Transitioning with Joy, the noun

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emotional health / human experience / Humor / relationships / Uncategorized

IMG_2605 “Once upon a time there was a beautiful, smart woman and her handsome, intelligent husband who’d had a sweet little princess, who we’ll call “Joy”(because I want to and it’s my damn story). Life was good. Joy was happy initially, however as she neared her 2nd birthday she seemed bored with her doting mother and indifferent to her father who worked long hours at his job. The mother suggested that they have another baby. After all, they had so much more love to give, and wouldn’t Joy just love a sibling! It was decided. They would have another child to occupy Joy’s unfulfilling two year old days. To everyone’s, well, joy, this lovely family had a beautiful son! They named him Tom (because next to Dave Matthews, I adore Tom Brady, that’s why).

Tom was the light of little Joy’s eye. She would be Tom’s first unofficial teacher, friend, swimming instructor, craft organizer, opponent in matchbox car racing; Tom’s big, loving sister. Sure she was bossy and overprotective, but she was as much a part of him as he was a part of her from the moment the family brought him home from the hospital.

When Tom cried, it was Joy who placed his pacifier lovingly in his mouth, as much to shut him up so she could watch “Dora The Explorer” as to see him contented. She did not want to see this round, cuddly little infant sad, plus he was drowning out her Spanish lesson with Dora! When Tom was taken on outings he had both a pacifier (binki, sucker, paccie, whatever) and a small blue blanket that he liked to rub between his thumb and forefinger. These he used to soothe himself, especially when Joy was not there with him. Because she was over two years older than her baby brother (two years and eight months she would tell you) she began to spread out her little wings further and further.

At three she joined Gymboree and made several new friends. At four, when Tom was not yet two, Joy began a preschool program where she learned all kinds of things to stimulate a little girls mind. Excited and out of breath, she would race back home to teach little Tom about all sorts of letters that made actual words! Moments later she would leave her brother sprawled out on the floor in a tense fit of anger while screaming “no, no!” at his sister for taking her crayon out of his mouth.

Joy had become overly frustrated and very often emotionally drained due to her brother’s lack of attention to the curvature of the “J” or the perfect roundness of the “O”. In fact, Tom consistently saw the crayons or chalk as fun, colorful objects to be ingested or tossed. She tired of his immaturity. She soon began to desire playdates with peers who could reciprocate in stimulating games of charades, dressing up and building castles with intricate little blocks that poor Tom’s lack of fine motor skills could not adapt to.  Tom just seemed like a baby to her now. Although he was super cute, he often smelled, needed diapers changed and threw objects at her when she attempted to teach him “even simple things”, like how to macramé a bracelet. She needed more fulfillment from her relationships than just the caretaking responsibilities that Tom required.

One evening after peewee soccer practice, Joy sat three year old Tom down in his booster seat at the kitchen table. She explained that their relationship just wasn’t satisfying to her anymore. She stated that, although she adored her baby brother, it was time for her to expand her social horizons. He was holding her back, she added. It wasn’t his fault, but she was super smart and oh so popular among her kindergarten friends. A fellow named Nathan, a first grader actually, was interested in playing with her at recess and….*enter a handful of Cheerios flying directly at Joy’s face*…OMG, you’re IMPOSSIBLE!!  MMMMOOOOOOOM!

Needless to say, Tom was left at the mercy of his mother and whatever drippings of time his older sister could give him when she was able to lower herself to his level (i.e. her peers were busy). Not only was this little “break up” strange and somewhat hurtful to three year old Tom, but he really didn’t understand how come his sister didn’t want to spend time with him anymore. She used to be so pleasant and fun. He was confused, being a boy however, he could easily be redirected onto other things. So he put much investment in his “blankie” and was able to transition from his pacifier. Joy felt a modicum of respect toward her brother for that gesture of maturity while continuing in her pursuit of older, more interesting people and places and things…”nouns, Tom, nouns…can you say ‘noun’?”

“No!”

“Gah! Mooooooooom! Watch your son please!”

