Not dead yet

By Mir
March 3, 2010

Hello! Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. I myself was starting to believe the hype, and that—coupled with several folks telling me of confirmed flu cases around here lately—sent me off to my doctor to make sure I didn’t have the plague, or anything. The good news is that I don’t have the flu! So that’s excellent.

On the other hand, this is the first time I’ve had an ear infection without knowing it. That seems like it could be a neat party trick, somehow, but actually the reason I didn’t know is because I also have a sinus infection, and as my ENTIRE HEAD has been throbbing for a week, one throbbing ear was hardly a standout. And to top it all off, a touch of bronchitis. I asked if she wasn’t POSITIVE I didn’t also have JUST A LITTLE leprosy, but no, she said she was pretty sure that was it.

It felt somewhat vindicating to be declared sick, particularly because the scale at the doctor’s office accused me of being several pounds heavier than the one here at home. KICK A GIRL WHILE SHE’S DOWN, WHY DON’T YOU.

I left the doctor’s office and drove over to the pharmacy to pick up delicious antibiotics and a prescription cough medicine that is, I believe, also used as a horse tranquilizer. (I had to run the kids around yesterday and so waited to take a dose until evening. At which point I was mid-conversation with Otto when the room went all wavy and I declared, “Hi! I have to go be horizontal now! Bye!” and went and laid down on the bed and hoped the earth would stop undulating.) The pharmacist cheerfully chirped, “You might want to stock up on yogurt while taking the antibiotic!” and I lifted up my shopping basket to reveal… ten cartons of yogurt. We had a good laugh as only women contemplating yeast infections together can, and then I went home and collapsed for a while.

I didn’t actually want to talk about being sick, though. Well, I wanted to talk about what HAPPENS when I’m sick. And maybe a little bit about the guilt that goes along with PBFSD (Post Broken Family Stress Disorder).

One of the things that came out pretty quickly when my first marriage was falling apart was that Chickadee could not tolerate my being anything less than 100% at all times. Any time I was sick or otherwise not at full capacity she would morph into something between Veruca Salt and the pre-communicative Helen Keller. There would be tantrums. And fits over anything and everything. And she would be mean as a snake. And it was utterly baffling to me until her therapist at the time pointed out that I was her touchpoint for “everything is okay” and therefore, if I wasn’t okay, it freaked her out. Well, fair enough. I mean, she was five.

Except that through the years, it has continued. I’d say it’s only the last couple of years that she’s stopped flipping out when I’m sick. And you know, the child is nearly 12, now, so I’m thinking she may be old enough to understand that 1) sick people don’t really enjoy being screamed at, and 2) the sky is not going to fall just because I have a virus. Just sayin’.

Anyway, she was fine this time until a couple of days ago, and OH BOY the last two days have been a blast from the past. She has screamed at me and antagonized her brother and mouthed off to Otto and sniped at her father over the phone. And I’ve tried to talk to her about it several times, except the problem there is that I always forget several key points. Namely, that:
1) She knows everything,
2) I am stupid,
3) It’s impossible to listen while busy rolling one’s eyes,
4) I am mean AND ALSO STUPID.

So last night she was so rotten to Otto that he told her he wouldn’t drive her for today’s activity—which, really, trust me, she was EXTREMELY ROTTEN because it takes a lot to push him to reaction—and I tried to talk to her (forgetting how mean and stupid I am) about how she might try to resolve things with him and she insisted that there was nothing she could do because his mind was made up.

“So you are just going to not apologize and not try to fix it, because you’ve already decided there’s no point?” I asked, baffled.

“Pretty much,” she said, before turning on her heel and flouncing away.

I’d hoped this morning would bring a brighter outlook, but she’d mouthed off to both of us before the clock hit 7:00, and then she locked her brother out of the bathroom, and I was feeling just better enough to deliver a lecture I’m sure she completely ignored, one about basic human respect and decency, and how if she couldn’t be bothered to speak to her family kindly, I was not going to speak to her at all until she could.

But I’m thinking it’s illegal for me not to talk to her again until she’s 30, so maybe that wasn’t a good thing to threaten.

