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Sunday, December 02, 2007

I've Been in Therapy for Forever

The other day, I decided to consult a therapist friend of my husband's. I chose him because my husband quotes him a lot and he says the same stuff I do, which I point out to my husband. A. never remembers when I say something smart, but if it comes from a professional, he listens. Eh, whatever works. I think getting therapy is like getting a car serviced; you have to do it every now and then to keep things running smoothly. There are times when you have a major problem, like you need a new engine for your stupid BMW, but usually you just need the tires rotated, the oil changed and the occasional replacement of the timing belt. I was overdue for an oil change and decided to make an appointment.

When I walked into the office, it looked very familiar, exactly like what you think a shrink's office should look like. Eames chair? Check. Leather couch? Check. Cluttered desk? Check. Stacks of psychology magazines beside an old file cabinet, faded Oriental rug, chess set and built-in bookshelves? Check, check, check and check. Lots of little wooden puzzles on a side table? Wait a second. This office was a little too familiar. As I talked with Dr. X*, I was completely distracted. I asked him if he had been in practice for at least twenty-five years, and in the same office. He said he had and I knew I had seen him before, when I was seven.

First children are experiments. Some of us are a tad bit self-centered, because everything we do is taken so seriously by our naïve parents. The reality is that most, if not all, of what kids do and say is arbitrary, strange and temporary. It really helps me to realize that every unpleasant thing my boys have done (so far!) has been a brief stage that I usually don't remember a month later. When I was in the second grade, I was a troublemaker. In retrospect, I think I was somewhere slightly above the middle of the continuum of second grade naughtiness. I was kind of annoying, somewhat precocious and not as cute as some of the other kids. My teacher, the pretty teacher that everyone wanted, did not like me, and I knew it. It was painful and it was a tough year**. My parents suddenly had a very unhappy child at home and at some point during my annus horribilus, I told my mother I hated her.

I probably did, at that exact moment. I don't remember doing it, so I don't know what cruel thing she had done to incur my tiny wrath, but it was probably something like not letting me watch Tom and Jerry that day. I believe children say "I hate you" or "I wish you would die" because they don't know how to say, "F*** you." Or they know how, but they don't want to get in that kind of trouble. All they're doing is coming up with the strongest, most angry thing they know how to say. Some parents get their feelings hurt; I don't. I know my children love me and don't want me to die.

There's a scene in Terms of Endearment in which Debra Winger, on her deathbed, talks to her son. She says,

I know you like me. I know it. For the last year or two, you've been pretending like you hate me. I love you very much. I love you as much as I love anybody, as much as I love myself. And in a few years when I haven't been around to be on your tail about something or irritating you, you could... remember that time that I bought you the baseball glove when you thought we were too broke. You know? Or when I read you those stories? Or when I let you goof off instead of mowing the lawn? Lots of things like that. And you're gonna realize that you love me. And maybe you're gonna feel badly, because you never told me. But don't - I know that you love me. So don't ever do that to yourself, all right?"

Aside from the fact that I cry even thinking about that scene, I know how true it is. Children say they hate their parents and they even mean it, but in the end they love them. And I love that scene. I know Terms of Endearment isn't the most clever movie ever made, but what's wrong with a good tear-jerker? I was a teenager when I saw that move, at the top of my game in terms of being mean to my parents. I remember crying my eyes out, because I hoped that my parents knew that I loved them like Debra Winger knew. If I die, will someone please tell my children that I always knew they loved me, so they don't need to feel bad?

Anyhow, my poor mother thought she had failed because her oldest child hated her. At the time, she also had my sisters, who were three and one, so she was probably running on very little sleep, which didn't make things easier. She and my dad took me to a therapist who was reputed to be really good. And he was. I think we went twice, or maybe just once. I remember talking to him alone and with my parents. I tend to be on the dramatic side and I wasn't any different back then. He told me to get comfortable, so I stood on my head (in my defense, I do still like to stand on my head, but I save it for Yoga class now). He gave me five wooden puzzle pieces, one for each member of my family, and asked me to arrange them however I liked. I asked for another piece, which he gave me, and told him it represented my dog. I then put four pieces together, my parents and sisters. I took the other two pieces and put them together far, far away from the happy family; just a girl and her dog, alone and unloved, outside in the rain, I'm sure. And starving. Ha! That was a lie and I knew it, as did the wise Dr. X, who told my parents I was just fine and that I didn't hate them. Probably tired of my shenanigans, he asked me if I hated them and I said, "No." And he said we didn't need to come back. That, my friends, is an honest therapist.

I felt such nostalgia for my first therapy session. It was the puzzle that made me realize I was probably in the same office. I had always assumed that my memory of that office was based on therapists' offices in movies I had seen. In fact, Dr X must have seen the same movies or hired a decorator who had. Somehow, being in the same room I had been in when I was young and still completely sane made me feel very grounded and I left the session feeling at peace. That poor Dr. X! He's so good at his job that people don't have to go back.

Namasté, y'all!

* His last name doesn't actually start with an "X", but it does start with an equally unlikely consonant. Well, not equally unlikely if you go by the values of Scrabble letters, which I do. In that case, it's twice as likely as "X."

** Believe it or not, I'm going to spare you the details. It would take a long time to type and would be neither interesting nor altogether true, I'm sure. Memory is a funny thing and I think many childhood memories come from how we felt, not from what actually happened. But my mother has agreed that Miss Pretty didn't like me and it was a crappy year.

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