minus 5

In early 2002, Youngest came home from second grade and asked me if I could be his therapist.  Since I was in a social work program at the time, this question was not as out-of-left field as it might seem.  I told him that I couldn’t be his therapist because I was already his Mom, but that if he wanted to go to a therapist, I would find him one.

We went to see the therapist fifty times – and I do mean we.  He had no interest in spending time alone with his therapist.  He always wanted me in on the sessions – Monopoly isn’t much fun with only two players.

So out of the 2475 minutes he spent with his therapist, if I subtract the sessions when Mate took him, I was with him in the sessions for 2250 minutes – minus five.

One day something happened at school and Youngest was uncharacteristically reticent about the details.  Though I pressed him for information as we drove over to his therapist, he refused to tell me anything. Stymied, I suggested that he might tell his therapist what happened.

“OK," he said with a tinge of defiance, "I will.”

We arrived at the therapist’s waiting room.  Youngest went through the double doors to the office, deliberately shutting first one and then the other behind him.  Ten seconds passed.  I barely heard his voice over the noise-machine whirring in the corner.  Suddenly the door was flung open and Youngest thrust his head out.  “Could you hear me?” he demanded.  I assured him I could only hear sounds, not words. "I was just yelling,” he said, "I haven’t told him yet." He withdrew.

I flipped through a magazine and wondered what this meant. Heinz Kohut believed that the first undecteded lie was an important developmental milestone for children.  In successfully lying to his previously omnipotent parent, the child internalizes some of his parent’s power. This increase in his power is compensation for the dimishment of his parent’s.  I wondered if Kohut might have missed something.  It is not the lie that is necessary, but the secret.

Because I had been especially close to Youngest, I knew that at some point he would need to draw a line between us. This was it.  As I sat there waiting for him, I saw all the future secrets stretch out in front of me.  Like images in facing mirrors, closeness and loss bounced endlessly upon each other.

Five minutes passed, and Youngest opened the door. He had a sly and triumphant smile on his face.  I suggested that he might like to continue the session alone with his therapist, but he shook his head.  We went back in the office and he carefully shut the doors behind us. Then we got back to our Monopoly game.Img_2984


2 thoughts on “minus 5

  1. It’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? I think the importance of the act is found in the child making a decision to keep something private. It is the first testing of the omnipotence of the parent – a checking to see if we really do have eyes in the backs of our heads.

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