On the one hand, I am willing to believe that she has some Deep Issues hanging around from the hard times, and that my being sick really does awaken some sort of primal fear in her. On the other hand, there comes a time when you have to say, “You know what? You’re almost 12. You’re old enough to know that what you’re doing is mean and jerky and is making me feel worse. STOP IT.”

And between those two hands hangs years of guilt and worry and now, apparently, an angry silence between two equally bull-headed people.

If I could find the miracle prescription for solving this, I’d be rich.


  1. Leandra

    I think you should say to her exactly what you said. Nobody ever died from a dose of mom guilt. And heck, it might actually make YOU feel better.

    Oh, and NEVER trust a doctor’s scale. When I was at my lowest weight last summer, my doctor’s scale had me at a full SEVEN pounds more than I actually was. I told the Nurse that I was officially protesting the weight she recorded. I don’t think she cared.

    Hope you feel better soon. And that Chickie can relax and get a grip at the same time.

  2. Mom24@4evermom

    If it’s any consolation, my two cents is good parenting is rarely predicated by guilt. Stick to your guns, you have great parenting instincts, really. You’re definitely right, she’s old enough to get that bad things happening to you is not a free pass to bad behavior. I wish my sister had ever learned that lesson.

    Hope you feel better.

  3. Randi

    First of all – I hope you feel better soon – I’m sick too and i know how horrible you feel! Secondly, I’ve always said that if my kids aren’t in therapy by the time they’re teenagers, I’ve done something wrong, so you’re doing great! :)

  4. Kristie

    Ugh. Firstly, I hope you feel better. Secondly, I was a horrible, moody teenager. I will admit it. I also think, after talking to my doctor, that I’ve had a chemical imbalance and suffered from anxiety from a pretty early age. I’ve been balanced with medication for the last five years but I remember feeling EXACTLY like Chickadee.

    I’m not suggesting that you go have her evaluated for medication. The point of me telling you this is to also mention that my mother gave me the silent treatment once when I was particularly hateful. It lasted for a week and was the worst week of my life. The first couple of days I was pretty stubborn and refused to be the first person to cave but by day 3 I couldn’t stand it any more and I remember trying to think of ways to get back in her good graces.

    The silent treatment won’t kill her but will probably make her take a close look at herself and her behavior. I wish I could say that I never got a crappy attitude ever again but I can’t. What I CAN say is that when I hit a certain point I learned to recognize it and though I didn’t often apologize I did do a pretty quick about-face and adjust my behavior accordingly.

    Maybe you should try it. You don’t really have anything to lose.

  5. Jenna

    I agree, silent treatment. Twelve year old girls talk more than anyone other creature on the planet (except maybe John Mayer, but that’s another problem). So, silence will likely put her into a complete tailspin.

    If you feel compelled to talk to her/answer her question just look at her and say ‘I cannot speak to you until your behavior improves’ and walk away. She will have the Worst Fit Ever, more than once probably, but then she will shape up…because a girl wants nothing more than to talk to other girls. It is our nature. Example: See Mommy-blogging.

  6. Heather

    Has the theory about how your sickness scares her been shared with Chickadee? Maybe if she understood why she was acting out, it might help her self-regulate the behaviour? Just a thought :)

  7. elz

    First, so glad you got the good drugs. Hopefully you will feel better instantly(ish). Second, I am so glad you are writing about parenting a tween girl b/c the idea terrifies me and I have to go through it twice. So, I need lots of advice. Maybe tell her if she doesn’t start acting like a good person, you’ll sneeze on her…No, it’s not airborne. Sorry, I got nothing.

  8. Kristi

    I know I’d pay your for the solution, as I have the same kind of young girl living in my house. She started being impossible the day she turned 1 and has been perfecting the routine ever since. I’m so tired of it and I haven’t a clue how to get it through to her how miserable she makes it for us as well as for herself. I try to get her 2 sisters and brother to understand that tip-toeing around her is their best bet, but I think that actually encourages her to be meaner sometimes. She is 10; I fear the day puberty brings it all to an even uglier level.

