Z has to practice his cello. But he just wants to talk about how he can’t practice. I’m like, “Just fucking practice, just pick up the cello and practice. You can’t do anything until you practice.”

I’ve been writing about my life with my kids for twenty years, but how can I keep doing it when he tells me he can’t practice becausehe can’t hear? It’s not interesting to read about someone else’s kids unless it’s about conflict. But this is not a conflict. Because Z thinks his whole life is over. That’s like the conflict of is there a God or is there not? It’s such a big conflict that it’s an absurd thing to write about.

So I don’t just have the problem of dealing withmaking very large paymentson a cello that my kid can’t totally play, or the problem that we havea lawsuit with Uberthat is taking so long that I’ll probably be dead before Z sees the settlement. And you never want to have a homeschooled kid who getsa severe brain injurybecause then you have neurologists asking about your teaching philosophy like you’re some sort of religious nut who is refusing life-saving medicine. I don’t just have these problems. I also have the problem that the only way I know how to cope with my life is to write about it, and I’ve got a kid who is on the edge and it’s very difficult to write about that.

科学告诉我们,可以预见的是,我会有一个残骸的孩子,科学也告诉我们,我仍然会找到一种方法来实现这一切,but how am I going to write about this?Because I am passionate. Because being passionate is messed up. That’s right. First of all, like all things that are mental disasters, it’s much more common in men. Really.Passion is not a thing women do. Becausepassion is intrinsically all-consumingand things that are all-consuming搞砸了一切in your life. So, let’s see, which gender is most likely to let their passion ruin all their relationships?

Okay. See? Now you get it. Now you can see where I’m going with this, right? It’s an autistic trait to be a woman who is passionate about something to the point that she lets it create imbalance in her life.

SoI am a woman who functions more like a man. Which is whymost people hate me, but also think I’m interesting as long as they don’t have to spend more than a few hours with me. Maybe no more than one hour if I’m drinking, because who wants to see someone who is already a little too uppity lose their ability to filter? Andas a woman/man I have extreme passionand that meansI have to write thingsin order to feel like it happened.

I tell Z,you don’t have to be the world’s best cellist.Andit’s fine to play cello because you love it.

Z says to me, “Mom, you played professional beach volleyball, you write books, you keep doing more startups. How are you talking to me about it’s okay to not be the best?”

I say, “That is so stupid. I failed at everything. I didn’t get to the Olympics. No one cares about my books. And we are not millionaires. Nothing was amazing.”

He says, “You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

“Fuck it. Shut up.”

I used to say something nicer and more supportive at that point, but we have the conversation so often. I’ve shown himall the data about harmonious (mini)passion vs obsessive (extreme) passion.People who havecontrolled ambitionsspendreasonable amounts of timeon their passion. These people arecalm and stillwhen they do something that makes them happy. “Just play music you like and get better at cello at the pace of a normal kid.”

He doesn’t want to be normal. He wanted to be a cello god. I get it.I once harbored a visionof being a god of writing about my life with my kids without having to actually do the normal parenting part.

Now I’m always trying to figure outdoes he need to sleep, or does he just want to sleep because he wants to sleep for the rest of his life? Is it easier to let him sleep and worryhe is sleeping too muchor wake him up and worry I am not respecting his need to sleep? Wait. The point is not to make my life easier.

Z keeps asking me what is the point of life. I used to choose words carefully. Now when he asks me what’s the point of life I’m like, fuck it, get out of bed. There is no point. The point is to get up and to keep getting up. I know you are supposed to say something better, with a better tone. But we’re on the second year of this, okay?

WhenI was dating after my divorceI knewI was in troublebecauseI wouldn’t date anyone who wouldn’t let me write about them. I realized I love writing so much that I love it more than a relationship. It was so easy for me to connect with Z when he wanted to practice cello eight hours a day so he could attain anextreme level of success.

现在我们花时间在一起寻找音乐n’t have high notes that will hurt his head. And he picks pieces that are definitely not next in line on the pedagogical repertoire. This would be chaos for that level of passion he had. But right now he is trying to function like a normal cello student who is trying to learn to play for fun. And I am trying to function as a normal parent who is trying to learn to do something, anything, for fun.

After a few days we slip back to our old ways. He is playing complex music that needs counting that gives him a migraine. He throws himself on his bed and kicks his feet and pounds his fists into his pillow.

I sit next to him and rub his back while he mumbles things too scary for full sentences.

