The Sound Of Her Breath

Dear readers, in this post I am sharing a piece written by a fellow parent . “The Sound of Her Breath” is written in response to the parent’s experience of having a suicidal teenager.

The Sound of Her Breath

sleeping baby

When she was a baby I would sneak in her room to listen to her breath.  Although I tried not to obsessively worry about SIDS, I took comfort in the sound of her breath.  Sixteen years later I am once again sneaking in her room, listening to her breathing and thanking God that she is still with us.  The difference is that an hour later I will return, listen again and thank God again and I will repeat this throughout the night.

It sounds obsessive but we are struggling.  Our daughter is suicidal.  Even writing those words seems unreal.  This cannot be happening.  Not to us.  Not her.

But it is real.  Last year one of the most popular girls in her class committed suicide.  She took her life in the room she shared with her younger sister who found her only minutes too late.  When this happened we asked the inevitable, “How did her parents not know?”

Now we understand. They did know.  They knew she was struggling.  They knew she was in pain.  And they had gotten her help.  For a few years they shuttled her back and forth to inpatient treatment, day hospital care, therapists and psychiatrists.  At each sign of trouble they were on top of it and still she died.  Still, they lost their little girl.

Her story is not the only story like this. Hers is not even the only story in our community.  Just last month there was another suicide in our own neighborhood, three months before that there was another one just down the road.  I know we are not alone in our struggle but it doesn’t matter.

Being in this position, watching our child suffer is impossibly hard.  We are doing everything we can to help.  People keep telling us that.  It is their way of comforting us, but what do I hear?

I hear, “If she does kill herself you need to remember, you have done everything you could.”

I hear that it is hopeless.  I hear that I am powerless.  And I sink.  Isn’t that a horrible thing? I sink.  Just when my daughter needs my strength and support I am finding myself falling into my own abyss.  I am lost and I don’t know how to pull myself out.  I want to help her and I can’t.

Since she was a baby I have been there for her.  For every boo-boo, cold, fever and heartbreak I have comforted her.  But right now I am not a comfort.  Right now, nothing I do is helping and I find myself wondering how much of what I say and do is hurting.

I have no answers. So right now, tonight, the best I can do is sneak in her room.  Stand beside her bed and listen to her breath.  The best I can do is to be thankful that she is still with us.


If your child (or you, or a family member or friend) is experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help. Their phone number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They will connect you to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

NSPLTo read about our family’s experience with suicide, please read this post.

And be assured that any messages you leave directed at the author of “The Sound Of Her Breath” will be relayed to her.

Thank you for reading this.


Good Plain Fun (A Mama Kat Writing Workshop Prompt)

Note:  I am reposting this (originally written in April 2010) because it is the post I had in mind when I suggested to Mama Kat that one of her weekly writing prompts be: a book (or something) you loved as a kid that you see completely differently now that you are an adult/mom.  That was certainly true for me when I re-read Diary of a Young Girl.  As a teenager, I sympathized with Anne, specifically with her loss of freedom.  As a mom, I experienced a completely different layer of sentiment – how as a parent would I try to help my teenager make sense of a world that has been so completely turned inside out?  I am pleased as can be that this prompt is one of this week’s choices.  I can’t wait to read the posts by other writers who chose it!

Today, April 11, 2010, is Holocaust Remembrance Day. As my contribution, I am sharing an essay I wrote last year. I originally wrote this essay in response to a Literary Mama prompt. I never heard back from them, but I loved writing this piece and fantasizing about it actually happening. I re-read (via audiobook) “The Diary of A Young Girl” prior to writing this essay and discovered that a) Anne Frank’s name was probably pronounced like “Donna” as opposed to “Dan” and b) reading this book now that I am the parent of a teenager was a completely different experience than it had been when I was a young girl myself.

The prompt essentially instructed us to write, in 500 words or less, how we would interact with our favorite author. How would we conduct the interaction, and what would we ask?

Good Plain Fun With My Favorite Author

Anne Frank’s diary could have been penned by my own 13 year old. When I listened to the audiobook version today, this is the line that most resonated with my current “parent a teenager” mode: “I sometimes wonder if anyone will ever …… merely see me as a teenager badly in need of some good plain fun.”

I would not want to have a serious conversation with Anne. She had enough “serious” in her time in hiding than anyone should have in a lifetime, much less fifteen years. Rather than a deep conversation, I would want to have little snippets of overheard online conversation like I have with my daughter, who is usually too busy having fun to converse at length with me.

(I am waiving “real time” in order to invite Anne into our home as an exchange student. )


Our family lives in Tallahassee, Florida. I am Paula, and my husband is Wayne. Our daughter, Tenley, is 13. Our son, Wayne, is 10. We also have a cat, Alice Cooper. Tenley is a cheerleader, and our son Wayne likes cars and video games.

From Anne:

I am a little apprehensive about leaving my family behind but the adventures ahead will be all worth it! I am 13 (like your daughter!!) and have a sister who is three years older than me. I have had several cats, but I haven’t ever had a younger brother.

I am only 13 but I am positive I want to be a journalist someday. My diary will make the trip with me. I enjoy reading and French, but my family would probably say my favorite pastime is talking. Thank goodness for Skype!

Once our family learns we’ll be having an exchange student, Facebook attests:

TENLEY’S STATUS: Exchange student coming!!!!!!!!!!

FRIEND’S COMMENT: What’s her name?


FRIEND’S COMMENT: Where’s she from?

TENLEY: Holland.

FRIEND’S COMMENT: She’ll LOVE the dress code at school.

OTHER FRIEND’S COMMENT: I hope they have belts in Holland.


Fast forward to December, about a third of the way through the school year.

More Facebook:

ANNE’S STATUS: Soccer game against Deer Lake tonight with Tenley!


