A Barlow Christmas Carol

As we were sitting in our third therapy appointment in three days Wednesday (well, four if you count physical therapy), I was thinking ‘oh my gawd…who has three therapists?!’ Not us. Three would just be a start. We’re now up to four – eight if you count the ones we didn’t like or graduated from. It’s not nearly as hip as saying ‘We have three nannies, a daytime nanny, a nighttime nanny and a floater.’ Like, right now, for instance, I can feel some of your jaws dropping, some of you getting more comfortable and some of you sticking some popcorn in the microwave as you get the butterflies of ‘oh yes, this is going to be good.’

I do try to post honest, real life stuff. Real life stuff for us at the moment is making sure we only schedule one therapist per person per day so we can keep ahead of our mental health insurance. And, as a toast to those therapists, the reason there are four is because they all understand the importance of advocating. For instance, when we realized over the summer that we needed some group family counseling, we were steered away from Zoe’s counselor (who was at the heart of this need (Zoe, not the counselor)) so that she (the counselor) wouldn’t be put into a situation where she’d end up breaking five years of trust with Zoe if she (the counselor) happened to agree with us (the parents) here or there.

I have my own counselor – it was one of my rider demands upon moving here (along with a Kohl’s and Target and an agreement that I would not have to handle barf). She’s been essential in my entrance to wifehood and motherhood and not running naked through the streets of the Ville. Rich and I do use her for couple’s tune ups, on occasion, but we know that it if ever got weird for her (like if she figured out I was usually right), we’d add yet another person into the mix.

Then, out of the blue a few months ago, Rich decided maybe he’d like a counselor of his own. And by ‘out of the blue,’ I mean I’ve been suggesting this for years. Hello horse, here’s the water. And while I won’t go into too many details because that’s really up to him, I will say that he’s already come back with great advice and epiphanies after just a few sessions.

So yeah, that makes four.

There is a bit of a feeling of a rush to the finish right now. Zoe is less than a year from leaving us and, in the past six months, has really had a lot of residual junk bubble to the surface. It’s been pretty, well, shitty. Both for her (I imagine) and for her target (hi, table for one, please). It’s a tricky rope to walk – wanting to get everything ‘fixed’ before she goes but also knowing that going away will be the thing that helps ‘fixes’ things the most. It’s as tricky as digging through what are real issues versus issues that every parent of a 17-year-old is currently dealing with.

This week, I must have really hated Rich, because he ended up at all three therapist appointments in a row. Monday’s was supposed to be Zoe and her’s – but when we (the parents) got an inkling a few weeks ago that what was being translated in and out those sessions was not necessarily accurate, Rich and I invited ourselves. I’m not sure if anything was cleared up – despite three people in the room saying one thing, the look on the face of the fourth’s told us that she would just carry on with her own versions of life.

Parents, I will say this – and I am going to look like a complete moron, I know that, so please understand that I’m laying this out there for you – if your child is in therapy and there is zero feedback for, I don’t know, let’s say three years…get your ass in there. I’m really not sure why we (Rich & I) didn’t register it as strange sooner – that though Zoe was in the chair every other week for years, she’d never come home with any sort of ‘homework,’ talking points or agenda items. I suppose we just chalk it up to first kid stupidity (naive-ness?), but it was fairly clear during our most recent session that there were some missed assignments.

Second appointment of the week was for Rich. I would actually love to be Rich’s paid therapist. The nice (and also annoying) thing about Rich is he basically chats and cures himself each time he goes in, with little input from his counselor. It happens when we go together as well – the fawning…’oh, Rich, you are so insightful,’ ‘oh, you have such a good perspective,’ ‘do you know any saints?’ While I sit there like ‘but why do you think I was cranky after not eating for ten hours?’ I think he goes just to hear someone tell him he’s right. And I know I should try that now and then, but we haven’t reached that chapter in my life yet.

Third appointment was for family therapy. This is the newest addition to our docket and one that Zack and I drag our feet to. Zack, because he’s 14 and still unable to see the value in it (nothing gets fixed by talking, he says). Me, because I just don’t feel like it. The whole point of this regimine is to help resolve Zoe’s issues with us (Rich, myself, etc). But as the one with the laser dot on her forehead, I’m just kind of like ‘eh.’ The kid has worn me out. For sure a combination of being 17 and having a lot of repressed anger not so repressed anymore. Not repressed and, in fact, lying at my feet.

Our sessions are a bit like sparring matches where I really don’t want to say anything, nor does she – both happy to just sit there being angry with each other. Yes, there is soooooo much more to this story and yes, it will make an appearance on another entry but the summary is, I’ve gotten a real clear picture of all my faults, everything I’ve ever done wrong and been given responsibility for everything anyone else has done wrong, too (so, hey, you’re in the clear. You’re welcome).

