A little perspective goes a long way

I knew, of course, that yesterday would be a hard day. Days when we see Chickadee for family therapy are hard, because she is not exactly what you would call pro-therapy. Things are better—so much better—than they used to be there, really. There is no longer screaming and throwing things, for example. But I’m pretty sure that if she had the option of passing on this particular exercise, she would. Sadly, she’s not in charge and we cruelly demand that she be tortured with our attempts to restore a workable family life (because we are monsters).

The fact that we parted with her angry at us over the weekend was on our minds, too. So: It would be hard. We knew. She’d seemed recovered, on the phone, but it’s hard to tell.

The good news is that the session itself wasn’t too bad. One of the things I really like about the family therapist is that she’s an equal-opportunity bullshit-caller, and although Chickadee maintains that she dislikes her (probably due to her absolute unflappability and also that she is not buying what my darling daughter is so often selling), the fact that I’m the one being chastised nearly as often as my kid is slowly winning her over.

[In case you’re curious, allow me to summarize the lesson being hammered and re-hammered into my thick head every single week: Dear Me, please stop trying to shield your kid from the cruel world or fix things for her and just let her fall on her face so that you can both realize it won’t kill her.]

It was okay; fine, mostly, until the end, but the end is nearly always awful, so that wasn’t unexpected, either. Should I ever think about writing a book on the experience of having a child in a residential treatment center (which I won’t, ever, because I don’t even like experiencing it now, and purposely reliving it AGAIN through writing just seems like masochism of the highest order), it would have to be titled something like One Thousand Terrible Goodbyes (which is so cheesy, I know) because no matter how often you see each other, every time you leave, it’s without your kid. And your kid is going back to a locked unit. And everyone thinks, “Wow, hey, I don’t know if you noticed, but THIS REALLY SUCKS, like, every single fucking time.” (Maybe I should just call my hypothetical never-to-be-written book “Hello, Captain Obvious!” Pretty much the same thing.)

Whoa. Sorry, small detour into bitter, there. I took my eyes off the road for a sec.

So! We got out of there in one piece. We headed towards home.

There is a McDonald’s conveniently located right before we get back on the highway, which is handy because it’s a long drive home and we are often all adrenaline-d out by the time we leave. Translation: we require coffee, and that’s an easy/cheap way to get it. We were sitting at the light to turn onto the road where the McDonald’s is—and the highway ramp is—discussing said desire for coffee when… the car stalled.

“What the heck?” said Otto. He is eloquent. He’s also a man of action; he tried to restart the car. It didn’t start. He turned off the AC and tried again. And it still didn’t start.

And then… the light turned green.

I don’t know if you’ve done a lot of driving in Atlanta, but it turns out that people get really pissed when you’re stuck in traffic and your car dies. Go figure.

Otto put on the hazard lights and popped the hood and got out of the car and started doing various car-guy sorts of things (I don’t know, I was too busy imagining some aggravated city driver running him over in a fit of road rage) while people honked at us. Eventually it became clear that we’d need to push the car off the road, but of course we were on a slight incline (of course), and Otto couldn’t push it himself and I had to steer and AGAIN I was back to visions of him being run over, and finally the guy stuck behind us helped Otto push and we got the damn car off the road.

There was more tinkering and poking and prodding—Otto can pretty much fix anything, so I sat there helpfully saying things like “I BET YOU CAN FIX IT”—and finally he concluded that… the car was dead. Probably the fuel pump.

We have AAA, and it turns out that they’ll tow you up to 100 miles, so the fact that we were 90 minutes from home wasn’t the enormous catastrophe it could’ve been. It also turns out that if your car dies in a major metropolitan area instead of in the sticks, you don’t have to wait for three hours for a tow. In fact, Otto called and it was less than ten minutes before the truck showed up. In no time at all we were on our way.

