Teens and shrinky cupcakes

So, we talked about the shrinky cupcake. I had been okay all week. Emailing had given me my connection to Bea back, and up until Wednesday morning, I was okay. As I walked into her office, though, the teen’s anxiety, embarrassment and hurt took center stage in my head. I did what I always do in those moments; I shoved the teen aside and let Ms. Perfect run the show.

Bea isn’t fooled by Ms. Perfect any longer, but she will let Ms. Perfect have her bubble of perfection for a bit before Bea pops that bubble. We talked about Halloween and school activities I had organized, and I showed Bea pictures from the Halloween festival in our town square. (Side note, I would love to live in Stars Hollow because the town seems so great with all their wacky festivals, but in all actuality, the town that hubby and I live in is very much like stars hollow― complete with the town square and a gazebo, a diner with great coffee and many, many festivals for weird and wacky things)

Eventually Bea said, “I think Ms. Perfect is here today. I can tell because of the here-not-here feeling and the upbeat chatter. I’m wondering if there are other parts that would like to talk but are feeling scared or upset?” Bea really doesn’t pull any punches anymore when Ms. Perfect is around. I hate it sometimes, but it is a good thing because if you aren’t straight forward like that, Ms. Perfect is very good at avoiding things and changing the subject.

As soon as Bea outed Ms. Perfect, all the teen’s feelings rushed back in. I looked at my hands, picked my fingers, and didn’t answer.

“We need to talk about the cupcake.” Her tone was gentle and calm, but firm. She wasn’t going to budge on this.

I grabbed blue cloud pillow off the couch and hid my face. “Maybe you do, but I don’t need to talk about it.” The teen’s words shot out from my mouth before I could gain control of the situation.

“I know. You really don’t want to talk about this. I just think that I upset you, and you have every right to be mad at me. But we do need to talk about this.”

“Why? Why do we have to talk about something that wasn’t even a thing until you turned it into a shrinky thing?” I snapped.

“I guess, well, because I did turn it into a thing and we need to talk about that. Otherwise, it is like how you grew up, and that can feel lonely and awful. I think its better, even if it feels hard and uncomfortable, to air things out. I don’t want things festering and sitting between us, and I know you don’t like it when things feel like that. It makes the relationship feel unsafe.” Bea answers slowly, like she is trying to find the words to explain to me why she thinks it’s important we talk this out.

“But I wasn’t upset! I was fine. It was all fine until you turned it into a shrinky thing. I wasn’t upset until you did that.”

“It really upsets you when I make things feel shrinky. I wasn’t trying to do that. I know did, and I’m sorry. I was worried, and I wanted to make sure you weren’t stuck with bad feelings, like worrying that I was expecting something of you because I gave you a gift, or feeling like I crossed a boundary that you had set by telling me earlier in the week that you were ignoring your birthday. I didn’t want you stuck with that all week.”

“But I wasn’t! I was fine! I didn’t feel any of those things! I wasn’t stuck with any bad feelings until you made everythung go shrinky right before you were leaving and then I was stuck with those feelings for a week!” My face is buried in cloud pillow, and I feel like I am yelling because there is anger in my voice, but while the words come out short and snappy, they are said barely above a whisper.

“Okay. I thought you looked uncomfortable when I gave you the cupcake. Maybe that is my stuff, and not yours. Can you tell me what you felt when I gave it to you?”

I sigh. “That it was nice of you.”

“What about below the surface?” Bea pushes, just a bit. The way she says it, it’s like a gentle nudge.

I stare at the floor, at my hands, at the bin of stuffed toys sitting on the floor near me. After what feels like forever, I ask, “Can I have the blanket?” Sometimes I say *my* and other times I say *the*. It seems to be the little girl and the grown up who will ask for *my blanket*, and the teen who refuses to call it hers, even though Bea calls it mine.

“Sure.” I hear her get up, and then she covers me with the blanket.

I sit there, hiding and not wanting to talk, trying to find the words. Realizing that my parts all felt differently, I decide I can safely and easily talk about the little girl and maybe the grown up’s reactions. “The little girl……for her, it really was simple. She was happy to get cake.” I shrug.

“It makes sense that different parts felt different,” Bea says. “I’m glad the little girl was happy.”

“The…..the grown up……that was…..well, she thought it was nice of you, but it also made her….sad…..sort of nostalgic for…..I guess for birthdays in years past, for the time when she would have danced in here singing about her birthday and expecting a cupcake because, well, I guess because Grandpa believed she was a gift and should be celebrated and she believed it because he did. And thats not……it doesn’t feel like that anymore. The last time my birthday felt like that was six years ago, before Grandpa was sick. I don’t……its sad because things won’t feel like that again. So maybe that is what you saw. It didn’t have anything to do with you. Just sadness and nostalgia for the way things used to be.” My voice cracks as I mention Grandpa, tears streaming down my cheeks as I speak.