Zoe and I have spent a lot of time orbiting around each other. Minimal eye contact, minimal communication, although there are also times when we really go for it with feigned interest in each other’s days. As the grown up, of course, I know this is likely (hopefully) not forever. As the grown up, of course, I know that a 17-year-old wouldn’t and maybe can’t understand that. So we carry on, approaching the holidays with a bit of apprehension while attempting to be perfectly normal. It’s fine, everything’s fine.

So, jumping into the holidays has been a bit more nerve wracking this year. Would we be able to survive two weeks of ‘together time?’ Would I find coal in my stocking? Cyanide? Would I be able to swallow my pride enough to pick out some thoughtful gifts? Yes, actually… that’s been covered with some help from Rich…currently the most patient husband on the planet. Essentially, up until Thursday, I thought the only thing that would ping me through this holiday season was a miracle.

And, God Bless, the Lawd provided one…

We added a new activity this year – altering our annual trek to the drive-thru-holiday-lights place to the city gardens walk-thru-holidays-lights place. Teens were piled in the car early Thursday evening either dragged or led to dinner and the Gardenfest of Lights at the local gardens. This place was crawling in decorations surrounding a beautiful arboretum and visitors’ center. Lights, lights and more lights. Always something to look at. Only two glitches – it was freezing and they, oddly, played no holiday music. There was still a lot of dancing around by Zoe and I, carefully placing ourselves away from each other in pictures lest we find out that a simple touch melted any of the emotional ice.

As we wrapped up our visit, nearing the buildings, glitch number three arrived in the form of my own gurgling stomach. Hmmm. At that exact moment, Zoe announced her need to go the bathroom, stat, and began jogging for what may have been the first time in her life. My stomach gurgled again. Oh dear. I picked up my pace and, by the time we entered the building, was desperately trying to get out of my gloves, coat and scarf. Rich stood by, oblivious, tapping away on his phone.

‘Babe, can I get some help!?’ Panic. Since my surgery, I am still very much a lefty. In all things. All. Which means nothing ‘extra’ can join me in the bathroom and especially not puffy jacket sleeves. I began my own sprint to the ladies’ room, bolted in, quickly scanned the stalls (relieved that only one was taken, presumably by Zoe – I am not a public pooper) and launched myself ass first onto the toilet, praying my pants would be down before I hit the porcelain.

Have you heard of Pompeii? Because what exited me was very similar.

Which began the following string of texts in the family chat:

Rich: I’m sitting outside the gift shop.

Zoe: I’m pooping my brains out

Rich: Woohoo!!! Ridem cowboy!
Jyl: (post explosion) I’m assuming you just heard my arrival….


Jyl: We’re basically in here dying. Like I want to send out the audio. [And we were, the effort was incredible]
Zoe: Is this what the therapist was talking about? With our good memories?

Yes, Zoe, I said aloud…this is exactly what Dad was talking about when he said he wanted to put us both in a room together to duke it out. I just didn’t think he meant this particular scenario. Please end this, she whispered back.

Rich: Hahahaha
Jyl: We can never leave. (At this point I was googling drugstores for some Imodium)
Zoe: I feel so bad for whoever enters This is awful, one of us said, like hazmat-able.
Rich: I’m sitting out here cackling. The people around me are looking at me like I’m insane.
Jyl: I’m in a lull…. but will there be more. I began googling drug stores and hoping we could get some Imodium in before we were asked to leave.
Rich: That’s just perfect. I’ll check that off my “torments my children endured before college” list.
At this point, we could hear knocking next door and ‘housekeeping…anybody in here?’

Jyl: If anyone walks in I’m lifting my feet so they don’t see me.
Rich: This is the best night of my entire life
Jyl: Now I’m playing Christmas music (it was John Lennon….and so this is Christmas…) What time do they close?
Here, Zoe began begging me to stop…indicating that now she was laughing/crying too hard. Good timing, actually, as I did slip out and into the arms of a mortified attendant, quickly taking the trash and vacating.

Jyl: No!!! I did in fact just leave…

When Zoe did reappear, we quickly agreed to never, ever, ever look at each other again for the rest of our lives. Now, four days later, I can say that we have actually looked at each other. We have also gained back some of our shared humor – the result of going to intestinal war together. I’ve thought about what kind of tshirt I could make her (Battle of the Butts? Poop-ocolypse 2019? The family that s**** together….?)

And, yes, we still have a loooooong road of things to deal with, but isn’t this an odd start back to it? I have no idea why that shared moment worked in the weirdest way. After months of basically ignoring each other, this is good news right?

You bet our ass it is.

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