Authors: Leslie Carroll
“I know what you mean. My husband hasn't been home for dinner in days. It sounds like a lot of your anger is stemming from the fact that you feel like you're doing everything yourself.
What I'm hearing is that you need someone to pick up the slack and look after Isaac so you can at least take that well-deserved bubble bath. Given his position, I would imagine that Eric's income would enableâ” I began.
“Definitely,” Amy interrupted. “He's a corporate lawyer.” I thought about Carol Lerner again. What is it about that profession that morphs people who probably began life as mensches into monsters? “I was a lawyer too, until I was in my eighth month,” Amy continued. “We both worked at Newter & Spadeâwell, Eric still does. He just made partner, so he's working harder than ever to prove he now
to be thereâafter seven years of slaving away just to get there in the first place.”
“Soâ¦have you ever considered getting some help?” I asked Amy.
“Oh, we have a housekeeper. Meriel is a rockâI would never have gotten all our unpacking done after the move if it hadn't been for her, even though I don't think she likes dogs very much, and I'm certainly not about to get rid of Hector. My Chihuahua. I've had Hector since before I had Eric. But I would never have someone take care of my
I even wash Isaacs's things myself. His onesies, his blankieâ¦all that. Even his dirty didies. I won't put any plastic products anywhere near my baby's privates, so it's strictly cloth diapers for Isaac. Meriel cleans the house and walks Hector and does my laundry and Eric's, but I never understood why people have children just to foist them off on someone else. Besides, my mother won't hear of it. She says that particularly at the very youngest stages, a baby is so impressionable that it should never be left in the care of anyone other than a parent or a grandparent.”
“Well, then, what about asking your mother to help you out? It sounds like you could really use some downtime.”
Amy wrinkled her nose. “My mother hates the smell of poop.”
Major breakthrough in accepting husband Ben's permanent absence by sleeping on “his side” of the conjugal bed. Encouraged her to continue to take stepsâat her own paceâtoward living for herself, rather than continuing (Ã la Queen Victoria) to live the existence she believes her late husband would have wished her to. Reminded client that Ben would have been pleased to see her treating herself well. While Faith characteristically tends to play it safe, rarely takes risks and typically resists change, she seemed open to the suggestion this time.
Breakthrough in her therapy when she serendipitously discovered that dancing during her session enabled her to open up in a way she'd never been able to do previous to this session. I took a leaf from Bradford Keeney's playbook and encouraged this creative, nontraditional approach, which I anticipated would be particularly effective with artists who thrive under that kind of stimulus. The effect on Talia was stunning and immediate. We need to work steadily on client's self-esteem issues, though, and explore abandonment issues as they relate to her recent divorce, termination from the Martha Graham company, and fear of losing her job at City Ballet. Must steer discussion toward mother's damaging negativity and help Talia recognize and accept that her mother lacks the tools in her bag of tricks to ever make Talia feel worthy, and to encourage client to accept that this is her
bundle of issues, not client's.
New client. Needs to focus on letting go of her anger. Session helpful in that she acknowledged that she could use some domestic relief to help reduce the stress of caring for a
newborn. I need to work with her on helping to find solutions to this dilemma, rather than looking to assign blame for her predicament.
to Eli about his forgetting our anniversary instead of imploding about it. Ditto his increasing absence from the dinner table and two
. arrivals home. As much as I found Amy Baum's anger somewhat off-putting, I can relate to her situation perhaps more than I can to my other laundry room clients' presenting complaints, except perhaps for Talia, in that she's a dancerâenjoying a degree of success in the field I had to forego.
I empathize with the eating disorder issues as well. Last week a health center client asked me point-blank why I became a psychotherapist. While my first response had something to do with wanting to make the world a better place, my client actually challenged me and said, “Noâ
” I told her about my experiences as a dance student in college, the related body image issues that led to my bulimia; and how, when I switched from a dance major into the psych program, I faced and overcame my fears of science classesâthe frightening specters of courses like neurophysiology and biochem. I wanted to understand and then make sense of the emotional and psychological causes and effects of my illness.
But back to my issues with Eli: rather than dealing with the issue head-on, I'm stewing in resentment over his behavior and letting it affect my mood, my appetite, and my sleep, as well as my sessions on occasion (for example when there's an emotional trigger, such as when Faith came right out and said Eli should pamper me.)
