When asked how long ago something happened, he said, “three houses ago.”
We were both laying on the floor of my therapy office, playing with cardboard boxes painted to look like bricks. Recently adopted into the “last house” he was placed in, at around ten years old, he’s in trouble here and there for stealing and lying.
I’m always amazed at how conversations are hijacked by the problems, and both parent and child never notice that the problem begins to run the show and determine who the child is and who the child will be. Most of the time, the therapist is fooled as well.
Trying to see how we could stack the cardboard bricks in ways that would almost crash down, but stay standing, it was his answer that snapped me out of my haze. It was his answer to a simple question that made me realize I had been thinking about him as a child who is a sometimes thief and liar, rather than as a child who, after his parents were caught and incarcerated for drugs, has moved so many times to so many different foster homes, it has become a reliable method of time-telling.
Me: “When did you last see your mom?”
Him: “Three houses ago.”
The session ended soon after, with block stacking and rearranging happening as I was realizing how off-track I’ve been in working with him. The only other words spoken once he answered “three houses ago,” were one last exchange between the two of us before our time was up.
Me: “Do you know I think you’re a pretty strong dude?”
Me: “Well, I think you’re a pretty strong dude. Can we discover together next time what it is that makes you so strong?”
Him: “That would be cool.”
Me: “I think so too.”