    Your list of key points at least brings a bit of comical relief though!

  9. Kristi

    KRISTIE–Wow. Nice insight. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Karen

    Quick, Mir, ask your almost teenager daughter the answer to this dilemna, while she still knows everything!

    I feel for you, been there and done that. This, too, shall pass. In my best Forrest Gump impression, which pretty much sucks, truth be told… That’s all I’m gonna say about that.

  11. rose

    You can say what needs to be said and be matter of fact. And, at the end of the day, this is between her and Otto. You can make a suggestion, but if she ignores you, it’s her problem. I have a child like this, and he never seems to take the lesson I want him to take from a given situation. I’m learning that that’s the way he came. My expectations are reasonable, my suggestions are reasonable, my consequences are reasonable. His behavior is not. I’m doing the best I can to make him understand the ways of the world. You can lead a horse to water…

  12. Laura

    Even though I walked through the valley of the ‘rolling of the eyes’, I now fear no evil, for my youngest is 18; and even though I spared the rod and the staff, the silent treatment worked well, and now my children are past the tunnel that enclosed them in the land of ME and they are a comfort.

  13. krissn

    Oh have I felt your pain. My daughter was the same way. So mean to her brother and us that at times I thought I would go insane. She even left for four days to live at her grandmothers because she hated me so much, she was 10 at that time. She came home happily though. We lived thru this all her teen years and now at 22 she still thinks she knows more than me. BUT – she realizes how mean she was as a kid. Hang in there – silent treatment is good. It works, it may kill you inside but it works.

  14. Aimee

    “she would morph into something between Veruca Salt and the pre-communicative Helen Keller”

    This is a great, albeit SCARY, description. I don’t have much to offer, except to say that I think Kristie’s advice is worth considering. I know I would have HATED the silent treatment at that age, and my bravado would not have held out long in the face of it. Good luck.

  15. Lisa

    I have a 14 year old BOY, so he would see my giving him the silent treatment as a blessing. Instead, I have looooong conversations with him. Of course, he doesn’t say anything, so I have to fake his voice and do both sides.

  16. Kemi

    Laura– thanks for the laugh! :)

    Yes, Mir, I third (fourth? fifth?) the silent treatment option. My mom did it to me twice, when I was being a particularly horrible teen. After a week went by, I remember standing behind her at the sink, hanging off her arm, all tears and snot and sobbing, “I’m so sorry, Mom! I won’t act like that again! Please talk to me! You can say anything!”

    The second (and final) time was much the same, only of a shorter duration.

  17. My Kids Mom

    Mir, you’re such a good writer, have you considered writing her a letter? Maybe you can keep your cool and put it all out there for her to read. If you’re lucky she might find it is easier to write to you too.

    Tell her both “that she has some Deep Issues hanging around from the hard times, and that my being sick really does awaken some sort of primal fear in her.” and “You know what? You’re almost 12. You’re old enough to know that what you’re doing is mean and jerky and is making me feel worse. STOP IT.”

  18. Jess

    I think you did the right thing.

    I’m also really scared, as my daughter already thinks she knows everything and I’m mean and stupid, and she’s seven.

  19. Megan

    Silent treatment – BUT what I usually did first was say clearly, ‘look, you’re allowed to feel angry or sulky or irritable. Those are totally normal things. HOWEVER. You are not allowed to inflict those upon other people and if you do so you will be asked to leave until you can treat us lovingly.’ Then I ostracized the little horrors.

    I also remember having a talk with… dunno which dreadful Child… about how you have to treat your family BETTER than you treat your friends or random strangers – because you spend more time with them and (believe it or not) you care about them more.

  20. BethRD

    I remember those days from the inside. I can’t help but feel bad for Chickadee because adolescence is just no fun and she probably feels as awful as she acts, but still, part of adulthood is learning how not to displace your own inner turmoil onto everyone else in your environment. I’ve known adults who apparently never learned that, and BOY are they fun to have as, say, co-workers, hypothetically of course.