Also must focus on better management of my time, so Ian doesn't arrive late to his auditions. That's potentially sabotaging my son. What's
Consider taking dog to vet for incontinence problem. Or is he acting out too? While I'm an obvious proponent of psychotherapy, I think pet shrinks are as faddish as pet rocks. Perhaps Sigmund just needs a refresher course from the obedience trainer.
for obedience training if she doesn't stop cutting classes.
Progress? If progress is a measure of success, I'm not a very shining example these days. In fact, I feel more like a hamster on a wheel. Do hamsters ever wish they could actually
“I don't like de sound of daht cold, Susie. A summah cold is a bad ting,” Meriel said in the lilting Jamaican cadences that always make me crave a mai-tai. I adore the music of her voice. It has a way of relaxing and warming me like the sun on an early spring morning. “I studied nursing, you know, back in Jamaica, but sick people make me unhappy; too much for de emotions, you know. I don't have de tick skin you need to be a nurse. Did you try my remedy?”
“You mean the warmed rum, honey, and whole cloves?”
“Daht's de one,” smiled Meriel proudly. “An old fahmily recipe. Guarantee to knock out anyting!”
“It knocked out
“I told her. “I drank a cup of it at around nine
., and the next thing I knew Ian was telling me he needed a permission slip signed before he left for school that morning. And I've still got the cold.”
“Ahhhâ¦but when it knock you out, you get de rest you need, so you can get bettah!”
“But enough about me,” I kidded. “Let's talk about what's bothering you today.”
Meriel checked her watch. “Mrs. Amy always wonder why I stay down here with de wash instead of coming upstairs to do de dusting in the meantime. I tell her I worry someone else take her clothes out and leave them on de dirty table if I am not here when de light goes out.” She rose from the couch. “I don't feel so bahd about sitting down here now and talking wit' you, now daht dere's one less machine. I have to watch more closely in case someone else want a machine dis early. She so busy wit' Isaac she don't remember de room's not open for business now.”
There was some truth to Meriel's claims about the machines, though. We were now down to five from half a dozen. The washer with Ian's “boggart” in it had died the following day, but remained in the laundry room with a length of yellow tape stretched across it, as though the defunct unit were part of a crime scene.
“Now you tell me what it is about white people and deyr dogs!”
“What do you mean?” I asked, lost in Meriel's non sequitur.
“Daht stupid Taco Bell dog Mrs. Amy and Mr. Eric have. She treat it like it's one of de fahmily. Now she have a child and it's like she still don't know de difference between a pet and a person. Do you know she dress up daht dog like a doll? Daht dog has a raincoatâBurberry plaidâshe don't even have a designer raincoat for herselfâand even a little matching hat. She have a red white and blue Uncle Sam outfit coming up for de Fourt' of July. And in de winter, she tells me, it has boots so its paws don't get hurt by de salt on the streets that melt de snow. So now I get to look forward to walking a circus animal when de weather turn cold. Then she have a ballerina tutu for it that she ahsk me to put on to take de dog to a costume pahty at de dog run in Riverside Park. And de animal is a male! It almost bite me when I try to dress it like a girl. I swear to God I get embarrass when I have to walk de stupid ting.”
I blushed, realizing that while our dog is never dressed like a Barbie doll, Sigmund does wear a bandanna on occasionâand when Molly was about twelve, she once tried to pierce his earsâand he does sleep on a comfy cushioned “bed” from Orvis, rather than on the floor, or outside, which is where Meriel insists dogs belong. Of course we all live in apartments, so outside is outside of the question.
“So, what I want to know before my time is up for today, so I can get a good night's sleep tonight, isâtell me what it is you white people have with your dogs?”
NAOMI AND CLAUDE
“I can't help it that I'm infertile!” Naomi snapped, at the end of her tether two seconds into the beginning of their session.
“And I can't help it that I'm Chinese!” Claude said, as rational as Naomi was peevish.
“We just found out from the agency down in Georgia that lesbian couples aren't allowed to adopt Chinese babies,” Naomi said, “so we have to start the paperwork all over again. And since we can only pick one of us to be the adoptive mother, and very few single women are allowed to adopt from China, Claude thinks she has a better shot at it and she's cutting me out.”
