We Are On Our Way There (3)

4 years ago
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Continues from “We Are On Our Way There (2)”

Sitting next to Jo on the couch, I made myself stare at the screen as if the addictive magic of TV might eventually work. I tried hard to lose myself again in Alias—the unlikely action series that couldn’t be farther from my life, a life hijacked by parenting my adorable, impossible teenager. Watching Sydney fight to dismantle SD-6 was no longer satisfying given the reality that I was trying to ignore for two hours: nothing had changed.

Even after all the family therapy and signed agreements, the truth was that I had lost any and all parental authority. Olivia said whatever she needed to say to get what she wanted. And then she did whatever she wanted to do. All of our hard work for six months of intensive at-home therapy—and still I had no control over my own life, much less my daughter. Our last-chance-contract was a joke. And once again, the joke was on me.  

The giant screen before me held no magic. I had lost all ability to suspend disbelief enough to enjoy a little escapism. When the credits appeared, we hit stop. The house’s silence began to swell. We let it. Jo made a cup of tea. I poured another half-glass of wine. We returned to the couch where we talked for about an hour, noting aloud what we knew, what we didn’t, what we could do, what we couldn’t.

Around 1 a.m., I called the police station just down the road and calmly related the situation, as they’d recently told me to do the next time this happened. Of course, it happened so frequently that I didn’t want to call them. They’d said that a teenager out well past curfew is one of the few domestic issues they can help parents address. Apparently, if ignoring curfew is part of a larger pattern that includes problems at school and any sort of illegal activity (i.e. substance abuse), and they find and return your teenager once, a second time will result in a teenager being taken to “juvie” as Liv called it. More than once, she’d barely escaped going to juvie—with my help being the thing that kept her out. And she had managed to make herself very familiar with the local police on several occasions. 

Around 1:00 a.m., I told Jo to go to bed without me. She’s a morning person—she’ll wake whether she wants to or not. She gave me a long hug thick with shared concern and exhaustion.  

I walked through the quiet house, not sure what to do. I opened the front door and stared into the night, as if Olivia might be strolling up the driveway or sitting in the front yard with a friend or parked in a car at the bottom of the drive. She was not there. I studied the stars like punched holes in a Lite-Brite, then closed the door and locked it, leaving the porch light on. If I fell asleep, she knew where an extra key lived on the porch.  

Curling up in a corner of the couch, I tried to read. Take back your life, I said to myself. Hell, I’d have been happy to just have that one night back. Just one night without conflict, without drama. She had originally told me she’d be at a friend’s house just a few blocks away. Her curfew was 11:30. And there I was, trying to read at 1 a.m. But my mind kept pacing back and forth, checking the details to be sure I’d not forgotten something important. I knew Liv wasn’t with Anna as she said she was—I’d already checked in with Anna’s parents. She hadn’t responded since 10:13 p.m. And I’d been very clear. Too emphatic but clear. I knew when the concert ended and how long it took to drive the distance home. There was no use doing what I’d done countless times during the past few years: text “where are you?” 10 minutes after her curfew and then follow-up, reminding her of consequences in as calm a manner as humanly possible, even though I often felt I’d become a robot rather than a person. But I’d follow-up until she returned home anywhere from minutes to hours later.

Of course, the most important thing was to follow through the next day with consequences, often ones to which we’d previously agreed. And, of course, Olivia would pick and choose which consequences made sense to her and which did not. Even if she’d already agreed to a particular consequence. Regardless of what she agreed to, she’d try to renegotiate the consequence to fit her latest mood and half-baked plans. If I happened to be working at my desk and told her I wasn’t available to discuss or renegotiate, she’d usually refuse to leave my work space (ah, the joys of a home office) and many, many times I’d have to gather up my laptop and armful of work and leave the house, driving to a café where I’d try to find a comfortable seat and focus on my work while ignoring multiple conversations around me and heart-breaking or mind-numbing (or both) recorded music on a loop. If I didn’t leave the house, Olivia would not leave me alone. It didn’t matter what deadline I was up against, and I could tell her exactly how desperate I was to complete a project. It rarely made a difference. There had been times when a job or a payment (and paying bills on time) was on the line, and I’d had to beg her to please respect my need to focus on my work until 5 p.m. She’d stood there at the end of my desk and refused to leave the room. Years before, when my “home office” was in the dining room out of necessity, I cringed but asked her to leave the room so I could work. “It’s my house too” she’d blurted. And yes, it was. But years later, when my desk was in an extra room that was an office only, it still made no difference. Having a door with a lock on it might have helped—instead of a doorless entryway off the hallway. And the curtain I’d hung for “psychic” space was about as helpful as containing a wild animal with a panel of billowing silk. Or repelling a bull with a red cape.  

How to discipline an older teenager with O.D.D.…

I’d read the books and decided that I wasn’t willing to take the next steps indicated for parents in my situation. The experts said that in severe cases when nothing else works, a parent could put the contents of the teenager’s room into locked storage except for the barest essentials for survival: basic bedding; non-name brand clothing; basic toiletries; and school supplies. One was supposed to only allow brief showers (by cutting the water off if needed) and to cut access to the kitchen after mealtime. I didn’t want my home to become a military barracks or prison. Instead, I’d chosen to set clear limits and consequences. I’d chosen years of consistent, ongoing therapy for Liv and for us as a family, and when that didn’t work, I’d signed us up for intensive at-home therapy. Finally, we were graduating.

That day, that Friday, was the official last day—yes, it was our graduation day.

And on graduation night, there I was trying to read on the couch, believing that this night was like so many other nights and she’d come home eventually, when she wanted—reeking of cigarettes, smiling, drunk, matter-of-fact, mascara smeared beneath red, watery eyes, oblivious to why I might be awake, concerned, or upset, even laughing at me as she turned and slinked into her room, closing the door. I knew what to expect. And I longed for sleep. At 1: 23 a.m., I tried texting again.

Liv you are almost 2 hrs late. This is not ok. Im stunned that you would do this to us. Where are you?!

Placing the phone back on the coffee table, I tried to read but thought about the word “almost.”

Yes, she was seven minutes away from being two hours late when I pressed send. And because of those seven minutes, I’d refrained from simply saying she was “2 hrs late.” My desire to be accurate and avoid exaggeration seemed absurd. But I wanted to be fair. Somehow, in some part of me, I believed that if I was as fair and accurate as possible with my words and actions, that it would make a difference. That Liv would suddenly begin to respect me as her parent. It felt like all I had: facts—and I was willing to back away from stating a larger truth, and to instead pad it with a qualification so as to be factual. 

Staring at a pale field of black letters in neat rows, I had no idea where I was in the story in front of me, or the story I was living. I picked up my cell phone. Those seven minutes had passed. It was 2:00 a.m.

 

 

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