My kid has a demon

A month ago I started taking my six-year old to a therapist. He’s shy, and with the onset of first grade, he was talking less than ever. Pretty much his only means of communicating with his new teacher was by whispering into her ear.

When the threat of no recess (hers) and even the offer of a new LEGO set (mine) only seemed to make Gabe more anxious, I complained to another mom, who came to the rescue with a therapist recommendation. This isn’t the first time I’ve weighed the possibility of taking one of the kids to a therapist. In the past I’ve always decided against it, thinking that paying too much attention to the problem would only make it worse. This time, though, Gabe seemed genuinely fraught about going to school, so I called the therapist and Gabe and I have been visiting once a week since.

This week his therapist began with some art therapy. She handed Gabe a sheet of paper and a box of markers, and asked him to draw his worry as if it were an animal or a monster.

Gabe started to draw right away. He drew a devil engulfed in multicolored flames, and even before he finished it I was almost crying. “This is a worry demon,” he whispered into my ear. “He talks to me. He tells me he hates me, he’s stronger than me, and he’ll beat me up if I talk at school.”

I nodded, trying to figure out the questions that would help more than harm. While I was choosing my words, the therapist asked Gabe to draw a weapon that he could use against the worry demon. He turned to another page and drew a red and blue rocket. “This is a worry blaster,” he whispered triumphantly. “Whenever I talk, it blasts the worry demon into ashes and he DIES,” he explained into my ear. “The worry demon’s flames set off the rocket,” he finished, clearly proud of putting the demon’s flames to good use.

Gabe is only six years old. He and the other kids have had a relatively calm childhood so far, and play fighting with his sister and brother is his only actual daily torment. Yet, still, Gabe is living with a demon inside him. He, thankfully, has no idea that mental illness runs rampant on both sides of his family: schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and dissociative personality disorder, to name a few. No, thankfully, he has no clue that demons are a thing beyond television and Halloween. Hopefully I can protect him from that harsh reality for a very long time.

Yet something about the way he dove into his drawing, so sure of his worry demon, just breaks my heart. Something about the worry rocket, fueled by his demon’s flames, strikes me as uncanny.

The human mind is a mysterious place.


It’s been awhile since I posted something personal, I know. This demon thing has really gotten to me.

Where I grew up

Where I grew up, there were dumpsters next to the parking lot out front. I grew up in gritty strip mall suburbia in a crummy apartment that wasn’t hideous but it wasn’t pretty either. There was an asphalt covered play lot with a metal merry-go-round and a set of monkey bars but no swings. There were concrete tunnels for us to hide out in and those dumpsters always smelled bad but not as bad as that grape candy smell from the McCormick’s plant down the road.

Where I grew up, everyone was poor but us kids never knew we were poor. We existed in some alternate plane where we were queens and kings ruling from the top of the monkey bars and meting out punishments in the concrete tunnel dungeons. We held trysts in our gardens: the forsythia-lined collection of air-conditioning units. We were mean to each other and nobody told us to stop.

Where I grew up, we hid behind a tree and watched a couple of thirteen-year olds make out behind the bushes and we liked it. I can still taste my shame, hear my laughter, and feel my legs stretching to get away when they noticed us watching. Nothing will ever feel that good again.

Where I grew up I used to be brave. I walked by myself to the store starting when I was seven and a friend’s big brother used to chase me every time. I always narrowly escaped.

Where I grew up we had lug our clothes to the communal laundry room. More than once my clothes were tattooed by the neighborhood badasses, and after that we hung out in the hot small room while the clothes dried. My mom wanted me to be a good girl.

Where I grew up the kids were mean to me. They called me French fry because I was a skinny white girl and they used to push on me and nobody ever stopped them. The kids were mean to me and I had to deal.

Where I grew up everybody was just getting by. There was a girl named Brandy whose dad was a drinker. She and I were fraught, like girls always are. We fought as much as we played. My mom sort of adopted her for awhile until I don’t know what happened but we didn’t see each other anymore. Brandy was cool. I don’t think she minded dropping out of school in ninth grade to take care of her dad. I saw her a couple years later on her way out of the Planned Parenthood by the mall, her hands on her big belly.

Where I grew up I couldn’t stand to go outside on summer days because of the grape smell but I never really minded the dumpsters until I got to high school and had to beg rides home from the cool kids who had cars. You know, the ones who never saw a dumpster before. Where I grew up, I learned to like ugliness.

Where I grew up, I found a story around every corner.

Thanks for the inspiration, Samara.

Do you like grape gum?

Last week, I bought the kids a pack of grape gum. Anna asked for it, and hoping that she would behave in the line at the grocery store, I said okay. Outside I gave her a piece.

“Don’t you want one?” she asked.

“Nah,” I said. “I hate grape gum.”

“Why?” she asked.

“It reminds me of being a kid,” I told her. I doubt that made any sense to her.

When I was growing up, I lived with my mom in a crummy apartment building. Not the worst type of apartment building – it was in good condition, it had all of its shutters – but nothing fancy. Nearby there was a McCormick spice factory. On certain days when you walked outside that heavy grape smell hung in the air. It would almost choke me.

We were poor. My mom bought our food with food stamps, and my clothes were gifts or from the Salvation Army. I certainly never asked my mom for gum at the grocery store, and if I had she would have said no – and not because she wanted to. I grew up watching my mom add up the price of groceries on a piece of paper, carefully calculating all the costs before getting in line. I remember walking with her to and from the grocery store every week alongside a busy major street without sidewalks. Cookie cutter suburbia towered around us and oblivious people in cars would zoom past. And sometimes that overwhelming, cloying grape scent would make breathing impossible.

