A few days later, just as David and I are getting used to Still Dora and reacquainting ourselves with the verb that made us parents to begin with, Dora wakes up spitting mad at everything from the general injustice of having to wake up for school to the fact that she has no blue socks and by the way she never gets blue socks but Daria from school has all blue socks and all the other colors but Dora never gets ANYTHING the other girls have because her hair is thin and UGLY!
Anything I say makes it worse.
“NOTHING YOU SAY WILL EVER CHANGE THE FACT THAT MY HAIR IS THIN! AND YOU KNOW IT’S TRUE SO STOP PRETENDING IT’S NOT!”
Channeling Caillou’s mom sets her over the edge.
“AND STOP talking to me like I’m a baby, with your super-soft low voice all ‘Now Dora, just take a breath…’ I’m NOT a baby!”
Ignoring also doesn’t work.
“Mom? Mo-om? Are you even listening to me?! Nice, you don’t even listen to your own daughter!”
“Okay, honey. What –”
“— STOP calling me ‘honey’! Just STOP IT! I hate that low voice you use! I’m not a baby!”
“ Okay –”
I don’t even know what voice to use. I feel blindfolded and spun around, my hands up in front of my chest. I pick what I pray is a neutral voice,“Okay, then. Yes?”
“Well, I don’t want to be mean, Mom, but your hair? It looks really, really bad. I think you have dandruff.”
It’s so surprisingly cruel that I almost snap. Almost. I don’t snap because this is not Dora.
I don’t know what this is, but I do know this is not Dora.
When I tell her she’s hurt my feelings, she crumbles and cries.
“It feels so bad to hurt you Mommy I’m so sorry!” Her little arms reach up to me the way she used to reach for me from her crib, “Mommy! Oh my Mommy! I’m sorry!”
You might think this would be the end, the part where we dust ourselves off and head to school but it is not. She has overcorrected into a deep well of guilt and shame that no amount of hugging or forgiveness will satisfy.
I try laughing a little to lighten the mood, “Honey, see? Look at my face. I’m fine! Would I be smiling if you hurt my feelings?”
“STOP LAUGHING AT ME!” she screams, and justlikethat we are back to fury and suddenly I am holding her wrists to keep her from clawing her face.
What the — ?
My blood runs ice cold through my veins and my heart is a racehorse but my mind, oddly, is crystal clear. Extraordinarily clear.
Remain calm. It instructs. Get through the next second. Good. Now the next one.
After a few minutes she relents, exhausted. She just lays there limp sprawled out on the stairs, a red-faced, wet puddle of a girl.
“Mommeeeee,” she moans, “Mommeeee-eeee”.
I want to scoop her in my arms and press her against me forever but I’m afraid to set her off again so here is what I do: I stand up and turn on the television. I give zero effs that she hasn’t earned enough Daily Behavior Points for screen time because we’ve clearly entered the Wild West of Behavior Land, the part of town where behavior charts are for pussies.
Television works. She calms down, easily pulled into the psychedelic world of the Wizard Of Oz. I will serve this pixelated sedative all day long if that’s what it takes to keep my child from drowning in a pool of misery.
I have never kept her from school for a behavioral reason and the idea scares me to the marrow. To the marrow. Even the punching feeling is absent. Fuck this scene, it said. You’re on your own.
I sneak into the garage to call Dr. Ivy, who increases Dora’s dose, explaining her reasoning slowly and clearly, the way one might speak to their elderly relatives over speakerphone, “The pill form is longer-acting, you see. Now if Dora were taking the pill instead of the liquid, the dosage would be in her body more evenly throughout the day and you likely wouldn’t see this kind of behavior.”
She could have said that the molecules in Dora’s bloodstream woke up a little chilly, and therefore adding more medicine molecules will warm them up faster for coagulation and absorption and it would have made sense. Anything to pull Dora back from whatever fresh hell is this.
Within three hours of receiving the increased dose, Dora returns to her rational, sweet self, a fact I find simultaneously reassuring and terrifying.
An ever-shrinking part of me still hopes Dora’s ADHD diagnosis is not really, actually true. Or, that if it is true, then it’s only a little bit true, a case of the ADHD “sniffles”, the worst of which is behind us. Or maybe she’ll have the designer kind of ADHD, the Richard Branson and Ryan Gosling kind, the kind Terry Gross will find fascinating.
Maybe in a few weeks we’ll sweep up all this shrapnel and compact the whole traumatic lot of it into a sterile, two-word phrase like “rough patch”.
To get to that place — the place where mornings are zero percent terrifying forevermore — I decide that the best thing for Dora is to learn how to take a pill.
Remember when I said I wouldn’t regret anything?