In the Family and with Friends

Dear Harvey,

I'm positive there are millions of these stories that could be told that don't make it to print or to anyone's attention. But they exist, and here is one of my stories. You are always in my heart and mind, as you were during all the times I describe below. What you have figured out and communicated to the rest of us is immense, and I thank you.

The night I returned home from a six-day RC workshop last July, I went straight to bed. I'd done a lot of work, unoccluded several memories, had a lot of fun, caught the stomach flu along with two-thirds of the other Co-Counselors there, and was still sick.

This was the first time I'd left my teenage son, M-, home alone for such a length of time. He was eighteen going on nineteen. I'm a single mom, and the way my distress runs, if I don't know where he is at all times, I'm sure he's dead. So it had been hard to leave him.

Around 11:00 p.m., M- and his friend, J-, arrived home and came straight to my room to greet me. We were happy to see each other. M- climbed onto the bed with me, and J- grabbed a pillow and lay down on the floor next to us. We chatted for a bit, and they told me what they'd been up to. Then J- said, "Would you do one of those meetings for me?" I said, "What?" and he said, "Would you do one of those counseling meetings for me?"

Thank goodness I'd just come home from a workshop, because among the "thoughts" that ran through my head, the only one that came out of my mouth was "Sure!"

I couldn't believe J- was asking for a counseling introduction and was sure he was pulling my leg. M- has a lot of feelings about counseling and has shared them with his friends. And like most people, I have my ups and downs, and J- had certainly seen my downs. I felt completely humiliated and convinced it was a set-up.

But I went on: "What would you like me to do? Who would you like to be there?"

J- said he wanted to learn what counseling was all about. M- and J- compiled a list of some Co-Counselors they knew. M- knows and is fond of many Co-Counselors from family work, and J- had met my whole Co-Counseling class one night when he and M- and some friends came home unexpectedly. I had introduced the boys, and since they had no place to go, I'd asked several Co-Counselors who I knew could play and pay attention to teenagers if they would take turns "hanging out" with the boys in the hall until class was over (about a half hour). They played hacky-sack and had a great time. J- requested the presence of several of these Co-Counselors. After we made the list, I got up and ordered pizza and we hung out some more.

The next day I called my Area Reference Person, and we discussed the idea. At first I wanted another Co-Counseling teacher to lead the meeting. I felt I wouldn't do it right. But after some discharge, we decided that I should lead it. We figured out that J- had asked me to do it and trusted me, and that I had already communicated and actually talked a lot about RC with him.

For years I'd spent many, many hours with M- and his friends, a lot of it late at night in cars, picking them up after some night out. We'd had many, many conversations about this and that. I remember one time when the boys were "kidding" around, in reality a collusion of anti-Semitism and internalized anti-Semitism (J- is Jewish, as is my son) and I noticed how hard it looked on all of them, especially J-. I gently interrupted one of the boys who was not Jewish and gave a brief description of Jewish oppression and liberation. J- looked pleased and relieved, and I'm sure this was a big reason he would later on ask for this introduction and why three of the boys would come.

It hadn't all been rosy, and I'd had my share of fights with them. Yet J- loved my relationship with M- and how much M- could be himself around me, as could his friends. They openly showed me much about where they struggled with relationships - sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, internalized young people's oppression, you name it. It wasn't easy for me to learn to be counselor on all this, but I would take my distress to session, and we hung in there together.

The next step was to set up the meeting. We chose a night when M-, J-, and another friend, V-, could attend. J- and V- worked many nights, J- at a supermarket and V- at a fast food place.

Then I called the Co-Counselors on their list. All but one said they would be away on vacation. I didn't know what to do. Most of the Co-Counselors who couldn't come had been raised working-class, and I felt I couldn't have the meeting without working-class Co-Counselors. I took it to session and cried and cried about how Counselor X had to be there or it wouldn't be any good. After about three good cries, I figured out that I could ask others to come and that the main thing was to ask people who were very clear about RC and who could back me. I soon had two more Co-Counselors.