I grew up happy. My mom was always there, and she made me feel special. She taught me a lot about the important things, and she showed me how to have a lot of fun with whatever was right in front of us. But I always felt something was missing. I always felt a little bit scared at the grocery store. So now, I’m glad that I can buy Anna gum and have it just be gum. I’m glad it doesn’t dump her on a busy street behind an old lady cart like it does for me.

An update on Nate


So many people have asked me how Nate is managing, so I wanted to let everyone know that he is healing. it’s going to be several weeks before he can go without his bandage, but the doctors have assured me that his hand will heal normally. Right now it doesn’t sound like he will need any skin grafts.

He’s mostly back to his usual self, which means that he is up to trouble and we have to constantly chase him around as he runs away, now with his bandaged arm in the air.

I feel very lucky.


Me: A revision

You might have noticed that I’ve been talking more concretely about my kids lately. This has been a bit of a hard decision. Should I write about them at all? Is it a violation of my family’s privacy? What about using their names? For a while now, I’ve wanted to tell you more about them. I know that I could invent aliases, but it doesn’t feel natural to me to do that. So I’ve been using their names.

After my last post, I received a lot of comments from readers who were clearly confused about who Gabe is. I think I need to back up and tell you about my family.

Geoff and I have been married for almost 13 years. Our daughter, Anna, is seven. Our older son, Gabe, is five, and Nate, our baby, is almost two. They are funny, smart, great kids. I’m going to tell you more about them in future posts. Readers, I am trusting you. Please help me protect my family while I write my stories.


On preschool and secret languages

My five-year old graduated from preschool today. They had a little ceremony and marched in to Pomp and Circumstance, received diplomas. It was sweet.

My son, Gabe, is ready for kindergarten. I’m excited for him to start full-day school in a few weeks. He’s on the brink of learning to read, which is so great to witness. I love that he almost, but doesn’t quite, know how to put the letters together to make words, or how to translate the letters that are there into sounds. But he tries so hard.

The teachers at Gabe’s preschool speak Spanish. All are native Spanish speakers, and most of the kids in his school have parents who are native Spanish speakers. My daughter also went to this preschool, and now attends a Spanish-immersion program in our city’s public school system. Gabe will start there in August. He already speaks and understands lots of Spanish, thanks to preschool. He and his sister speak to each other a little, and I look forward to them sharing it more as they get older. Neither Geoff nor I is fluent in Spanish, so for the kids, it will be like their own secret language. I like that. I love the sounds of Spanglish floating around my house, and I love that my one-year old calls all cookies and crackers galletas.

I love that as my kids grow, the sounds of Spanish anywhere — here in our city, or in any other place — will always bring them back to being a kid in preschool. There is something so magical about the memories of early childhood, and how a sight or sound or smell can take you back instantly. Childhood seems somehow more vivid than the rest of life, and I like that my kids will have a whole language as signifying fodder.

I also love that the Hispanic teachers at my kids’ school treat them like family, that the kids know what it’s like to have a huge family with lots of cousins even though we don’t. The kids in Gabe’s class are relaxed, and no one is forced to make art projects or complete other tasks. They play. Parents can come and go in the classroom as they like, and the kids seem genuinely happy. Singing is nearly constant.

When Gabe starts kindergarten in six weeks, he will be comfortable with being on his own in a classroom. The sounds of Spanish around him will calm him, and he will be ready to learn. I’ll bet that he’s reading by October.

My five-year old has a third eye

Last week, my son signed up for the summer reading program at the library. The library provided a thoughtful prize: a third-eye tattoo. My son loves his. He put it on immediately and has been religiously careful not to wash it off.

I have to admit that I don’t know much about the third eye. My Google search revealed that the third eye offers perception beyond ordinary sight, and that it leads to a higher state of consciousness in which images have spiritual or psychological significance. But how does one get a third eye, aside from a kiddie tattoo from the library? Do we all have a dormant third eye, or is it a special gift? I think that I need to do some more reading on the subject.

In any case, my son has been asking about his third eye. I’ve tried to be honest without giving him too much information, you know? He’s only five, and I don’t think he’s ready to grapple with the full question of paranormal reality. So I told him that his third eye will let him see his Mom-Mom in heaven. He likes that a lot.

On the way to school today he told me that Mom-Mom is doing great in heaven and she is happy to see us. That made me smile. I’m glad for the link to the afterlife. Right after that, he licked my arm and then ran ahead to do his new happy dance, in which he sticks out his butt and wiggles it around while shaking his arms behind him.

There is nothing quite like a five-year-old boy.

A room of her own

Her room is a wreck. She’s hopeless at organization. Her five-year-old brother is neat and tidy, but her floor is strewed with laundry — dirty and clean — toys, books, and the occasional pencil.

Her walls are yellow with a woodland scene stenciled overtop, my creation. A post-it love note I wrote her a few weeks back hangs on the ceiling above her lofted bed. Her favorite stuffed friend, Duck, lies among her twisted blankets.

Late afternoon sun pours in through the windows, brightening the already cheerful room. On her desk lies her recent draft of a poem about baby chicks.

The room reeks of wild girl. It’s an animal scent with a hint of sweetness.

She’s seven and a half now, no longer just a little girl, certainly not a big kid. She’s busy inventing herself day by day, and she is just so careful about it. You’d be impressed. She chooses the most interesting friends with whom to align herself — her best friend with orange hair, and her one with yellow hair who makes her 3-D art each day, her friend Vincent who teaches her the ways of zombies, the quiet girl who is a vegetarian.

My daughter, she teaches me how to be curious, how to be cautious, how to be patient, and how to be joyful. I am so grateful for her.


P.S. Don’t worry, I picked up her room before bed.