An interesting role reversal took place on our way back home. Ordinarily I am Chicken Little to Otto’s Buddha. Don’t get me wrong; when the car first died I was all BUT OF COURSE IT DID, complete with high-pitched hysterical laughter of I-may-just-lose-my-crap-here. But my frustration was fleeting, because really, the truck showed up so quickly and it was such a relief that we could be taken all the way back to town under our coverage. Plus the driver was a total sweetheart. Otto, meanwhile, was busy berating himself for thinking it was okay to take his car all the way to Atlanta. He’d just been thinking how reliable his car has been for a vehicle with nearly 200,000 miles on it, and now look what happened. He was so sorry! He should’ve known better!

I finally had to tell him to chill out. Lemme count how often that has happened in the 22 years I’ve known him, hang on. Yep, one hand with fingers left over, easy.

No one got hurt. We didn’t get into an accident. We didn’t have to leave the car in Atlanta. We didn’t get stuck for hours. Monkey was actually spending the day with Mario AT OUR HOUSE so it was just a matter of calling Mario’s mom—who was totally just chilling out with a book and the dog on our porch—to let her know what was going on; no biggie there. She was even gracious enough to pick us up from the garage once we got back. Heck, even the rain held off until it was all over again.

Really, as catastrophes go, this one was easily managed.

And then I walked into the house, said hello to my son, then turned right back around and hopped into my car to go pick up boxes at the UPS Store. As I loaded up the continuing evidence of your generosity I realized that as fragile as I feel, a lot of the time, resilience is somewhat inevitable. Is anyone maimed? Or dead? No? Carry on, then. Nothing to see, here. (I did tell Otto later that night that the real tragedy of the day was that I hadn’t gotten my much-anticipated coffee that afternoon, and I think he cracked a smile. Probably he was just humoring me, but whatever.)

Moral of the story: Try not to have your car die in the middle of city traffic, but if you must, I recommend having had such a crappy year in general that it just seems like a minor inconvenience. You’re welcome.


  1. The Domestic Goddess

    Your car died? LUCKY!!!! (I keed)

    Can’t even imagine leavng my kid in a treatment center. But we came close this year. And while I’m glad he didn’t end up going I sometimes second guess myself as to whether or not he SHOULD have. I am hoping that this therapy, the family therapy and whatnot, will help your family heal and get back to a new normal. If that’s what y’all want and need.

  2. tracey

    Seeing the brighter side of things and knowing just HOW badly things could have gone is usually what gets me through a situation like that. Unless I have PMS and am hungry when the car dies in traffic… Then it’s not a pretty picture.

    Thinking of you and your family this year and hoping that the situation improves sooner rather than later….

  3. karen

    …and the coffee… make sure you get that damn cup of coffee, because sometimes, it’s all that gets you through. :-)

    Mir… really I hope you do some day write a book.. because you are one heck of a writer…an inspiration in every sense of the word.

  4. Suebob

    I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but that Otto is a keeper.

  5. eileen

    I’m nodding my head, over and over. My year hasn’t been nearly as craptastic as yours, but saying that I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water most days isn’t embellishing too much. When things like this come up I’ve been known to shrug and say, “Could be worse”. It’s almost always true, too. Just keep swimming… Huh. I say that a lot too.

  6. My Kids Mom

    I guess we can only absorb so much and at some point we just have to laugh.

  7. MomQueenBee

    Along with the coffee you need a chocolate dip cone at McDonald’s. It is $1.39 worth of heaven, and you certainly are deserving of some heaven right now.

  8. Ani

    “In case you’re curious, allow me to summarize the lesson being hammered and re-hammered into my thick head every single week: Dear Me, please stop trying to shield your kid from the cruel world or fix things for her and just let her fall on her face so that you can both realize it won’t kill her.”

    Substitute “her” for “him”. I think you just saved me a bundle of insurance headaches in trying therapy. Now if only my skull would let that in.

    Thanks for reminding me of that lesson. And I wish you a much better day today and tomorrow.