In the meantime, running constantly in the back of my head were the distress recordings that this was all a big joke and that the boys would never show up. I resisted pull after pull to "client" at M- and to pump him for motives. It was pure decision not to.

I held firm.

As the day approached, I confirmed the date with J- and V- and M-. I asked them not to drink caffeine or smoke cigarettes before the meeting and answered their questions about why. They agreed, reluctantly. I poured over The Human Side of Human Beings and The List, and decided to do a straight introduction.

At the last minute, a tie-breaking baseball game was called for M- and J-'s team on the same day as the meeting. They still wanted to come, but would be late. Could I pick them up?

Of course. I called two of the Co-Counselors I'd enlisted and asked if they would come with me. One had a station wagon. On the way to pick up the boys we talked about how I thought the meeting would go and what I would like them to do. I wanted them to enjoy the boys and the introduction, to be themselves, and to back me. I also talked to the driver, who I knew had a lot of feelings about people eating in his car, and asked if it would be okay if we stopped for take-out at McDonald's. I knew the boys would be hungry and that it would be harder for me to track things if we all ate inside the restaurant. He agreed.

When we picked up the boys at the ballfield we were all excited, and they looked pleased. I can't remember who won, but it had been a controversial game, and there was a lot of talk about it. We piled into the car and sure enough, they asked for McDonald's. We went to the drive-through and ordered. I reminded them about the caffeine, and they ordered Sprite, but not without complaints and a lot of joking.

We arrived home, and the formal meeting began with the third Co-Counselor's arrival. I was extremely nervous. We did an opening circle, and I presented the basic theory, including some items from "What Every Young Person Should Know" from The List. They all listened with great attention. Even so, I had to keep deciding to go on talking. They offered no "easy" reassurance, such as "Great job, K-." There were some questions, and then we tried mini-sessions. I paired the boys up with the three Co-Counselors.

After the mini-sessions I asked how it went. What was it like to listen? What was it like to be listened to? They each answered. Then I talked to them about group time and asked if they would like to try it. They would.

I won't say specifically what they worked on, but all three of them used their time very well. It was hard, and each of them was brave. At times I had to remind those who were listening not to chime in with responses, and they got it.

Immediately after the last young person's turn, J- and V- rose up from their seats and announced that they really needed a smoke. They pulled out their cigarettes and headed for the hall. I leapt out of my chair and playfully blocked their path. They wrestled past me, out of the apartment and down the hall. I ran after them, and as lightly and unurgently as I could muster, begged them not to smoke. They asked why not. I explained for about fifteen seconds, and they said, "Okay," and came back.

Then we talked. About addictions. About relationships. They talked, they asked questions, they talked. The Co-Counselors shared some about their teenage lives. We could have stayed there all night, and in some ways I think it would have been good if we had. But I stopped the meeting and conducted a closing circle. The three boys were so happy and relieved that they had had a time to be listened to that was confidential and without interruption and that they had received no advice or criticism from adults (or each other, for that matter).

According to one of the Co-Counselors, by the end of the meeting my son had his arm around my shoulders and his legs across my lap. I believe her, although I can't remember it. The boys hung out in my apartment afterwards, and it was a lovely time.

The next day I was a wreck. I was excited about the evening but felt I'd treated the Co-Counselors badly by asking them to be there. I felt I hadn't paid enough attention to them. I couldn't remember that it might have been a good thing for them to do. In fact, they were honored to be asked, and it made a huge difference to their own re-emergence. Apparently I didn't hurt them, but that's how it felt to me.

The next month, M- and J- went off to college. During the holiday break in January we did another class, which went well. Just this week J- and V- called. I wasn't home, but they left a message on the answering machine. With a great deal of shy laughter they sang my nickname ("Quell," for the time I got lice last year) in a song for about thirty seconds and asked what was happening with me. I will send them postcards and continue taking them up on their invitation to teach them Co-Counseling.


Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00