Something changes in her eyes first. Then comes the action. Yesterday she threw a paintbrush. The day before she tried to kick me. In my better moments I can see her for what she is then, a mass of jangled nerves, a tremor of anxiety. Her brain pulsing toward something that will give her control. Act, her brain says. Throw this paintbrush. Lash out. Do something.
In my darker moments I don't see the nerves, the anxious reaching, the desperate action. In my darker moments I see that flash in her eyes, hear her giddy laughter when she turns this discipline into a game, and think shut it down. And every single time my "shut it down" makes things worse. "You'd think I would have learned by now," I sob to my husband on the phone. It's just been so long since we've been here.
Yesterday she threw a paintbrush and my husband jumped in to help while I stared at her, mute, trying to understand what was happening, why this was happening again. "I hate you," she yelled at him. I took Violet outside, just so I could get a breath. I find out later he told her he didn't think he could feel better about it until she said "I love you" to him over and over. And she did. "I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you," she said with no hesitation. "I love you I love you I love you." And on and on.
We smoothed over the bump in the day the best we could, but the damage was done. We tiptoed gingerly, hoping that things would stay calm. I worry about her, what all this tense frustration does to her. What it's doing to us. This is what we are lately. It's what we're made of. Ropes pulled tight, crumbs in the throat, explosive coughing, shallow breaths.
At bedtime she curled into my body the way she does, head on my arm. She had one arm locked around a Stitch doll and the other clutched her blanket tightly. "Goodnight, sweetheart," I whispered. I understand, I wanted her to know. Even when I don't, even when I feel lost, I understand you. I don't know how to say this in a way she'll understand, so I kissed her forehead and simply held her. This has to be enough. For now, it is what sustains us.