Rory, Still a Little Dubious

My bad tonight–letting all four kids take ice cream in the car. Not cones, cups, and in Lily and Sam’s case, more like milkshakes (FriendZs, to be exact). I don’t usually even let them EAT in the car. But circs prevailed in a not particularly interesting way, and the ice cream was successfully eaten, until (you knew there was an until, right?)…

Rory announced that she was done. At this point we were at the hockey rink picking up Sam, so I told her to carry it up to me and I would take it in and throw it away, and she started to. But as she reached the front seat, something went wrong. I THINK she turned it over to show how it was empty, but she may have just been distracted. It wasn’t empty, not nearly.

There was a freaked out silence in the car (they ALL want the no food in the car rule relaxed, so these little disasters when it is relaxed worry them greatly) as I uttered her name in that long, drawn out shrieky sigh familiar to all mothers: Rooorrryy!

And napkins were produced and the solids scooped up and the liquids wipes as best as we could by me and my Sam, who was somewhat under the spill, while Rory stood there, frozen.

Shouldn’t you say something? I prompted, and she managed a “sorry,” and that was pretty much the end of it–except that I know that frozen gig of hers. She was truly at a loss. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know what would happen. After all, no one’s ever eaten ice cream in the car before, let alone spilled it. And when Rory doesn’t know what to do, she has two default modes: frozen and banshee. Banshee is the running through the house giggling mode. It can be endearing, but it’s really a sign that she can’t settle to anything—she’s not certain what the right thing to do at that moment is, there’s no obvious game or activity afoot, and she hasn’t got her crayons out, so wild running is the only answer.

Frozen is the “I don’t know how this will play out” pose, when it’s possible that I (or someone else) might be very very very angry. I might have been, of course, but I wasn’t. What’s worrisome about frozen is that while Sam, Lily and Wyatt might similarly suspect that I might be very very very angry, they don’t freeze up like that. In Rory I can SEE the defense mechanism. I can SEE that she’s ready to cry, or fight back, or panic, or just stay rigid, and that she has no faith in her own ability to ride the situation, or in mine to treat her in some sort of fair or predictable way. There have absolutely been times when I was neither fair nor predictable, but in a rare turn of events, I don’t think this is about me.

I think Rory, in some great sense, has had the rug pulled out from under her. To her, if things aren’t proceeding in the normal and expected way, literally anything might happen. I liken it to autism, in the sense that an autistic person with a particular form of the disability can’t read social cues–so, similarly, anything could happen, and anything could be an appropriate response, and I try to treat it that way, with coaching. Instead of yelling at banshee Rory to quiet down and find something to do, I help her find it. And instead of scolding frozen Rory for the lack of an immediate apology, I ask for it. I see this as a place where she just needs more cues and help than she would have if she could count on her own instincts. What I don’t know is if it ever goes away.

2 Responses to “Rory, Still a Little Dubious”

  1. Lawmommy says:

    There are times when I think that parenting my daughter is something that no one else can possibly understand, that her circumstances are so unique, so bizarre, and so uncommon that there is no “normal”…

    And then I read this sentence, “I can SEE that she’s ready to cry, or fight back, or panic, or just stay rigid, and that she has no faith in her own ability to ride the situation, or in mine to treat her in some sort of fair or predictable way.”

    And it’s nice to know that in the subset of “little girls adopted as ‘older than toddlers but not quite tweens'” – there is some behavior that, while maybe not normal in any regular sense of the word, is still “normal for these highly unusual circumstances.”

  2. Marissa says:

    I wasn’t adopted as a child, but my mother suffered from severe depression and was prone to sudden raging over little things (loading the dishwasher incorrectly was a favorite one) while being totally understanding about other minor faux pas.

    Early on, I developed the same defense mechanism as Rory – I call it the Deer In Headlights Approach. When something unpleasant happened, I’d stand very still and hold my breath, waiting to see how my mom would react. Mentally, I’d quickly run through all of her possible reactions and could try come up with appropriate responses for each of them.

    I’m 26 now and to this day, that is still exactly how I respond to any unexpected problems. And do you know what? I *really* value this part of my character. Childhood should be full of predictability, but adult life certainly isn’t, and this developed response of mine has been such a blessing in adulthood!

    Take driving for example. The first time they hydroplane, most drivers jump on the brakes. The first time it happened to me, I froze for a split second before reacting and searched my memory for what the driver’s ed guy told me to do here. That second of inaction & thinking helped me avoid a massive car accident. I also have a few car vs. deer stories where my ironic Deer In Headlights Approach probably saved my life 🙂 This response tactic has been invaluable in various social settings, including an attempted mugging 8 years ago. I can’t think of a single time in my adult life where it made the situation worse.

    So I guess my point is that it’s a shame some kiddos lead lives that make them feel so off-balance, but her reaction itself isn’t a bad thing. Separate the trauma from the response and celebrate this unusual but very rad coping mechanism Rory has (and it sounds like you do)!

    (As a side note, since my mom sought treatment & experienced a lot of healing, she and I have become great friends. I absolutely love her cross-country visits and looks forward to having her around when I start my own family. Hooray for happy endings!)