When you think a neighbourly invite is an intervention…
Maybe it’s time to reassess the family situation.
The neighbours invited us over for a friendly neighbourhood gathering.
My immediate thoughts were, “oh God, this is an intervention.”
That’s probably not normal, is it?
My suspicions were aroused when my son found the handwritten invite in the mailbox. It was clearly the work of a child — all rainbow-coloured crayons and pretty writing but signed by the dad.
Couldn’t they have just knocked on the door and asked us face to face. What were they afraid of? What did it say about us that the neighbours can’t walk up our driveway and say hi?
I began to wonder who else in the neighbourhood had been invited — I didn’t see anyone else pulling colourful invites out of their mailbox. My son’s mate said they hadn’t received one. Why only us?
Clearly the only logical reason was that this was an intervention.
The neighbours must have gotten together and discussed in hushed tones about the yelling, the slamming and the tearful anger often booming from our house on all too regular a basis. The overwhelming guilt and shame of these wearing battles was the first and almost only thought that had occurred to me. Following on from the odd text and quiet word in my ear at school gatherings from the mum checking in to see if all is ok in our house. “How is “A” getting on…?” The friendly check in with the look in her eyes wondering if it will be soon time to call the police.
How deep can my shame be that this is my first thought. Not the normal reaction of “oh that’s nice, it will be nice to meet the rest of the neighbourhood.”
My imagination was going into override. I could see the circle of chairs waiting for us surrounding an enticing array of cakes and nibbles to calm the fears and allay suspicions. Introductions would be made and then the nice quiet “chat” would begin.
“It must be hard moving into a new neighbourhood. Quite stressful I imagine.”
“It must be especially hard moving countries, schools — your son must have found it especially tricky”
I can see myself nodding, answering their questions — yes, I say. It has been. He’s doing as well as he can, trying to make new friends and fit in. It’s always hard moving. Especially in the middle of a pandemic.
“Mmm”. Polite nods all round. “We had thought you were all finding it a bit stressful at times. A sounds like he is having a particularly difficult time adjusting. We’ve often heard him expressing his feelings…”
And so it will go. Or so I had imagined the day was going to be.
Stress, anxiety, and parental guilt are overwhelming at the best of times. When you add in that your son can be heard screaming the house down from a few blocks away, coupled with you dealing with it in the worst way possible by yelling back, the guilt, shame and anxiety can make you feel like you’re drowning.
The yelling is only one part of what are usually very long, tiring days as a parent of a child with PTSD and attachment disorder. Although the yelling has been so bad that even the cat has been known to step in to tell us off — meowing in such a distressed way as we both scream regretful words at each other that it switched our brain enough to reset.
The switch from happy child to house shaking door slamming, furniture kicked and punched, precious things broken can be so fast it blindsides you. A is still paying off a window he kicked in deliberately.
The door slamming hasn’t been the text prompts for the neighbours. The violence has. Hearing me saying “Please put the knife down. I know you don’t want to hurt me. You’re a good boy”.
While inside my head I am thinking “God please put the knife down, I’m really scared of knives, I know you don’t actually want to stab me, but what if you trip, what then?”
Yes, the violence is a bit of a problem. Over the years, I have been kicked, bitten, scratched, and punched. It is not easy being a punching bag for someone else’s issues, but it comes with the territory of adopting a broken child.
My response to the violence can change how the next 5minutes to the next hour will play out. [It is also worthy of an article all its own.] For the sake of brevity, (and a reason to write another piece), let’s just say I am far from perfect, and I get it wrong more than I get it right.
Whatever I am doing, whether I am holding my son’s arms to stop him hurting me or him or I am 10feet away, the only thing the neighbours hear is “GET OFF MEEEEEEEE!”
Not ideal. If I heard this I would be concerned.
Living with a child with PTSD is triggering. Triggering to your own deep issues. As their emotions explode at you, your cortisol skyrockets. It can be hard to breathe deeply enough to contain the situation.
Once the dust settles, your child has moved on, snack in hand calmly watching the TV or bouncing on the trampoline. While inside, as a parent, the cortisol kicks guilt awake and gives remorse a gentle shake. The feeling is tattooed in your brain waiting for another trigger to light it up.
When a note from a neighbour, who has messaged you previously about the arguments, arrives innocently through your mailbox, the first thought is not (I am ashamed to say), oh that’ll be nice. The childish note triggers guilt and shame and blind assumption. The first thought is — this is an intervention. The next step will be the police.
The ride on the parental guilt train is a long, slow one. And it doesn’t have a dining car.
The invite was a trigger for me to rethink how I respond to my child when he is exploding. So far, the best response is no response. I still don’t get it right…
Oh, by the way, the neighbour’s invite wasn’t an intervention after all. It was a way to get to know the neighbours over food.
I still couldn’t help bringing a dose of guilt, embarrassment, and presumption that I will be judged along with the cake I had baked to the party.
Deep seated emotions are hard to budge.