    PS–You’ve earned a super-froufy cup of coffee of your favorite type.

  9. Tenessa

    Hey, sometimes the silver linings are a little on the grey side, but they are still there.

  10. Korinthia Klein

    I’m impressed with how you are able to write about all of this with such humor while not minimizing any of the trauma. You are remarkable, as is your family. Sending good thoughts your way.

  11. Heather


  12. Tracey

    There’s nothing like swimming in the deep end of life crises to really put perspective on the odd moments of chaos that crop up .

    That you can find humor in those moments is therapeutic.

    While going through what I now call the five year hell blitz, I was driving my Dad to an important appt with an eye specialist who was going to scrape several cancerous tumors from his eye orbit, and my car died, in rush hour traffic, just before getting on the NJ Parkway.
    Here I was, desperate to make sure he got better and I COULDN’T GET HIM THERE.
    He sat there, completely nonplussed, while I was hemorrhaging with panic and WTFery. The sad man, who had lost his wife of 52 years just four monhts ago and then been diagnosed with aggressive cancer, chuckled at the whole thing and talked me down from the edge of a breakdown.
    And then we went and got coffee at the Dunkin Donuts to wait for AAA.

  13. Fairly Odd Mother

    It drives my kids CRAZY, but ever since I read the Little House series aloud, I end every not-so-bad mishap with “All’s well that ends well.” Seriously, that family could lose an entire crop to locust, have the wife and girls almost killed in a runaway carriage, and almost starve to death and that’s how Pa would sum it up. Perspective helps.

    Now if my house gets covered in locust, I’m running away like a bat outta hell but, short of that, I should be okay.

    Glad you are channeling your inner Pa Ingalls too. ((hugs))

  14. Mare Martell

    My son was in a facility for nine months while he sorted out some very ugly things that took place before he was with me. It broke my heart each time I had to leave him. I felt horrible even while knowing it was the best I could do for him. The day he came home was wonderful. We had excellent support from the facility, intensive outpatient therapy, and things were better. They are not and will not be perfect, but the sad goodbyes were necessary for us to get to the “WELCOME HOME!”

    Oh, and did I mention that my car dropped the transmission on the way back from said facility? In the rain? Less than 5 miles from home? Without AAA? You’re a lucky woman!

  15. Katherine

    My car died story didn’t have it really dieing, but… Picture me at college age driving my dads big pickup. Stick shift, that I only mostly knew how to drive. Rush hour Atlanta traffic a few days before Christmas. And the truck stalls, on a hill (of course). And I can’t get it started for several very, very long minutes… I remember thinking that it was only about a mile to my parents and maybe I could leave the truck and walk. I finally got it going again, but that was … Not fun.

    I’m glad your car experience turned out ok in the end and you could realize its only a blip. I hope that Chickee is steadily getting better and is going to be coming home before long. Or does she have to go through getting weekend passes home first?

  16. Lucinda

    It’s a fixable problem. Sometimes, it’s nice to have a problem with a clear solution when everything else seems so murky. Hope it’s not an expensive repair.

  17. Megan

    Hmmm – yesterday I combined two subjects from this post into one. First, my (grown) daughter IM’s me that the car she and her husband and my (also [barely] grown) son are sharing died on them. Second I am now biting my nails and telling myself firmly that I do not get to leap in and try to fix it for them.

    So, tell me, when does this parenting gig get easy? ‘Cause I’m ready for that.

  18. Rachel

    My mantra has been lately, “If that’s the worst thing that happens today, we’re good.” My 2012 has been better than yours, Mir, but I’ve had my years that rank right up there.

    My Monkey-aged child learned a good lesson 2 weeks ago. She was out on an island (amusingly named Great Misery, and next to Little Misery) exploring and picnicking when it started to rain. Then pour. Then thunder & lightning started. The Harbormaster came out to rescue the 22 kids & 6 counselors from Misery and bring them in his (open) boat to the larger (covered) boat, which brought them back to their day camp on a different island that actually has buildings and dry clothes.