MY (PAULA’S)  STATUS: Go Raa Rams!

ANOTHER FRIEND’S STATUS: My mom is so lame; I’m grounded.


MY (PAULA’S) STATUS: Hey, back off the mom hating!!

HER STATUS: Tomorrow I start my first Hanukkah in the US! Missing my family (even my mom).


ANNE: Thanks! ILY

The letter I send home with Anne when she goes back to Holland talks about how we enjoyed having another teenager around (even if it did double the drama factor), and tells her to always remember the crazy funny things she did with her US girlfriends – the dress code, the “sleepless” sleepovers, the shaving cream fights ….. to always know that the Kiger house is where she can lay her head and dream her journalist’s dreams, after days and nights of good plain fun.

Mama's Losin' It

Wordless Wednesday

As the parent of a teenager, I have stopped being surprised at irritating text messages from my daughter.  They pretty much mirror the dialogue we share in person, in emails, and during phone calls.

Last Wednesday, Tenley was fulfilling her weekly commitment to help my mother-in-law.  She had been there a little longer than her shift usually lasts, and she was ready to leave (but I was still at work).  The conversation by text consisted of four variations from her of “are you on your way yet?” paired with my “not yet” responses.  When I finally was prepared to leave and texted, “On my way,” I almost didn’t even check her response when I heard the little chime that indicated an incoming text.  I was just over this conversation, and I fully anticipated exactly this:  FINALLY! or this:  It’s about time.

What I got instead was this: 

This exchange occurred on a Wednesday, and it was surprisingly pleasant enough to leave me …

Molten Mom Moments

When Tenley was in kindergarten, her school held a “Christmas store” where items were sold at prices very friendly to children.  The kids created lists of who they wanted to buy for and when they went to the store, they could cover several family members with $10 (including gift wrapping).  When I picked Tenley up from after school the day of her “shopping” trip, she couldn’t wait to share the gift she had bought me.  (When my husband is anywhere around, we get lectures about how gift opening should be saved for the actual holiday, yada yada yada.)  He’s the only family member who feels that way.  Even he would have been won over by her enthusiasm that day.  She was so proud to introduce the bluebird of happiness into my life, and was anxious to know whether or not I loved it (I did and I do).  He lit on my desk and has been there for nine years: 

I rarely write directly about my teenager, because I think she would equate being written about with the feeling she had when I was at the Springtime Tallahassee post-race party a few years ago and started doing the electric slide in public.  Ugh.  That incident was a few years ago but I guess it was just a little taste of what was to come. 
When I was trying to decide what graphic to use when I blogged about the mother/teenager dynamic, the bluebird came to mind.  The comparisons are obvious (to me):  I see it and her every day, both are beautiful and unique; I have sentimental feelings for the bird and the kid; the bluebird doesn’t talk and the teenager doesn’t talk much (to me — peers are a different story!).  I am rapidly becoming accustomed to one-word answers (when I get them at all), and I am sad.  It is as if the bluebird of happiness has been jailed: 
Things came to a head this week when she “unfriended” me on Facebook.  For some reason, I started thinking, gee I haven’t seen any status updates from Tenley for a while, so I typed her name into the search bar and got Tenley Studio, a hair salon in Tenleytown (Washington DC) that I am a “fan” of just because I like their name.  I wasn’t thinking hair that day, though, I was thinking flesh and blood — MINE. 
So instead of playing my cards close to my vest and letting things play out (which would have given me more options) I immedately sent a friend request with a sarcastic comment along the lines of “thanks for unfriending me.”  And I proceeded to mope.  It felt like a breakup.  I felt sad, betrayed, and powerless.  Over the next few hours I was thinking “ultimatum,” as in “make me your ‘friend’ again or lose your computer and phone.”  I had told my husband about this but asked him to not bring it up to her when he saw her at pickup.  When she got home that night I proceeded to give her the silent treatment (very mature behavior for a 45 year old!) and while she was chattering away about the good things in her life I was doing the cold shoulder routine.  When she finally asked what was wrong, I told her, and she said, “remember I told you Facebook was acting funny?”  I said, “Oh so you didn’t unfriend me?” and she said, “Yeah, actually I did.  It was weird having my mom as my friend.” 
When Tenley and I attended the mother daughter luncheon at my mother in law’s church today, Barb mentioned what a nice valentine one of my older nieces had sent her.  I remember about six years ago, when that same niece arrived at the mother daughter luncheon with a distinct “attitude” vibe.  I couldn’t believe the change that had come over this young woman.  I smugly thought, “that’ll never happen to me.”  At the time, my standing in my daughter’s life was still decent.  It’s my turn now to be surprised by a girl who looks the same but acts teenager-y.  Here’s a picture from this year’s luncheon:
Right now, the bluebird is holding the paperwork down in my in basket. 
I am a first-time parent of a teenager grieving the loss of years of easy communication that brought me great joy and helped me let go of some old baggage from my childhood.  Through her actions (and my reactions), I am being reminded that Tenley has her own work to do now, work that I can’t see her through. 
When I researched “the bluebird of happiness,” I discovered a vendor that specializes in them, Terra Studios.  In describing the manufacturing process, Terra Studios describes the pure white Northwestern Arkansas sand that is used to make the glass for each bird, and how the blue color comes from adding black copper oxide to the molten glass.
The mother/daughter situation feels pretty “molten” lately.  I guess the process of raising another human being is going to be fraught with “fiery” moments.  I imagine once the craftsman finishes adding the copper oxide, the bird has to be left alone to take shape. 
Hopefully the takeaway for me is to know that all of this “heat” leads to a beautiful product in the long run.
In the meantime, it looks like there’s a “friend” spot open on Facebook!
I’ll “run” into you next week, readers.