Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The S Word

When I was younger, I knew someone who committed suicide. I actually dated him, but it happened a little over a year after we stopped dating. There were signs while we were dating. A lot of signs although I didn't know that at the time. As soon as I found these signs, I was uncomfortable because I knew something was wrong and didn't know if my loyalties should be to keep his secrets or to get him help by telling someone. I confided to a friend of mine, but she misconstrued the whole thing as I was in danger. I wasn't ever in danger; he was purely a threat to himself. A few times I lingered around his mom, hoping she would ask about him so that I could casually mention what was going on in such a way that it wouldn't be me ratting him out but would raise her alert. Toward the end of our relationship, things were so messy (his drug use, his cutting, his gun, his new group of friends, my intolerance for all of his behaviors) that I basically walked out. We were young. He was 19, I was 16. I wanted someone who knew his place in the world as well as had all of his good qualities, and I didn't have the energy to put into a relationship that was such a struggle. I still carry a lot of guilt about him, particularly at that point. After our relationship was over, I could have told his mom what I knew, which I know wasn't everything but it was a good chunk. I would have been seen as the bitter ex-girlfriend by him even if I said the truth. At that point, I just wanted him to get help because he needed more than I could give. I didn't ever say anything beyond that one time I said too much to that one friend. I never broached my concerns with his mom.

I approach the subject of suicide with that past experience of regret and guilt. Fortunately, no one close to me has committed suicide since. One of my husband's family members committed suicide a year or so ago. It was the son of a cousin he hadn't seen in 20 years, and I don't think he'd ever met the boy. And the whole thing was kept hush hush, don't talk about it. So we didn't.

In October one of my friends on Facebook lost her son to suicide. I actually haven't ever met her; she's the sister of one of my friends, and she lives several states away. She has never acknowledged that he died by suicide--just that her son died suddenly. Being one who takes comfort in facts/things that can be verified, I sleuthed around to try to understand the general context of what happened so I can understand. Maybe I don't need to understand why a senseless death occurred, but something in me feels compelled to learn and at least try to understand. Maybe what happened so long ago (almost 20 years now) is catching up with me.

What I have pieced together: C was a senior in high school. He went shopping with his mom for a tux on a Sunday in October to wear to Homecoming the next week. C was a wrestler and on the football team. On Tuesday morning he was found dead. A tape produced by a pastor the next day addressed the recent suicide in that town. C's profile picture on Facebook when he died was him holding a rifle. On C's Facebook timeline a few posts said they were confused about why he did it. Even when I search right now, his obituary reads "passed away unexpectedly."

That is all I know. And I know there were commemorative tattoos, candlelight vigils, gifts given to the family, sadness. But as for the circumstances (his mental health, how it happened, why it happened), there has been so very little revealed.

Being a mother myself now, the guilt his mother is going through has to be tremendous. I'm presuming here, but I would think that the mother constantly reflects to that day she took her son to the mall to get a tux. She had him to herself for a couple of hours only a few days before he did it. He had to know he was going to do it by then. Yet he went through the motions of getting the tux with his mom. What did they talk about that day? Was she in "mom" mode where she's trying to get ready for her work week, checking things off her errand list, and not really paying attention to what was going on? Or was she intensely talking with him? Did she have any gut feeling that her son was in a bad place? For all I know, he could have been seeking some sort of professional help for several years.

There's so much I don't know. I want to be a good mother to my daughter and friend to others. I don't want to be in a situation where someone I care about makes such a drastic, permanent decision without me trying to help in some way. I feel like understanding more will help me help others. Hearing others share their stories would be so helpful. It's such a taboo subject, and I have a lot to learn.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Spelling Bee

I screwed up. I screw up all the time, but I especially hate when I make a regrettable, possibly long-lasting parent decision.


As a way of background, I was more academic than athletic when I was a kid.  This can be attributed to: 1) I’m not a natural athlete except for being a little bit more limber than the average person, 2) my mom wasn’t supportive of athletics, and 3) I moved a lot when I was younger so I couldn’t participate because I didn’t have transportation and I didn’t have consistent coaching.


I found my niche though. I liked to read and play video games.  I liked to spend time outside on my bike. I learned things quickly at school. One thing I really enjoyed was spelling. If I saw a word once (or maybe twice), I could recall how to spell it.  So when the annual school spelling bee occurred wherever I was living at the time, I usually did pretty well. In 5th grade I actually won the school spelling bee, despite the school going up to 6th grade and despite being put in an English as a Second Language class when I transferred to the school.


Last year when J was in kindergarten they publicized her school’s spelling bee. Each grade would have their own set of words, though, and it wouldn’t be as Hunger Games-ish as when I was in school with all grades competing against one another.


Here’s where I screwed up. I had kept the little certificate I had gotten from being the school spelling bee winner and the follow-up certificate because I represented the school in the district spelling competition (and lost).  I showed these to J. And she was amazed. Like her eyes got all big and she was so impressed. You would have thought I had won a real award that actually counts in life rather than a silly certificate.


She was bummed when she didn’t win her class spelling bee last year. She said she would never be as good of a speller as I was, and there might have been tears and further beating herself up about it. I tried to blow it off. After all, she was in KINDERGARTEN! She tried her best, and all I wanted was for her to try. She was 5 freaking years old, and there is absolutely no expectation that she be a world-class speller. Needless to say, she took it hard.


Now she’s in first grade. The spelling bee is a month or two away, and this little girl wants to make me proud by winning the spelling bee. It breaks my heart. I love her determination, but the way she says it is like she will be disappointing me if she doesn’t win. That’s totally not true. I keep telling her that I just want her to try her best. I don’t want her bar for her actions to be to avoid disappointing me. It kills me that she is searching for my approval. She needs to live her life on her terms. I don’t want her to base her actions and decisions on me. I might have an occasional insight or two, but I wholeheartedly want her to develop to be her own person who can navigate life without me.


I try to be a reflective parent, and sometimes that can mean obsessing about little things, like this one comment out of context. I do think what she said is a symptom of something bigger, which could be that I’m one of her main role models and her reliance on my approval given her age. Maybe that reliance will loosen as she gets older. I want to tell her that it really only matters what she thinks of herself. If she tries her best, then she should be proud of her effort, regardless what it is. If she doesn’t try her best, then be honest about it and own it (don’t make excuses).  As of right now, I’ve just been sticking to the standard “try your best” and “check your work” lines. One problem she has is doing homework quickly and making mistakes that could have been caught if she had checked her work before saying she was done. It’s a good life lesson, and many adults don’t check their work.


As a side note, I think I understand why a lot of people really enjoy being a parent. You are a god in the child’s life, at least when they’re young. That’s an incredible ego boost. And someone as anxious as myself is wondering why on earth a kid would look to me as a role model. Most days I’m a nanosecond away from becoming unglued. And then I look at my daughter, who is even more anxious than I am. Like the world needs a mini version of me!! Aaarggh!