Way back in time, when Paul and I were mere grad students, I was introduced to a very intriguing concept. It was the end of one grad school year, and one of our friends stated that she and her professor were “decathecting.”
I had no idea of what the term meant, but as a grad student in speech/language pathology, it struck me as uniquely interesting. “Does one cathect?” I wondered. If not, how could one “decathect”?
It turns out that the term made a lot of sense to my husband and his fellow doctoral student in psychology. It meant, as I came to figure out, stepping back and detaching oneself from a relationship that was coming to an end.
Like that feeling that you’d get toward the end of a semester with a great professor and a fabulously supportive group of classmates. “Decathecting” meant that you would decide that nobody in the group was all that great anyway, so you wouldn’t mind leaving them.
Sort of a fancy way of saying, “You can’t fire me! I quit!”
I learned the true meaning of this term when I was teaching. Every June, I had to learn how to say goodbye to a group of kids I had come to love with my whole heart and soul. That meant, of course, that by May 1st, I was starting to think to myself, “These kids are actually kind of annoying.” At the same time, they were thinking, “Karen’s a pretty nice teacher, but we could do better.”
It meant a few weeks of rolling our eyes at each other, barking at each other and generally finding ways to look forward to our parting at the end of the year. We all knew that we were simply trying to protect our own hearts, and that we were sad to be leaving each other. Still, the process seemed to help smooth the way toward the end of our relationship.
I saw how “decathecting” worked when my children were teenagers, too. For the month or so before each one moved out, I found myself thinking, “Go ahead! Move out on your own! I’m tired of you anyway!” And I knew that every one was thinking, “I am so so tired of having my Mom hovering over every single thing I do!”
We parted ways with tears, hugs and a big old sense of relief.
I think today was my day for “decathecting” with my grandkids before Christmas break. I’d probably feel guilty about that except for the fact that its, you know, a real psychological term. And because I know it doesn’t mean that you stop loving the people you really, really need to get a break from.
Our Nonni/grandkids decathecting took place on the last day of school for the kids’ Mommy before Christmas break. Both of them knew that starting tomorrow they’d be able to stay at home with Mom and Dad. Both of them knew that they would be able to nap in their very own beds.
They have both been sick all week, too, so the desire to be home with their parents was even stronger than usual.
So today, both of my beloved grandchildren managed to express this thought to me: Who are you, anyway???? You’re not my Mommy! I don’t wanna nap here! I don’t wanna eat here! I refuse to eat/sleep/relax/readabook/color/drinkmilk/peeonthepotty/liedown/dance/sing/doapuzzle!!!!!!
It was a VERY. LONG. DAY.
I was cooking for a family party tomorrow. A party at which I will NOT be in charge of toddlers. I wanted to concentrate on my calzone instead of worrying about who need more playdoh.
Johnny kept grabbing his jacket and boots and going to the baby gate at the top of our stairs. He’d grab the gate and shake it for all he was worth, shouting, “my mama! my mama!” This went on for hours.
And Ellie, my one true love, spent the day with her braid completely unbraided, growling, “Don’t do my hair! Nonni! My MOMMA will fix my hair!!” and “I am so so tired! I need to sleep!!!” And when I’d suggest that she go to lie down in the very same bed where she has napped for three years, she sobbed, “NO!!!! I am so tired of this bed!!! I need to sleep in my own bed at my own house!!!!”
You get the picture. The theme of the day for the kids was, “We need a break from Nonni! We want to be home with our Mom and Dad!!! Help! Get us out of here!”
The theme of the day for Nonni was, “Two more hours until I can hand you off to your Mom and pour myself a drink! Help! Get these kids out of here!”
We were decathecting.
And it worked for the most part. Until Kate arrived to gather up her little ones and take them home. At that point, of course, Ellie began to sob.
“I don’t want to go!!! Nonni!!!” she sobbed desperately, “Nonni! I need you!!!!” Hurling herself against my legs, she seemed to be terrified of leaving.
Luckily, I know how this works. I hugged her back, kissed her teary cheeks and said in my firmest voice. “I love you. Go HOME.”
I guess we are still cathected on some level. Even so, I am really looking forward to a few days of adult thoughts and interactions.