I said. “But, you should only accept if you can come to our house and behave like a thirty-six-year-old…if you can enjoy family, food, and conversation like an adult. On the other hand, if you can’t control your emotions or your temper, if you think you might get angry and bat the air, throw things off our counter, or try to bite me or anyone else, it’s best if you decline the invite. It’s up to you.”
Lindsey thought about it for a few seconds. “I’m sure I can behave. I’d like to come over. I need to earn your trust again so I can get that key back.”
Tiny baby steps. Yep. At this house, we take teeny, tiny baby steps.