–by Anna Gosman, guest contributor All Karen had said was, “Walk around the corner and grab your iPad from the beauty shop. I’ll wait for you in the car.” Her daughter had forgotten her iPad, and Karen figured the thirteen-year-old could run back to the shop to get it. It was safe – this was a small town, and things like kidnapping just didn’t happen here. Minutes ticked by. How long should it take to grab an iPad? Karen glanced at her phone. No calls, but that wasn’t a surprise. Becky never remembered to charge the battery – frankly, she never remembered to carry her phone. Fifteen minutes later, Karen turned off the car and stepped out into the street. Feeling slightly irritated, she walked around the corner and grabbed the door handle to the beauty shop, but it was closed. And no Becky in sight. This all started because of eyebrows. Several months ago, Becky had complained of feeling embarrassed by her thick, black eyebrows. Karen knew their long-time hairdresser, Tracy, could easily take care of the problem with a quick wax job. But the appointment hadn’t gone as planned. Karen had warned Tracy about Becky’s sensory issues, but neither of them expected a full-fledged meltdown. Tracy had managed to smear the warm wax under Becky’s eyebrows, but as she reached forward to rip the unwanted hairs from their roots, Becky had panicked, instinctively knowing it would be excruciating to her sensitive skin. Karen knew immediately what was happening. Becky had always struggled with an over-sensitivity to touch. She hated hugs. Gentle tapping on her shoulder was torture. She screamed when Karen brushed her hair. Taking a shower felt like acid tearing her skin, each drop burning its way down her body. This eyebrow business could be tricky. “Beauty is pain, Becky,” Karen joked, trying to calm her daughter while grabbing for her hands, pulling them down near her waist. Several times, Tracy tried counting to three, but it always resulted in Becky flinging her hands back to her face, eyes wide with terror. Why was it so difficult to sympathize with Becky? Karen looked at Becky and then at Tracy. “Just do it. Get it off. We’ve wasted enough of your time.” Tracy did as Karen had instructed and ripped the tape. Becky screamed, desperately trying to maneuver her hands out from beneath her mother’s. Karen held firm, sweat dripping down her face. It was over, and the eyebrows were thin and attractively shaped. But Karen was furious that something so simple, something that was supposed to strengthen her daughter’s self-esteem, had turned into yet another battle. No more eyebrows. Ever. Yet here they were again. It had taken months for Becky to convince Karen to let her return to Tracy’s shop. This time, Karen told her, they were not repeating a meltdown. And Becky had come through like a champion. Wax, rip, repeat. Just lovely eyebrows and a huge victory for all of them. But now Becky was missing. Karen’s mind whirred. Where was Becky? She scanned the sidewalk then headed back to the car, but Becky was nowhere to be found. Kidnapped. Raped. Lost. Where was her child? Becky may have been thirteen, but between her autism, ADHD, anxiety, and learning disability, she processed differently than most kids. How desperately Karen craved normalcy for Becky…and for herself too. Why should she feel bad about sending her to the shop alone? Just then, Karen saw someone running toward her in the distance. “Where have you been?” she asked her daughter, who was panting from her run down Main Street. “I couldn’t remember where the shop was,” Becky explained. ADHD. Karen could imagine Becky focusing on the wrong thing – not the directions, but the traffic and the lights and the people and the smells of downtown. “It was only around the corner,” Karen snapped, incredulous. “Where did you go? Did you cross the road?” Becky looked confused. “No. I just kept going straight.” Karen looked beyond Becky to where she knew her daughter had come from. No phone call; no request for help. Karen knew Becky would have been too afraid to ask someone on the street. Anxiety. Karen realized Becky didn’t even understand her mother’s mood. Autism. Becky, still confused, asked, “Are you upset?” Slow processing speed. Her learning disability was muffling her thoughts. “Yes! You could have been kidnapped! You could have been dead! I had no idea where you were! You ran off alone without even telling me.” “Sorry,” Becky said, shrugging her shoulders. Karen urged her daughter back toward the car, knowing she’d have to return tomorrow for the iPad. She set her hand on the steering wheel and glanced in the rearview mirror. Her lovely daughter. Her daughter’s lovely eyebrows. How could such a normal day with such simple tasks become so complex, a tangle of love and frustration, longing and grief, pain and relief? Was this normal motherhood? Was this what it was to love a daughter with a disability? Her eyes glazed with tears. “Mom?” Becky sheepishly called out. “Sorry I made you mad. What’s for supper?” Reality. Or at least reality for them—for today. And that would have to be enough.
Movies that Matter: Paper Tigers – A Discussion with Jim Sporleder
ATN is commemorating Children’s Mental Health Month (May) and PTSD Month (June) with three Movies that Matter. On May 11, ATN gathered for a Q&A