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The other side of the door

Many parents have to go through this experience of sitting outside the therapist’s office. My young son is inside a room full of toys, musical instruments, a pet hamster, a dollhouse, a feelings chart and all sorts of games. There are crayons and Play-Doh, and the walls are painted in primary colors. I hear his voice, rising in his teasing tone, the way he speaks when most vulnerable and testing the limits of the adults around him. I don’t hear what he says. On the other side of the door, in the room just outside the therapist’s office, music plays while the air conditioning blows. Spotlights lend privacy to the chairs where I sit, alone, divided from a secretary by a tall desk. She’s speaking to somebody on the phone. I’m just sitting here, wondering where to put myself, where my son is putting me. I’m praying he puts me in a good place. Because I’m his mother. Because I admit that sitting outside the therapist’s office, where I know his heart is being projected on the toys, and intervention is administered through those same pieces of plastic, feels like judgment day. Why didn’t I protect him? Why did I,when he acted out of pain or rage, join the power struggle of bedtime and bath? Why couldn’t I, as the nurturer, take his pain away? I haven’t always been the best mother. My guilt is pressing at my skin. I feel judged; I come up lacking by my own assessment. And then there’s my son. I’m doing this for him. I’m paying more money for this than I would pay for a vacation. I take off the morning from work. I bring him here. I sit through the entire session, picking cuticles.

For the sake of its success, I can’t be part of the session, even though I’ve turned my life upside-down to be here. I’ve combed the area for a reputable therapist, one that would understand, would discern and would help, if not to set things straight, then at least to take the pain away. And it’s hard. Last time, when they were done, the therapist merely told me, “It was a good session.” Good? What’s good about this? Is it good that he’s been doing things I don’t want to know or find out about? Is it good that he’s talking about things that even his mother shouldn’t hear? Is it good that he’s developing trust with the therapist, now that the closest people in his life have been excluded, with the reassurance that “Whatever you say here stays safe with me”? I think that it’s good that we’re doing the right thing. It is good that for now, we’re not asking, Is this therapist the right shaliach? Is she doing more harm than good? Today, he’ll come out of the session beaming. I know he counted the days to be here. This morning, when I picked him up from school, he galloped up to me, feeling proud and privileged to come here. He likes it here. Why don’t I? Because it hurts. From the room, his voice now softer, I hear the words, “My mommy took the bike.” I shouldn’t be listening. I’m not trying to eavesdrop. I’m sitting here writing, but the words float in, and they nudge and awaken my already trampled heart. I’m excluded and I’m worried, and I have to trust the therapist, who won’t tell me more than “It was a good session.” That my son is coming along, learning his own way, healing. I have to trust them. Do they trust me? Probably not. Not after hearing the stories. And I so want to help. I, as his mother, want to jump in there like I’d dash through a blaze to save him. I want to make it all good. But not today.

Today I must stand aside and let the process happen. I have to learn to take my hands off my child’s life: to trust that given the toys and pet hamster and drum set and feelings scale, he’ll make the right choices himself. I have to learn to sit on the other side of a closed door, to hear his sweet voice, dripping with youth and emotions, talk about his mother, his father, his friends and siblings and life, and sort it all out, by himself. I have to know that, just like the moment he was born, just like when he exited my house in a tallis to go to cheder for the first time, as he runs out to ride around the block alone, and as he leaves the dinner table before eating the meal that I prepared, he is leaving me, each step bigger than the one before. I need to realize that he will one day leave me completely to make a life of his own. It’s starting today like it started on the day he was born. He’s growing. I’m mourning, watching the piece of my heart that I put into him walk out with him. But I know that he does take it with him. I look at him, longingly, proudly, knowing he takes along all the love. So as he sits there, talking about the pain he collected from his mother, or the times when his mother wasn’t there to protect him, he takes along the money, the time, the gift of privacy I give him. And I sit outside the therapist’s office, doing what many parents do. I let go.

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