*Emma gave me her permission to write about this.
Yesterday Em was having a tough time. She has been talking about an indoor playground that closed some six years ago, expressing her upset that it’s now a store and asking that we build a new indoor playground exactly like it. We have discussed the idea that places go out of business and that we can’t bring them back, we’ve talked about what is required to build an indoor playground, but that it will not be exactly like the one that closed. We’ve discussed the concept of same and different. We’ve gone over the preliminary steps needed to be taken in creating any sort of space. Joe even thought she might like to build a model playground, complete with running water and electricity, but none of this has helped. She remains very upset. So much so that I began to feel certain her upset was not actually about this specific playground, but that this playground has come to symbolize loss.
“I want playground. I want to build it. Will take out the store and build a different playground has slides and a bouncy castle.”
I explained again that we couldn’t do that. Em then repeated how she wanted to build a playground and then said, “Bertie kitty can’t eat pancakes. Bertie kitty, the animal vet doctor, says no. Might get sick. Bertie kitty died.”
I nodded my head and said, “Bertie was old, Em. He didn’t die from eating pancakes. He died because he was very old.”
“I want to take it out!” Em pulled at the palate expander in her mouth and began to cry.
“I know you do, Em. But we can’t take it out yet. The orthodontist will take it out eventually.”
“Soon. I want to take it out now. I want to build it. I want to build new playground.”
It’s easy for me to get caught up in the literalness of Emma’s words. To get swept up in each upset individually, as it shows itself, veering from the closing of a playground, to the death of my cat, to the desire to have her palate expander removed. If I take each of these concerns separately and at face value, I can quickly become lost in each one. This is something I continually struggle with, not just with my daughter, but in life. I take things pretty literally and often try to compartmentalize each thing so as not to get overwhelmed. So in instances when Emma seems to be racing from one upsetting thought to the next, it isn’t my first thought to look for the common thread. But I am fairly certain I’m correct about my interpretation of what’s going on here. I think Emma is working through a number of difficult concepts that in her mind are all related. The playground closing and being replaced by a store that holds no interest for her, the death of my elderly cat Bertie, whom she loved, and the palate expander that she dislikes and wishes would be removed. I could be wrong, of course, but it seems to me they are all connected. They all fall under the heading of permanence and impermanence, or death.
As Emma learns to communicate better through both typing and verbally, we become better at listening and understanding her, her anxieties are becoming more obvious to us. As her communication skills increase, so does her obsessive compulsiveness, or so it seems to us. It’s entirely possible that Em has always had this degree of anxiety, obsessiveness, coupled with compulsivity, but we are only now becoming aware of just how difficult it is and how often it overwhelms her. Leaping from one upsetting scenario to the next is something I do too, particularly when I am tired. With Emma it’s all about things that are impossible to have, things that are gone and won’t come back or, as is the case with the palate expander, about change, literally physical change as she looses the last of her baby teeth and her permanent teeth appear.
As we continue to support Emma with her typing, we have noticed she is becoming more verbal. As she becomes more verbal she is expressing her anxieties, her concerns, as well as her desire to be heard. The more we listen, the more she has to say. Yesterday as we worked on her typing, I asked, “Em tell me two things you like doing and one thing that’s hard.”
Em typed, with my hand barely touching her forearm, “I like to bounce on the trampoline. I like to bounce on the bouncy castle. It is hard for me to work with mommy. You could help them work with mommy.”
“Thank you for telling me that, Em. Who should help me so it’s easier for you to work with me?”
Emma and Pascal take each other’s photographs - April, 2013