Well, time passed. Tom got older and bigger. At seven he traded in his “blankie” for a baseball glove that accompanied him everywhere. It felt good to him…the feel and smell of worn leather…the way it was grooved to fit his right hand tightly…the autograph from his favorite Phillies first baseman, Ryan Howard…plus it was socially acceptable no matter where he went. He didn’t have to feel embarrassed by having a dirty, ripped up old “blankie” for comfort anymore. He would be the first to admit though, it was a tough transition for him. The battered blue blanket had been his “Transitional Object” for his whole lifetime until his father introduced the mitt. Maybe it was also special because it was his dad who gave it to him.

The mitt, though still beloved, was exchanged for a lacrosse stick in middle school. It kept his hands and his mind busy. He didn’t need to think about tests or social pressures or issues at home or watching his sister take over her world in high school. Lacrosse was cool. You don’t get asked how your grades are when you have the stick in your hand. You don’t get awkward “hellos” from girls, you get dudes respecting with a nudge and a nod, and moms quiet cause you excel at something that’s keeping you busy enough that she’s not afraid of you getting into trouble yet. No questions asked. All good.

In high school Tom flirted with all kinds of potentially harmful things, places, people…nouns. When all was said and done though, he’d hear his sister’s words in his ears about wanting him to be making good choices and loving him regardless. That was soothing to him, as was the baseball mitt he kept in a drawer in his bedroom.  It represented a solid, firm foundation to him.

In college he met the love of his life. They married. They had a family with beautiful children. They eventually divorced. He was devastated. This was not the way it was supposed to be. He needed comfort. He needed to be soothed. He brought women home for sex. Thank you, he would say politely. Later gator, he would think to himself. This is not who I am, he would feel at his core.

Shortly thereafter he met a woman who seemed compatible. They enjoyed each other’s company. He liked her, more than just for the sex. He needed this to work. He needed another transitional object to soothe him, bring him back to the man he used to be. He wanted it to fit badly so he wouldn’t have to be alone. With himself. Without a companion to tell him he was successful and a good provider. Lonely. Alone was okay. Lonely was not okay.

This woman became the transitional (rebound) relationship for Tom. She was soothing as a distraction from what he needed to get back to, which was his core. This core consisted of the child, then the teenage boy, then the adult male that he had been even before the marriage, but to include the time of marriage as his personality was continually being shaped. Add to that his habits and needs. Maybe she could cover over the pain of his last relationship. Maybe she could get him back to HIM.

◊♦◊ Okay. STOP RIGHT THERE! ◊♦◊

Now I’m sad. Had he asked for MY humble opinion, I would have told Tom to invest in himself first and foremost. The odds of the first serious relationship working perfectly after the long term marriage ending in pain, are slim. I say this because he is seeking that comfort and soothing from another human being, no doubt with baggage of her own to bring to the party eventually. What he needs to do is to make things right with himself. Let go of grudges, painful childhood whatevers, choose forgiveness. Take some time to shut some of these emotional doors before opening up another. That is why the redivorce rate is about twenty percent more than the divorce rate (65-70% vs. 45-50% for first divorce), according to Ron L. Deal, President, SmartStepfamilies.com.  It’s like a group of people so excited to jump back into the same pool that they completely forgot that the pool was closed for renovations. They jump rather enthusiastically into an empty pool. Ouch.

Here’s how I’d like to see this story end: Tom spends time with his male friends and makes the time for his beautiful children, who have also “rediscovered” a father they didn’t always get to spend quality time with when he was married to their mother. For himself, he gives the gift of time. He learns to love himself for more than what he can offer others in the form of material objects.  He mourns the old life and embraces the new one. He discovers he is loved, loving and lovable. He has a great deal more to give and it had begun from the first day of his birth. A kiss from his mother, a tear from his dad and Joy.

AND THE MORAL OF THIS STORY IS: Clean your house thoroughly before you invite others over to eat, OR; Don’t swim in an empty  pool. Wait to fill it up with water, then balance the chemicals.  OR, get some therapy would you?!

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The Author

I am a licensed clinical social worker who just happens to adore the written word. I have had a private practice and am now writing a memoir on my life in the company of my father and many of my clients who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I hope to dispel some myths and break down some barriers for those with mental illness. I write out of need and complete joy, which I hope to convey throughout my blogs. The human experience is not exclusive to one group. I hope to appeal to most as I touch on some pretty heady material with some self-deprecating humor and raw emotion thrown in for good measure. I have four amazing children, one HUGE dog and a tolerant husband. I am blessed.

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