The women had tried the in vitro route, but it did in fact turn out that Naomi is infertile. Claude suffers from endomitriosis, so she isn't going to be a biological mother either. They chose to adopt a little girl from China even though the process takes two to three times longer than adoption from Latin America, Haiti, Russia, or the Balkans, because Claude feels very strongly about the ill treatment of females in her native culture and believes
that adopting a Chinese girl is a political stand as well as a personal intervention. I hoped their little girl would turn out to be an absolute angelâ¦and not eventually become a teenager like Molly, so sullen and angry at the world, channeling her adolescent rage into any opportunity to get attention, as if attention were something she had ever been denied.
“You are! You
cutting me out!” Naomi spat at Claude. “Literally! Tell her! Tell Susan what you did to me last night.” She lapsed into her nervous “tic,” bringing her long dark braid forward and beginning to split the ends of her hair.
“I didn't do anything
you,” Claude replied.
“Okay, Claude. Naomi. Naomi, what do you think Claude âdid' to you last night?”
“I told you; she cut me out.”
“Gee, you two, I'd love some specifics so we can work on what's really the core of the issue here. Let's revisit how you two usually handle major decisions in your partnership.”
I received my answer from the more even-tempered Claude. “Fifty-fiftyâmost of the time. We've always been very concerned about being sensitive to that when it comes to the big stuff. But stuff like the nuts and bolts of the adoption issue is something we've never faced before, never even imagined we'd
to face. Since I'm now going to be the sole adoptive parent, I have to compile a bunch of photos of me that will make the bureaucrats believe I'm straight and send them to the agency for my dossier. And I have all these pictures of me and Naomi with our arms around each other and stuff like that, andâ¦I had to do a Photoshop number on the ones that were on our computer and replace Naomi with the image of a guy who's a friend of ours. And with some of the old prints, I had to snip off the half of the pictures that Naomi was in, because it was so obvious she was my lover. Soâ¦yeahâ¦I guess I did
literally cut her out, but it wasn't with malice or anything.” Claude gave her partner a much beleagured, though compassionate, look, but her attempt to connect was pointedly ignored.
“I can't even go to China with Claude unless I pretend to be just her friend. Obviously I can't say I'm her
” Naomi fumed. “Funny, you don't
Chinese,” she simpered. “I told her, we should just say fuckit and adopt from another country.”
“No. It has to be China,” insisted Claude. “You're not changing my mind on that one.”
“Lookâ¦I hate to shine a spotlight on the obvious, and I'm going to warn you that I'm not speaking to you right now with my impartial therapist hat on, but the world is what it is,” I said. “You know that's true. And the reality is that you're not going to change it overnight. A grimmer reality is that you may never succeed in changing it at all. So. You have a lot to think about. But basically we're looking at two major options. In this situation you can choose to be rebels and allow your individual agendas to divide the two of you, or you can chose to be parents and let the situation unite you even more. I know it may sound like a deal with the devil, and it
in some respects. I know it pisses you off; and the stakes are really high no matter which road you take. Frankly, I see it this way, and you're welcome to disagree with me, but you two womenâeven if Claude has to be the mom on paperâcan give a, wellâ¦âdiscarded' little girl from across the world a loving home with myriad opportunities and advantages.
where you get to make your difference.”
I flashed on my own background: being carried on my dad's shoulders to rallies against the Vietnam War in Washington Square Park; as a preteen marching in support of the Equal Rights Amendment alongside my mom in matching tie-dyed tee-shirts that we'd made ourselves in the kitchen sink, spattering Rit and Tintex all over the avocado-colored kitchen appli
ances; carrying black balloons to my college graduation as a protest against apartheid in South Africaâ¦and I wondered how all the ideals I was raised with had manifested themselves in the adult Susan Lederer. Here I am, middle-class, and technically middle-aged, since all my ancestors never lived beyond their eighties (although, as they used to say, “Life begins at forty,” and I'm still waiting for something new and different to happen any day now). I've recently realized that I'm more
middle of the road than I ever expected to be. Well into adulthood I've discovered that pragmatism is the thick dark border now drawn around the image that during my youth used to be boldly, colorfully, and deliberately scribbled outside the lines.