    I also think silent treatment is a good idea, if only because of the human-nature thing where the more someone hammers at us to realize that we’re wrong, the more defensive we get of our rightness; if you just ignore her, she doesn’t have anyone to argue with and may more quickly realize that she’s acting like a jerk.

  21. Flea

    She’s almost 12, mom. Regardless of every other issue, SHE’S ALMOST 12. Still doesn’t let her off the hook. I’m just saying, don’t beat yourself up about this one.

    On the flip side, it really does get better. My 16 year old daughter is living (barely) proof of that.

  22. Headless Mom

    I really love reading your posts, the happy and the angsty. I know it sounds trite, but you’re really, really good. Even all snotty!

    The suggestions here are pretty good. Having lived through those years myself, they’re pretty spot-on. One thing that did work for me was sitting on her bed late at night, one on one, and talking to her. I always prefaced a talk by saying “I need to say this, you have to listen, but you don’t have to respond” then I laid out the realities of the situation. Then I left the ball in her court and left the room (unless she was ready to talk right then). Usually she came around by morning.

    Good luck. I’ve found that many times if they are difficult in pre-teen years they seem to come around by the time they are older teens.

  23. Scottsdale Girl

    I second “my kids mom”. During my teen years that was primarily how my mom and I communicated – via letters left on the fridge to each other. Well about “angry face” things anyway. She had to do it that way because if she tried to talk/yell at me my eyes went spinning around my head and that REALLY made her have angry face and it all spun way out of control.

    And I was NOT that bad of a teenager – as far as she knew anyway. :)

  24. Amy

    I have an almost-4-year-old daughter and I teach middle school. Some days (okay, most days) I can’t tell the difference between them. The teenagers are a little trickier because they can communicate clearly, loudly, and with confidence. But the preschoolers are tricky because they don’t always do those things.

  25. Shannon

    Boarding school!

  26. JenM

    Would you consider taking her to a kinesiologist? I’ve found one who has helped balance some issues I’ve had that had me acting / reacting in a way that baffled me but that I felt was beyond my control. It’s helped tremendously.

    I hope you feel better soon.

  27. Mom

    Hmmm… I fear I must disagree with the general consensus here. As a teen I was given the silent treatment (big time) by my mother. It was long-lived and quite horrible. I remember those episodes as if they happened yesterday. It was what I learned, so I did the same to a certain daughter of mine and wish from the bottom of my soul that I hadn’t. Too late smart. After years of therapy. The silent treatment is brutal, hurtful and damaging. Your ability to communicate is one of the (many) things that makes you such an exemplary parent. Use that valuable skill (as you have) – if she doesn’t listen, wait until she comes back and is able to calm down and hear you. I don’t think you will be sorry.


  28. dad

    Make a list of all the problems that have been solved by opting out….right.

    Listen to your Mother.

  29. Lori N

    So sorry you’re feeling horrible. So sorry Chickadee is acting out. No advice — you know your child, you are a good mom.

  30. Lisa

    Give the girl a Midol! It’s cheaper than therapy.

  31. Pats

    My 13-yr-old has been trying to pick fights with me since she was 2. I finally learned that I don’t have to engage. I don’t give her a timeout, I give myself one. I don’t yell. (Calm behavior under pressure really scares kids) I just tell her I am too angry to talk to her and I have to be alone. For some reason this derails the behavior.

    Fortunately, her puberty has not been the hell I expected.

  32. Katie in MA

    Have you tried telling her that you know that you being sick kind of freaks her out and maybe taps into some fear from The Bad Times…but that her flipping out makes you feel guilty and taps into you fears from The Bad Times in just the same way. Ask her to imagine how that must be as a momma. And then maybe write her a note and ask her if she wants to work it out together yet or if she’s still angry. The kids write you notes when they can’t talk it out yet, right?

    What a no-fun crappy situation. I wish there were antibiotics for THAT. Hang in there, kiddo. And if all else fails, just keep taking the horse tranquilizer til it’s over.

