Magical night- one in which the entire magic centered around Little B.’s ability to sleep without watching TV or throwing a tantrum. She slept in her own bed, sharing a room with the girls because- as she confessed- she “doesn’t like to sleep alone”.
“I don’t like to sleep alone, either,” I explained. “I like to know there is someone next to me- it makes me feel warm and relaxed.”
Little B. nodded. I asked her if she ever got scared at night. She nodded again. I wondered aloud what scared her. Missing Pops and her home down the street- with its more flexible bedtimes hours and lack of TV rules- was part of what Little B. expressed.
The other parts- missing her recently-deceased grandmother- didn’t come to the surface (and I wouldn’t expect a little person to be able to articulate something as ineffable and complicated as grief). There are moments when Margaret’s amazing, powerful shadow- the way she captured all the light in a room and turned it into the sort of fire by which you long to warm your hands- fills the space, makes her absence more prominent. How to discuss these dark places around us- the places inhabited by the memory and fleeting presence of Margaret?
Initially, Little B. had insisted on having her “own room”- so we tried to make the guest room her room. But her 4-year-old wants were at odds with her natural need for company and reassurance. In a way, Little B.’s desires also flew in the face of her new status as part of a team of siblings, a way of holding on to her long-established identity as an only child. “I wan-n-t-t-t-t….” she sometimes wailed, as if the mere of act of wanting was its own justification.
“I want things too, Little B.,” I said, struggling to keep my tone even as my heart raced and my head pounded. The physiological effects of hysteria on those who must watch are notoriously effective and disconcerting. In a sense, hysteria removes the hysteric from feeling for others around them- it severs their ties to other humans and allows them to express the most extreme, exaggerated form of any feelings passing through their minds. The hysteric is unconscious of the world around them. They are lost in the moment, upping their own antes, chasing a feeling straight into its most destructive variants.
Personally, I doubt the “cathartic effect” of hysteria. I’ve never met a hysterical person who realizes anything about life or themselves while lost in a fit. Nor have I heard of situations in which hysteria made people “feel better”. Usually, it draws us deeper into the morass of our own heads without enabling us to understand it or cope with our feelings. The underlying causes of hysteria range from PTSD to anxiety to panic disorders or phobias. What all these underlying causes have in common is a solution that encourages learning to express and articulate our feelings and fears in order to find solutions or adaptations to the way in which they cripple our lives. Hysteria is not really the sort of behavior left best unattended.
A recent review of psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytic studies led to the conclusion that there is “no hard evidence for a cathartic effect of tears, even for so-called cathartic therapy, in which patients are asked to recall as vividly as possible their traumatic experiences”. Randolf Cornelius likewise concluded that, in contrast to a catharsis, “crying is associated with increases in arousal, tension and negative affect … Crying does also not appear to be necessarily beneficial to one’s health, as the cathartic model of crying would predict.”
Despite this evidence, crying is something we value in the Coryell Castle. There are complicated feelings or moments in which tears and hugs feel better than talking. But hysterics are not about hugs- they push everyone else away. It literally hurts to watch a hysteric tantrum. As an adult, you ache for the little person who kicks you away. As a child, you feel terrorized by the possibility of an impending reign of terror that can wake you from your sleep, destroy a family dinner, cause your own little heart to race with anxiety, and make your home feel like an unsafe, unloving place.
In agreeing to remain attached and emotionally empathetic to our children, we stay vulnerable to the feelings of a little person. This includes the way in which their hysterics can unmoor our hearts and nests. More importantly, however, it includes the contagion of their happiness. We carry the joys of the smiles across the room, the brilliant flashes of light when she comes to me, wraps her arms around my legs, hides her face in my knees, and says, “I love you, mom”.
There is no way to describe the way her trust and affection makes me feel; no words to express the way in which it evokes the familiar while opening my spirit to something entirely foreign- the amazing love one feels for a little person who enters your life unexpectedly and carves her name on your heart in a way that makes it impossible to not feel her pain or to keep from co-feeling her frustrations.
Last night, the magical night, left me with a sense of peace. The King read the girls a bedtime story and kissed them goodnight. He tiptoed into the living room, beaming- “She’s asleep”, he whispered. It went without saying that our hearts felt light.
Watching Little B. struggle to sleep alone as she screamed when presented to alternatives has been painful- all the more painful for her refusal to be comforted. The my-way-or-the-highway mentality common to little people was only reinforced by recent traumas in her young life. Little B. needs to feel she is not at the mercy of circumstances- and this need is a legitimate one.
I snuck in to peep at her around 9:30- she was fast asleep, long legs having kicked off the covers in her usual fashion. I was happy for her- just happy for her peace at that moment. Around 2 am, I thought I heard a little stirring in the girl’s room. The King ventured in and I followed, bleary-eyed, slightly worried.
Little B. was lying in her bed- she’d woken up for a moment and wanted someone with her. We pointed to the girls. She smiled. I put on an audio story of the “The Little Engine That Could” and kissed her on the forehead, then the cheek, then the wrist, and then the tip of her nose.
She smiled, again, simply, as if it were easy and natural. “I love you Little B.,” I whispered. “And you are so lucky to be surrounded by the love of so many people.” Little B. hugged my neck.
“There must be something very, very special about a little girl who is loved so very, very much,” I whispered, trying not to do that “ineffective” thing known as crying. She let me go, her eyes drifting towards the voice telling one of my favorite stories. It was a good night- one to inspire us and give us hope.