I say, “I love you so much. Please stay with me, because I only want to write if I can write about people I love.”

He says, “Thanks for finally understanding that I’m only gonna play cello if I can play music I love.”

他闭上眼睛,我把我的头在他的背上nd he falls asleep on his pillow and I am so careful to stay calm and still. Just like when I held him when he was a baby and if I moved even a little bit he would wake up and I’d have to start all over again.

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24 replies
  1. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say. Aa mom with sons, I felt this deeply. My heart is in pain for you.

    I had to pray for all of you. I don’t know how you feel about God stuff, but it’s what I had to do after reading this. Peace. Healing. Comfort. Please.

  2. JD
    JD says:

    You’re not alone. It can feel isolating parenting a kid with suicidal ideation. That argument, “Just f-ing get up. You can’t do anything until you get up,” is so very familiar. This is where I say something important and powerful, but that’s not going to happen. It’s good you’re talking with your son. I do think there is no better point than to get up and keep getting up. We keep looking for the fun, and I have hope that we will find it, and that you both will, too.

  3. Chris
    Chris says:

    Check out the new book called Run Towards the Danger by Sarah Polley – she had a serious brain injury (a large fire extinguisher fell on her head as she was bent over, rooting through a lost-and-found box) that left her disabled for years until she encountered a doctor (in the USA) that recommended a different approach than all the rest. Long story short, she was more than 90% recovered within a very few weeks. There’s a chapter in the book devoted to her injury and her recovery. Everyone’s different of course but I hope this helps.

  4. Diana
    Diana says:

    That last part was so tender. It made struggling to read the rest well worth it. Get passionate about the fact that God does indeed exist, Penelope. And all our challenges are not punishments but gifts : opportunities given to us by Satan to help our souls elevate. Then you will be happy. More often anyway. I bet science can prove it. Thanks again for telling me I had no business calling you about business and making me cry when you said I wasn’t willing to do anything hard a year and a half ago. I was listening. I went to every 12-step group I could find on Xoom in L.A. like you said because everybody there thinks they’re story is special too. It’s true. And they all pretty much get on my nerves with they’re petty problems in comparison to mine. Especially the fellow incest survivors. But now I’m studying somatic psychology. And even more basically homeless than I was before, but far less concerned about it. So it worked, evidently. And I really am actually not all that worried about getting married in time to have a baby like you told me I should be. That part I feel fine about leaving up to God. If I remember correctly, there was some woman in the Bible got married when she was like 80 or something, so… anyway. Keep telling that kid the best thing he can do is take it easy. And practice what he Loves. Even if he doesn’t feel like it. Great writing. ❤️

  5. Bettywhitechan
    Bettywhitechan says:

    I am so sorry you are going through this. Please stay strong for your son. Once the settlement money comes through, make sure you put the money in an account that only he can touch and that he won’t start to spend until he becomes an adult. That money will hopefully supplement lost income and help pay for therapy.


    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s so hard to know what to do with the cello. It’s not my decision, of course, what he does with his cello playing. He’s 16. It’s my job to tell him he has to get up and do something. His cello teacher has been incredibly supportive and is one of the most important people in Z’s life right now. The teacher has been just amazing. Also, you could argue that given how little he plays relative to his past, he has already stopped playing and is looking for something else he enjoys. These are all the things I think about. Trying to sort things out and figure out what we’re doing.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah. Still working. And he tells me that work makes him happy. He has an acupuncturist who gave him a thing to do with his hand to stop his head from hurting at work. That helps him a lot. And has made him an inadvertant cross-cultural acupuncture educator.


      • Apple
        Apple says:

        There is so much to grieve in this loss, for both of you.

        Can you explain what if feels like to need to write or else it feels like it didn’t happen? Is this related to the autistic trait of needing / wanting to talk about special interests?