  33. gaylin

    My mom was the queen of the silent treatment. Only problem was she used it to the extreme for everything and everyone that got on her nerves. Later while going to years of therapy I learned that silence can be used violently and had a epiphany. Yep, my mom was very emotionally violent in her use of silence. If she stopped talking to one of us she would stop talking to the whole family – making one of us the goat. And I am talking days on end, she would even stop eating at the dinner table or stop eating to make a point. Ahh, happy memories of childhood.

    So, using the silent treatment on a extreme occasion, no problem. Please don’t get into the habit with it.

  34. Little Bird

    My mother never did the silent treatment thing, she did the opposite. She would talk whatever it was to death. And then we’d be fine. There were times when I WISHED she would not talk, but it’s probably better that she did.
    I’d love to tell you that we get along famously and never fight anymore, but I think I might get struck by lightning if I did. But we talk it out, and give ourselves timeouts when we need them. Most people think that we act more like sisters than mother and daughter. I think that’s a good thing. I’m not entirely sure she’d agree…

  35. Melanie

    Mir – You have received some great advice. I know you will do what feels right to you. All I have to say is – Hang in there. This too shall pass.

  36. Cheryl

    like gaylin’s mom, mine was the queen of the silent treatment too. we never knew what would trigger this treatment – we would leave for school and all would be fine, and when we came home – silence. would never even say what the problem was or who the troublemaker was. all 5 of us got punished. please be very careful with the silent treatment – I think it can cause a whole new set of concerns. and, as someone else pointed out – some of this is between her and Otto and they have to figure a way out of this maze. when my daughter was in the eye-rolling years, and we needed to talk, we would sit on her bed (her territory) and we would hold hands. it is just harder to argue when you are holding hands, for some reason. we could usually talk out what the problem was, or agree that we needed a time-out, and then would come back later to hold hands and talk again. it must have worked, she is 24 now and we really like each other.

  37. Amy

    Whenever my mom and I were having issues and she couldn’t get through to me by talking she would write me a note about how I was making her feel and slip it under my door. Then she would just act back to normal after she wrote the note, no silent treatment, even though I needed it. Maybe that would help. Then Chickie could read it while she was calm and it might make a little more of a difference in her behavior. That’s just from my experience with my mom.

    Also, I hope you’re better soon. Several of my friends have had an ear infection (and one of them had twin babies who also had the ear infection). It must be going around like crazy this year.

  38. mamaspeak

    The insight I’m getting here is invaluable I’m sure of it.

    I have two girls and it’s the 3yo who I’m pretty sure I will be writing these stories about. Actually, have already started, to be honest.

    I’m totally stealing your idea Pat–non engagement. I think most of what my 3yo is looking for is attention, the other part is control. By engaging, I’m giving her both.

    I think I’m more inclined to side w/your mom & dad on this one. My mom too would try to use the silent treatment in inappropriate ways, not that this is one of them. I think the letter writing is a good idea. In fact, I immediately thought of a journal where you could write to each other to maybe help avoid some of these issues.

  39. elswhere

    Man. It sucks to be sick and have your kid act up. Mine becomes extra demanding and whiny when either of her parents are sick, and it really gets to me. I am so sorry and I hope you’re feeling better and Chickadee is acting better soon. Can’t come soon enough.

  40. Saskia

    antibiotics and yogurt? I learn something new every time I come to this blog.

  41. Brigitte

    Wow, you hold it together way better than I would, and on low, during-illness reserves too! I’m very impressed. I would have had a huge, immature blow-out at her by now.

    No real advice/assvice here, except there are a few suggestions above to share with her the reasons she freaks when you’re ill. I’m wondering if she already knows about the assessment; she seems like just the right kind of smart cookie to take advantage of the excuse to act so poorly!

    Maybe you SHOULD have the huge, immature blow-out. It’s so unlike you, that if Chickie thinks she’s freaked now, watch out! ;-) Good luck (and strength to you).

  42. JennyM

    Blecch, I hope the anitbiotics (and yogurt!) work quickly for you.

    Knowing Mir as I do (which is to say, not at all, actually), and that she has a healthy sense of humor, I can’t imagine that any silent treatment she employed with Chickadee wouldn’t be more of the non-engagement “I can’t speak with you until your behavior improves”-go-on-about-the-day-until-Chickadee’s-head-stops-spinning variety, and not, as some have described, an emotionally violent punishment that sucks the whole family into a vortex of hurt and despair. I think YMMV on interpretation of “silent treatment”.