    Anyhow, they’re in the Harbormaster’s boat, and they are standing there, soaking wet, with rain coming down in sheets, and one of the counselors says, “Well, at least it can’t get any worse!” and then it started to hail. And I’ve truly never seen hail in the summer in Massachusetts, so this was truly unusual. My daughter’s observation was “hail hurts” and “maybe it was a bad idea to be in a metal boat in a lightning storm”. She came home safely, and with a great story, and the lesson learned not to say “it can’t get any worse”, because then you’re just tempting fate.

    Sending hugs to you. I’m so glad you have such wonderful support from Otto, online & offline friends, and from Monkey’s friends and their families. I know my friends saved me during my bad years, and I’m so glad you’re blessed with such a wonderful community.

  19. Marsh

    Thank you so much for writing, Mir. You are such an inspiration to all of us because you are handling a very difficult trial with such grace. Thanks for your humor and your honesty. I have such great admiration for you.

  20. Aimee

    I am struggling so hard for perspective right now, and thinking about your car breakdown is going to help, I think. Sorry about the car, but glad that AAA came and was able to get you all the way back home. Instead of coffee, maybe some tampon lemonade?

  21. Nancy

    Chickie’s therapist sounds wonderful.

    While I was reading about your car-tastrophe, I thought, “well at least they could get some coffee while you were waiting for AAA.” Then you said they were there in 10 minutes and I read the rest of your post wanting a cup of coffee. (I made a cup as soon as I finished reading.)

    I hope that Chickie is home soon and you can start getting lots of practice trying not to protect her from life.

  22. suburbancorrespondent

    Totally true. It takes a lot to make Larry or I even blink, at this point.

  23. Sharon

    Good advice from the counselor and something I have to remind myself of, and my “children” are all adults:) My saying when a day goes wrong from start to finish is, “There was no loss of life.” Loss of coffee is something else entirely….

  24. Jan

    Oh, I so agree. We just lived through the Worst Year Ever and now, things that used to be huge deals, causing me to be upset and unglued are really….no problem at all.

  25. Alison

    This…”I realized that as fragile as I feel, a lot of the time, resilience is somewhat inevitable.” is exactly how I feel as I cope. Thank you for putting it into words for me. Hugs to you and your family!

  26. Kate in Michigan

    My father (who is fine now, btw) had been rushed to the hospital after a heart attack, and was getting a quad. bypass the next day. My older brothers and I raced to the hospital in oldest brother’s car to meet mom.

    We stayed until the end of visiting hours, and then had to leave. We all stopped in the restroom before we went to the parking garage.

    15 minutes later or so, my brothers pulled up in THEIR car at a stop light, right next to mom in HER car. I was in neither car. They rolled down their windows and asked, “Where is KATE?” Turns out they each thought that I was going with the other, and left me in the bathroom at the hospital.

    They turned around and found me hanging out, shooting the breeze with the parking lot guard, hoping they figured it out. This is before cell phones.

    We all hugged each other and laughed, and called dad in his room to let him know, and he laughed too.

    I’ve never let them live that down. BUT, it did kind of lighten the mood.

  27. addy

    Those good-byes suck don’t they! Car problems can be fixed one way or another. Give me those any day. Cuz I just call somebody and MAGIC – all better…..

  28. Cele

    I love that in the midst of a mind numbing traffic tradgedy you find levity. I want to be like Mir when I grow up, because being a bitch is usual my forte in a mind numbing traffic tragedy.

  29. joanann

    I have been reading your blog forever, and I am not sure I have ever left a comment. As someone who is going through a particularly trying year (so ready for 2013) I have to say this line will become my mantra:

    “Really, as catastrophes go, this one was easily managed”

    Whether or not they are, I plan to keep repeating this thought to myself.

  30. Rocky Mountain Woman

    It’s amazing what perspective we can gain from adversity….



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