Stomach Aches and Monsters In the Closet

If I had a dollar for every time my daughter had a stomach ache before school…..Well, I’m not sure I would actually be able to afford much of anything in today’s economy but you get the gist.

I have a 7 year old, she is amazing and wonderful with this remarkable gift of making me nuts.  While my work within the last few years was primarily adults, my passion, my home base was/is working with kids.  I have been interacting with children be it in an academic setting or therapeutic setting for over 20 years. Professionally, I know kids.  I have only been a mother for 7 years, well 7 years and 8 months if you ask my daughter.

The end of last school year my daughter was waking up with stomach aches, Monday through Friday mornings.  I was working full time, up at 6 out the door by 7:30.  “Go..go…go” was our morning mantra. I would usually pick her up around 6pm praying the after school program had assisted in her homework to alleviate the evening tantrum and tears with respect to “ this is sooooo hard I can't do it”.   Imagine my sadness (actually embarrassment) in finding out that in fact she couldn’t do the homework, because she couldn’t read. Here I was a master’s level, licensed clinician specializing in working with kids, having missed this. I was a failure as a mother, I was questioning my skills as a therapist.  My kid was struggling, her stomach aches were the body’s way of telling her, telling me, she was worrying. Every day she was worrying about having to walk into school and feel like she ‘wasn’t smart enough’. And I missed it.

Many steps later, she is now in an appropriate educational setting with an IEP and an amazing art therapist.   I have adjusted life so that I am more present for her. I let go of the guilt of what I missed and focus now on being present for what is.   We talk about her stomach aches, because while she still gets them, they are not nearly to the extent of last year. We talk about when her heart is sad or if her mind is worrying it may result in her stomach hurting.  We talk about the fact that it is okay to be sad, to have worry. Sometimes life is scary, or sad or frustrating. We are allowed to have feelings. I remind her of how smart she is, that she learns differently than other kids.  And I remind myself that when they discharged us from the hospital there was no training manual for how to raise a kid. I also remind myself that the hundreds of text books I read don’t measure up to the wonder and uniqueness of my little one.  And I remind myself when she wakes me at 3:00 in the morning and tells me there are monsters, that she is afraid of the dark. I remind myself that sometimes the best intervention is a string of lights in her window. I am going to have to slow down and ask what is going on, but sometimes I am simply going to have to check the closet and plug in the lights.