Saturday, March 1, 2014

This Wasn't Going to Be a Post About Cutting, But It Is

This was going to be a hilarious post about how Precocious Daughter pulled a classic Teenage Dumbass Move last night that resulted in me tromping around in not one but two local Walmarts at 11:00 p.m. searching in vain for a mouthpiece so she wouldn't be disqualified from the karate tournament that started first thing in the morning.

Not shown here: a photo of the horrible blister
that formed and then burst on my foot as I marched
around the Evil Retail Empire in four-inch heels.
You're welcome.

It was going to be funny (aside: PDaughter found her "lost" mouthpiece in the very drawer where her dad and I insisted it would be all along). But then, at the tournament this morning, her best friend's mom pulled me aside and asked if I knew that some of the girls in her class - her best friend included - had started cutting.

And I thought: Demi Lovato. Spoiled Beliebers protesting the media treatment of a vapid pop star. Messed-up child stars and screwed-up children of Other People.

Those are the kids who practice self-harm by cutting themselves. Not the smart, beautiful girls I've known since they were in kindergarten and have loved almost as if they were my own.

Then I thought: What is wrong with these girls' parents that they let this happen?

But no. These are good people; they're not just the parents of PDaughter's classmates but friends of mine. Look at the shit I blog about all the time: how I drink too much, how my marriage is ending, how I constantly say and do embarrassing things in public. Who the hell am I to judge any of them or presume what their lives are like outside of Facebook posts and school functions?

These girls who are cutting, they're not statistics. They're not nameless shadows representing some movement we read about in magazine articles. They're C--- and E---, and possibly H---. I know them, I've welcomed them into my home and marveled at what happy, well-adjusted young women they're becoming. I've been pleased and proud that PDaughter is part of such a close-knit group of genuinely good kids.

Apparently some of them are cutting. Maybe because when you're 14 you're desperately seeking ways to express the torrent of feelings and sensations that live inside you 24/7. Maybe because you've noticed the world's boundaries seem petty and arbitrary, and you want to see if you can push them back a little bit. Maybe because your world has recently started to be a lot more complicated, and you want some control over it, even if (maybe especially if) it's potentially dangerous.

I smoked pot for the first time when I was in eighth grade, as they are. Is that a more or less acceptable way to address those concerns? Girls I knew were having sex in eighth grade for the same reasons. Better than cutting, or worse? All I know is that, at that age, we are all experiencing change - physical, mental, emotional, social - and it is human nature to want to understand the strange and contain the chaotic. At 14 years of age, the means we have available are limited, and often not advisable. But we work with what we've got.

My kid? Is my kid cutting? Does she know what's going on? Is she curious, or tempted?

PDaughter is an awesome kid. She is, without any doubt, the reason I still believe there is a God. Because something much greater than I or her dad made her the amazing person she is. Still, I know she got some things directly from us, including an unwillingness to open up about problems. She has a knack for simply not letting on when things are bothering her. While I understand it - because I share it - I realize that that knack has hampered me throughout my life. It probably torpedoed my marriage. I don't want it to be a burden to PDaughter.

So I talked to her about the cutting issue. It was hard for me. Probably I didn't push as hard as I could have. But I didn't want to push her away or shut her down. She says she knows about the cutting. She says she thinks the parents are "overreacting" and that the incidents are probably more experimental than actually motivated by a desire to self-harm. She says she feels no desire to cut herself.

I believe PDaughter, because I believe I know her and know when she's being honest. But of course there's a little doubt, because maybe once you're the parent of a teenager you need to activate a type of radar that trusts less and probes more. And I think maybe she's not yet mature enough to accurately diagnose her friends' emotional states and is simply projecting her own desire to everybody to be OK.

I will not subject her to a physical search for evidence of cutting. I will not expect her to report any instances of self-harm to me or her school. I suggested that she and all of her friends should feel they can talk to someone - another parent, a school counselor - if they feel overwhelmed. I think she understood what I was saying. But I didn't know how to impress that on her without taking an authoritarian position, which I know won't work. Hey, I was 14 once. The bullshit meter is extremely sensitive at that age.

I wish I could tell all these girls, these young women, how much love and support they have available to them. I wish I could make them understand that all of their mothers and aunts and teachers have a scared teenaged girl living inside of them, typically much closer to the surface than we care to admit.

I wish I could make this all better for the kids, for the parents, for society.

All I can do is love, and communicate.

And hope it gets through.


  1. The last two lines sum up our jobs as parents. It sounds like PD has a good solid head on her shoulders, and a good mom who would do anything for her.

  2. Your attitude towards PD seems similar to my girlfriend's attitude to her daughter. I don't know if I have any right to comment on this because I'm not a parent, of course, nor can I even begin to comprehend a parent's attitude towards the spawn. But I *am* the survivor of three teenage suicide attempts, and I never felt any wish to cut or otherwise mutilate myself. Therefore, I don't think there is a causal link.

  3. Wow, my heart lurches at the thought of anything like that happening to my beloved girls and yet, statistically it's bound to happen to someone we know, isn't it ?~! May the lines of communication remain open and clear for you and your dearly loved daughter.

  4. I'm not sure the difficulties of parenting can ever be expressed in words, but, once in a great while, I read something that comes about as close as it could ever get--something that captures all the hopes, fears, and uncertainties that any truly good and caring parent must stew in constantly. And I reflect on the sad fact that such stories never get publicized or as widely read as they deserve to be. But maybe that's okay, because being a parent is too stressful even without the hard work being trumpeted and likely subjected to criticism from a bunch of petty idiots. Maybe it's good enough that a few complete strangers will read something about a mother who supposedly drinks too much, who feels at least partly responsible for her failing marriage, but who, nevertheless, makes them step back and say, Damn, she's a fantastic mother.


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