The radio filled the silent spaces in our minds and in our van late Friday afternoon. It was the end of a long and trying week and a behavioral health center was the last place my son wanted to be visiting.
As I reviewed and corrected the paperwork my husband filled out, my mind lost track of the music and became increasingly aware of the silence.
Wanting to know my son’s thoughts, I tiptoed into the conversation by asking if he was feeling nervous. “No”, he responded.”Wait, what are we going to be doing here?” I responded to his question with the only information I had, letting him know that he would probably get to play a little in the room while the doctor, his dad, and I talked about some of the things he is having a hard time with to see if we could get a little more help for him.
Frustration oozed out of his body and his mouth as he protested against going inside. His protest abruptly halted when given the option to play a game on one of our phones while we waited “FOREVER” in the lobby.
Once in the office, I handed over the paperwork hoping that a parent questionnaire would not be necessary this time. She smiled and handed me a clipboard, highlighting the familiar paperwork and I turned around quickly to hide the disappointment on my face. During the last four years, we have filled out numerous questionnaires about both of our boys and surprisingly, it doesn’t get any easier. Deciding whether “never”, “seldom”, “occasionally”, “frequently”, or “always” is the correct response for the corresponding behavior is overwhelming to say the least. As we finished one packet together, I removed it from the clipboard only to find a second similar packet to complete.
I cried, overwhelmed by the feeling again that this is too much. My husband gently placed his arm around my back inviting me breathe. His knowing look gave me the courage I needed to continue on.
After turning in our paperwork, the three of us walked in tandem to the psychologist’s office, quietly settling in to our surroundings. In the middle of discussing my son’s mental health history, his diagnoses and our reason for the visit, I looked over to see him tracing his hand. He had labeled each of the digits of his hand: kind, loved, determined, crazy, unique. Distracted by my curiosity, I made the conscious choice to turn and pay attention to the doctor and her questions. The moments passed quickly and before I knew it, we had a plan to schedule additional testing. My lingering question if testing would be necessary was answered adamantly and without hesitation.
By the time we were wrapping up our interview, my son’s face was hiding in the corner of the couch. Although we included him in parts of the conversation, one can only tolerate so much spotlight on behavioral concerns while in the presence of others. As his frustration started to spill out beyond his control, my husband decided to take him outside while I wrapped up the remainder of the visit.
Not knowing what I would find when I stepped into the van, I was pleasantly surprised to hear laughter and singing from both my husband and my son. I breathed a sigh of relief unaware that I had been holding my breath in anticipation.
I hold my breath more than I realize. Shallow breaths partially fill my lungs until I am nearly drowning. Yet, the drowning itself is taking my breath away. If I wait to exhale until the tension has subsided, I may never to a breath again.
Deep breathing has the potential to save my sanity. I know this. So, why is breath the first thing I deny myself?
Once aware, I begin my practice again of slowly breathing in and slowly breathing out. Again and again. While breathing, my curiosity circled back to the drawing of the hand in the psychologist’s office. I turned to my son, “Tell me about the drawing of the hand. What did it mean?” He looked at me tentatively and answered, “the words I wrote describe me and the rest of our family, mom.”
When faced with embarrassment, my son chose to create artwork that would combat shame and then remind him of what is true. Truth that was not just about him, but about all four of us. How life-giving. May I walk forward remembering that when the proverbial shit is hitting the fan, we’re doing something right if we hold on to the truth that we are kind, loved, determined, crazy, and unique.
Bethany Cabell, a lover of simplicity, is often inspired to write by the relationships she holds as a wife, mom, and a physical therapist. Bethany, her husband and their boys returned to life in Texas after wandering off to the Midwest for a season. What she once pictured her life to look like has forever been changed by her two sons. Navigating this messy and beautiful path of parenting two children each with their own unique challenges, she finds grace and beauty in the gift of each moment.