  6. Jane Carnell
    Jane Carnell says:

    Hi, Penelope. I have a friend who is even harder to take than you and we have been friends for more than 40 years. I would be your friend, So just know someone would be if needed. But that’s not entirely why I am writing.
    Science is fine but apparently because of science your son feels hopeless. Western medicine is famous for giving diagnoses, which end up being limits set in stone. While eastern medicine is like a weather report, and as we know, the weather is always changing. I say start over with stuff like acupuncture etc, and something called ONE BRAIN and a book called MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING by Viktor Frankl. No one likes a big baby. Passion is not a burden and yes women have it too. It always amuses me when you sometimes parrot the patriarchy despite being too smart to do that. Don’t do it. Humans are passionate. Both men and women. But wanting to be ‘the best’ is ego excess. A dose of Buddhism might come in handy. not as religion but as brain training. I always wanted to write about the people i was surrounded by. They were ‘my material’ and I didn’t care if they hated me for doing that. Now I am not sure about that one. Storytelling is universal and everyone has stories. Even other people. oxoxox Jane

  7. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Sending you and Z thoughts of support. I’m sorry this is happening. It sounds truly awful. You and your family are so strong and resilient – it makes me think you both will get through this and come out the other side with more abundance somehow. I hope you both have lot’s of support. It can help to be able to talk about dark thoughts with supportive people who have had similar experiences. You guys aren’t alone.

  8. Chris Yeh
    Chris Yeh says:

    We’re all just trying to get by. And giving your kids love and honesty is the core of parenting.

    This post also inspired me to start thinking more about the nuance between passion and enthusiasm. The key is that enthusiasm is a choice, passion seems involuntary.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s a great way to think about it – choice vs. involuntary.

      For people who want to start something really difficult you should ask yourself if it’s in the category of things people choose to star or if it’s not something sane people choose.


  9. Grace
    Grace says:

    Penelope, have you thought about writing a book about raising a cello prodigy? You write a lot about making sure your son focuses on the process, and giving him every chance to be great (even when it was illogical to do so). You always acknowledged that encouraging your kid to be great at what he/she wants to be great at is the heart of schooling/parenting. You did that to the nth degree with Z. Maybe Z will be a successful professional cellist, maybe he won’t. TBD. But the result was never the point. We would love to read a book about your reflections about raising a child prodigy (and the many insane sacrifices you made) once Z is grown.

  10. 马克·W。
    马克·W。 says:

    当Z只是想谈论他如何不能practice, listen and let him talk until he doesn’t have anything else to say. I know you’re doing your best and everything you can do to help him, but he has to work through his severe brain injury himself at his own pace. He’s learning patience and how to adapt to his injury out of necessity. You’re learning how to be available to him at the moment he needs it whenever that may be. It’s difficult for both of you but I have faith both of you will get through it together. The point of life is to be your true self and do your best in the process. The point of life is not to compare our lives with other people but to be grateful for the blessings we do have. We all need to be thankful for each new day regardless of the challenges that may come our way.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Aww. That’s so caring, Mark. I always need reminding to listen. I always want to problem solve. Even tonight Z was upset that people get paid more at work to do much easier jobs. And I went all career coach on him. I need to listen and hug. I need to just listen. So hard for me.


  11. JennG
    JennG says:

    TBIs are really hard. The emotional stuff can also be related to the TBI. It takes a long time. My dad had two brain injuries and both resulted in personality changes.

    I struggled with some health issues that did take my ambitions down in my late teens and early 20s, including arthritis that stopped me from continuing to compete in organ and piano competitions and eventually stop playing at a higher level. I think probably Z. will have to go at his own pace but in hindsight, if I had been able to slow down a bit – slow everything down – practicing, competing, deciding whether to keep going, accept a lighter course load – I might have been able to hold onto more. So that’s a tiny bit of thinking from someone in a similar position.

    I will admit that there is still a whole area of music that I have trouble listening to though, pretty much most of the repertoire I loved to play. I’ll experience it in concert when it’s fully immersive but I can’t listen to recordings of it, not even what were my favourites before.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I appreciate you saying that slowing down would have let you hold on to more. I’ve pushed back so hard on everyone asking me how he spends his time – with undertones of you can do more. And I’ve encouraged him to slow way down. But some days I worry that I feel negligent. It’s so hard to know.


      • Brenda
        Brenda says:

        My heart breaks for you and Z. It is definitely a hard knock life for both of you. Let me remind you that you are a great mom! None of us is perfect; we are crawling through life doing the best we can.

        I remember vividly my son waking me up and telling me that life has no meaning. I just let him talk through it (I was literally shaking thinking he was suicidal). Like you, I was rubbing his back. And let him just talk. Along the way, I learned that he was taking existential philosophy. It scared him.

        Don’t let the Monday Morning Quarterbacks question your parenting. You know him best.

        We do the best we can.

  12. Juliana
    Juliana says:

    These posts about Z are breaking my heart. I don’t know what else to say, but it’s so hard and you will both get through it.


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