“He loved you so much. He really did. And you do deserve to celebrate and to sing and dance on your birthday if you feel like it again. You lost a lot, and it is understandable that you would be sad about it. If that is what I was picking up on, I am truly sorry for making it a thing and upsetting you. And I apologize for not fully picking up on that sad feeling.” Her voice is warm and caring as she talks to me.

“It’s okay. None of the parts are really upset or mad anymore.”

Bea waits, to see if there is more, and when I don’t she asks, “And what about the teen? How did she feel?”

I groan. The teen doesn’t want to discuss this. “That it’s fine. She’s not mad anymore.”

“If she was, that would be okay. And I understand why she was mad with me,” Bea says simply.

“I’m not mad.”

“Okay.”

We sit quietly, Bea waiting patiently, and me trying to find the words, to figure out how to put them together to make sense. “I don’t…..the teen doesn’t….(I was having a lot of trouble keeping the grown up in charge, so while I did try, the teen was definitely running the show.) ……like talking about relationships with the person……you know?”

“I know. It’s incredibly uncomfortable for her.”

“Why is this so hard for me? It’s impossible,” I grumble, frusterated with myself.

“It definitely feels that way, doesn’t it? Why do you think it’s hard?”

Frustrated, and feeling like Bea literally just did the shrink thing of turning a question back around, I snap, “If I knew that, I wouldn’t be asking!”

Bea chuckles softly. She enjoys the teen’s snark. “Very true. I think it’s because for so long the teen had no voice, no one but Ms. Perfect had a voice, and so some of it is learning that it’s okay. I think some of it is when the teen did use her voice, it wasn’t very well received. I want to know what she has to say, and I promise to listen and to try to understand.”

I sigh. Take a deep breath. “I……..I thought….” my voice wobbles. “I thought it was………………. nice. I liked that you thought……………. about me not just here (in Bea’s office). It….it was like……it made me feel like you cared. It……….felt……..good.” I feel vulnerable, exposed. This feels dangerous. I do not like to tell people when they make me feel cared about, or that I like feeling cared about.

“I do care,” Bea tells me, in her serious voice. “I know this feels vulnerable, and uncomfortable, but these are all good things to feel. And it is safe to feel them.”

“No. No no. This isn’t……not good. It’s not okay.”

“Because it feels like too much?” Bea asks.

“No. Yes. No.” Frustrated, I snap at Bea again, “I don’t know! Okay? I just don’t know how to explain this.”

“That’s okay. Just take your time. There’s no rush.”

“When……..as soon as……if I feel cared about then…….I think what you felt, what you noticed was…..I felt like you cared, and that felt good but right away, then I feel bad and I can’t…….it’s just…..so then it just has to go away, all the feelings I just have to shut them down.” I shake my head. I’m not making sense.

“Why do the bad feelings come up?” Bea’s voice is the soothing one she uses for the most hurt parts of me.

“Because……..” I don’t want to answer this. The teen doesn’t want to answer this. I feel tears falling again, shame heats my face and every muscle in my body is tense and shaking. I only want to run away. This feels too painful to say.

“Because…..?” Bea prompts.

“I…..it’s like……..I don’t get to……I mean, because I don’t have the right…………………. to want ………..people ……….to care…………..about me……………I’m not good. I can’t……I can’t do this. I’m sorry, I can’t.” Huge, wracking sobs come pouring out of me. I can’t stop shaking.

“You don’t feel like you deserve to be cared about. That is painful. And it is not true. You do deserve to be cared about.” Bea has tears in her voice. I’ve made her sad.

I want to tell her it’s more than that. I want to tell her that bad things happen when you feel those good feelings of being cared about. I want to tell her that I desperately want someone to care about me, just me, even with all the bad and messy and complicated pieces that make up who I am, that I want that, crave that, but it’s not okay. It’s not okay because I don’t deserve that, and when I think I have it, very bad things happen. So I can’t. I can’t feel the warmth of being cared about without all the icky feelings creeping in. I want to have a way to explain this without sounding like a crazy person. But I’m unable to weave the words together in a way that makes sense.

Bea doesn’t ask for more explanation, and she doesn’t tell me to stop crying. She just sits with me, letting me cry until my sobs slow and I can breathe again. She murmurs things about the teen really not liking herself, and how that is painful, and how the teen got so many negative messages about herself, and how she really does enjoy the quirky, snarky teen. Bea reminds the teen that if the teen were 21, she is someone Bea would have a beer with (this was something Bea told the teen a long time ago when the teen accused Bea of liking Ms. Perfect and only wanting the teen to be like Ms. Perfect.)

As awful and painful and uncomfortable as it was to talk about, and as unfinished as the conversation felt to the teen who still feels a need to explain better, strangely, I feel lighter. Nothing bad happened, Bea is still here, she didn’t call me crazy or seem confused by the complicated mess of my feelings around being cared about. And, the teen wants to write some in her notebook to share with Bea. She want to sort it out. She doesn’t want to feel bad anymore.

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