    Since you asked (Wait, what, you didn’t?! No matter!), especially since she’s an adult-in-training, my *vast* experience as a champion eyeroller tells me that it can’t be a bad thing, reinforcing to her that despite what she may be feeling, she doesn’t get a free pass to be a little shit, particularly when you’re already vulnerable. And that at some point as she gets older, it’s not your responsibility to bend over backward to fix things with her — it only seems fair at this age that she pull a little weight there too. I mean, that’s life, right? From what you describe of her behavior, it sounds like she knows that deep down, too. (I’m not sure if that makes it worse or better!)

    However you handle Princess Crankypants Know-it-all, though, it will have been a good decision on your own terms — I have no doubt of that.

  43. Jenn

    Having lived through silent treatments that included emotional distance every time I did something wrong, I can tell you they’re hell with long-term effects. (And tough to unlearn when it’s time to be the parent) And I’m learning from my daughter that the reaction to any form of discipline tends to depend more on the personality of the recipient than the administrator.

    I think like with anything else, that you’ll talk and laugh your way through this. I also like the ‘you can have grumpy feelings but you can’t share them’ advice.

    In our family saying “I’m not dying!” while pretending your jaw is wired shut would pretty well communicate things with a laugh. It comes from when my brother was recovering from mouth surgery and my dad tried to mother hen him to death.

    Hope you feel better soon!

  44. Donna

    No silent treatment please! Having lived through a parent doing it I found I just got to the stage because I didn’t always know what the silent treatment was for, for survival I said “I just don’t care anymore” and would ignore the treatment and we had weeks we never talked! Does not make for a close relationship! With my own daughter, just when I disliked her the most, I made a point of spending one on one time with her (sushi lunches that still continue) and getting back on track. It was her thinking I didn’t love her that bothered her the most. I stressed I loved her, just not her behavior and that was something she could change.

  45. chris

    Just had the same thing happen here. And he is two years older. We didn’t talk for two days. The tension broke when he texted me about falling asleep and snoring in class (while waiting for the time to be up after taking the TAKS test) It was so loud the teacher had to wake him up because he was disturbing the other test takers.

    So, uh, I don’t know. Maybe give Chickadee a swig of your medicine before she heads off to school. Then you’ll have something to bond over ;-)

  46. The Other Leanne

    You know, I deal with employees who handle disagreements with the silent treatment, or writing letters, or other one-way/passive-A responses. As frustrated as you are, please don’t demonstrate that this is acceptable behavior. Please stress to your growing girl the importance of calm, direct communication and nothing more or less. She might not be very good at it at this time in her life, but you modeling it and allowing her to practice it will serve her, you, her family, and her future co-workers well.
    I’m with mom and dad on this one.

  47. Heather Cook

    Oh tough one. I was a moody so-and-so as a child and I suspect my daughter will be one too. I have no assvice for you but I hope when I’m at this point you’ll have already figured it out!

  48. The Domestic Goddess

    You know, I always tell my kids that they are ALLOWED to think I’m mean, they can think I’m wrong always, they can despise being in the same room with me but they MAY NOT BE DISRESPECTFUL. That is the one thing I will not tolerate. So she can be angry with Otto but she may not be disrespectful. She doesn’t have to like him. She certainly would NOT want anyone talking to her that way.

    Not that my kid is perfect. He’s nine. He mouths off. And he gets reminded of the golden rule EVERY SINGLE TIME.

  49. Kim

    OMG I am laughing hysterically at your description of Chickadee morhping into Veruca Salt/pre-communicative Helen Keller!!! That is SO my 4 year old daughter right now. Thankfully, my marriage isn’t ending, but the stress level here is high and I’ve been telling myself her behavior is a sign that she NOTICES. Thanks for the laugh!

  50. ~annie

    My mother applied the silent treatment sometimes and it never bothered me a bit. Quite the opposite, really – it gave us both a break.

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