It's sort of like the kid who's a hellion hearing her frustrated mother's constant refrain “Just wait till you're a mother!” and then finding out years later, to considerable dismay, that she was right.
As I listened to Claude and Naomi argue, it occurred to me that I'd been making an incorrect assumption about identity. Naomi, who has an Italian-American background, saw herself as a lesbian first. Claude's primary cultural identity was different: she was a Chinese-American first and foremost. The adoption issue had brought the question of cultural identity into high relief, and with each of the partners having a different primary cultural identity, accomplishing a smooth resolution was going to be a tricky goal.
“You are in fact getting to make a political statement by adopting a Chinese girl,” I reminded Naomi. “Even though it's currently at odds with the other one you wish to make. But one thing we really need to talk about is what kind of a home you'd be bringing this little girl into if you and Claude don't work
“Baby, you know I love you,” Claude said, reaching for Naomi's hand. “You're my girl.”
Naomi pulled away. “I know. It's not about that. And you know it. It's a whole lot bigger than that. When the agency sends the fresh paperwork, Claudeâ¦? Don't ask for my help. I don't want to even watch you fill it out.”
I believed I'd said the right thing, at least I'd expressed as a compassionate friend what needed to be put on the table, but as a shrinkâeven though confrontation can be an effective therapeutic tool in certain circumstancesâI felt like shit as I watched Naomi scowl. My unorthodox sessions occasionally drift into uncharted waters. In a totally conventional situation, couples therapists aren't supposed to appear to be taking sides.
AND THEN THERE'S MALA SONIAâ¦
WHO ISN'T A CLIENT
Mala Sonia is the super's wife: proud, poorly educated, a genuine Gypsy. She resents my early morning therapy sessions because she likes to come into the laundry room and use all the machines before anyone else can get to them. I have never seen a woman with so much laundry. The no-hogging rule doesn't apply to her since her husband Stevo will blacklist the tongue-wagging tenant. God help themâbecause Stevo won'tâthe next time they have a leak or require the exterminator. Mala Sonia, like her husband, calls herself a born-again Christian and does things like cross herself whenever she runs into “blasphemers” like Claude and Naomi (only she gets the second half of the gesture backward), and mutters in Romanyâa language I am learning in dribs and drabs thanks to Eli, who is drawing a graphic novel called
Gia the Gypsy Girl.
Last Sunday morning I asked him if “Gypsy” was un-PC, since he's always so hypersensitive about that kind of stuff, but he told me that his editor preferred an alliterative title to a PC one; and besides, everyone except the Gypsies still calls them Gypsies. “Now if you called them âthieves,' that might be a bit on the un-PC side,” Eli had said sarcastically, spreading Neufchatel on his whole wheat bagel.
Mala Sonia entered the laundry room and spat at the two lesbians.
“Te bisterdon tumare anava!”
She turned her back on Naomi and Claude and crossed herselfâthe wrong way, as usualâthen sat on the couch and thumbed through an issue of
that was so old it featured Ben Affleck and J. Lo's engagement on the cover.
“What the hell did she say this time?” Naomi muttered crossly.
“May your names be forgotten!” I translated under my breath, and Claude laughed.
“You're too kind, Mrs. Badescu,” Claude replied loudly, giving Mala Sonia a huge smile. She turned to me and whispered,
supposed to do when she does that? Curse back at her in Mandarin and tell her that her ancestors slept with goats? What purpose is it going to serve, except to make the one doing the cursing feelâ¦what? Better in some sick and twisted way?”
“Yeah,” Naomi said, emptying their washer. “World peace is a goal that only Miss America contestants still think is realistic. Unfortunately.”
Alice Finnegan came downstairs with another load. “These clothes are mine this week,” she said to me. “Oh, are you waiting?” she asked Mala Sonia. Alice gave a resigned little shrug. “I guess I'll come back later then.” Mala Sonia began to stare at Alice, who visibly shuddered under the intensity of her gaze. “What? What'd I say? Did I say somethingâor do somethingâwrong?”
“You have deep sorrows,” Mala Sonia told her, wearing an Oscar-worthy expression of sheer empathy.
“A-ko isi pomo shinava tumen.
Maybe I can help you. Let me give you a reading.”