Coping Skills

IMG_6556 I have lots of different coping skills. My iPod is one of my favorites. This was taken about 6 p.m. on Saturday. Virginia was mad because Findley had turned off her movie in favor of the Auburn game. Wills sounded like a broken record, alternately asking when dinner would be ready and what he could snack on in the meantime. The dogs were barking- also hungry- and Eliza was literally sitting on my feet, fussing for me to pick her up. And Findley, you ask? Findley was calling for me, wanting to know where I was. Didn't I hear all the chaos?

No, actually, I didn't really hear it all. I was aware of it, but the specifics were a little muffled because they were competing with the likes of Otis Redding and the Rolling Stones. Sometimes music is the only way I can make it through the dinner hour.

Virginia used to scream constantly in the car. Well, she used to scream constantly, period. But the car was much worse because we had very limited options for how to attempt to soothe her. On one seemingly endless drive to see my parents, my mother suggested Findley and I stop and buy earplugs so we wouldn't have to listen to the crying.

I was horrified.

"Mom, how could you even suggest such a thing?" I shouted into my cellphone. "Don't you have any compassion? This is my baby and she is hurting. She doesn't have the choice to block out her pain, so why should I have the choice to tune out her expression of it? I need to be here for her."

"Yes," said Mom, ever the practical member of my family. "But you need to get here in one piece, too."

Over the last six years I have come a long way in my ability to function in the midst of Virginia's suffering. I know when she can't help her tears because of her brain injury or related pain and I also know when she is just a kid pitching a fit. There are times (like Saturday afternoon) when I do what I can to cope and reach for my mood enhancer of choice.

But there are other instances where there is nothing I can do to protect my heart from what she is going through. It doesn't matter how many closed doors separate us or what vacation I have to look forward to just around the corner. No amount of Pinot Grigio or items purchased from can create a carefree mood when Virginia is in pain.

This has been a rough few days. We were planning to go out of town, but had to cancel for the second weekend in a row because of a sick child. I guess Wills is pretty good at sharing everything with his Sissy.

Virginia's fever virus has turned into a sinus infection with major nasal congestion. When she is trying to hold her mouth open to breathe, her jaw has a much greater tendency to get stuck open. It probably happened forty times yesterday, and each time is excruciatingly painful for her. It gets stuck open for about 15 seconds, her eyes tear up, she screams out in pain, and there is nothing I can do but try to force her jaw back in place as I mentally say every cuss word I know.

Watching her suffer is awful. If one of my other 2 kids had their jaw lock open, we would be in the car on the way to the ER. But poor Virginia. There is nothing anyone can do about it that isn't already happening, and she just has to live with it.

Findley and I had planned a special dinner last night. He grilled steak and veggies during the day while I made guacamole, salsa and margaritas. He dragged the hammock down from the top of the yard so we could enjoy the beautiful night air and be close enough to the house that the baby monitors would still work.

Well, after the day Virginia had yesterday, neither one of us felt like celebrating the arrival of fall. She screamed for over an hour going to sleep. (I just want to clarify that my other 2 kids do cry, but it's different. It doesn't affect us in the same way. There is a difference in a 'I am being stubborn and don't want to go to bed' cry and a soulful, sorrowful 'My body won't hold still so I can sleep and I am in pain' cry.)

I was trying to keep my spirits up while she was crying, but it is hard to see your child suffer. I knew Findley would be disappointed if I jumped ship on our plans, but I just didn't think I could shelve the heaviness in my heart last night.

I was in the kitchen, heating the food up, when he came out of Virginia's room after successfully helping her fall asleep. I looked at him, about to explain that I didn't have any coping skills strong enough to erase the past twelve hours from my memory.

But before I could say anything, he said, "It's ok, honey. I think there are times when sad is the only way to feel."

So we put the food back in the refrigerator and cleaned up the kitchen. We went to bed early in anticipation of another early, early morning awakening. No, it wasn't exactly the festive evening I had been trying to create, but as I fell asleep, I felt very grateful for the connection that Findley and I have. For the way that we have tackled this together. For the way it has made our marriage stronger instead of fragmented.

Last night we separately came to the same conclusion. That the best coping skill is knowing when not to try to cope at all. Last night we identified Virginia's pain as the monster that it is, all the while acknowledging that there will always be brighter days (and nights) ahead.