Posts tagged ‘parenting’
I’m not sure why, but I am fascinated with the show “Intervention.” Truth be told, drugs and alcohol frighten me to a degree such that I’ve never indulged in the former in any way (I might be the only living person over 20 who has never smoked pot), and rarely indulge in the latter. So I’m not really sure why the show speaks to me like it does. It is what it is.
Yet something one of the intervention therapists said on a recent show really struck home for me. He was talking about co-dependency, which is a term I hadn’t heard since college, when a friend bought the book Co-Dependent No More and had us all read it. It was probably my first exposure to self-help books, and to this day I chuckle when I remember how each of us (myself included) in our circle felt the book was written for her, about her.
Basically, what I realized – after hearing the therapist talk about how a co-dependent person’s good days and bad days are based on someone else’s good and bad days – is that I am way too wrapped up in C. My mood is almost completely dependent on his. If he is cranky, I am worried. If he is sick, I am a wreck. If he is happy, I am too.
This is not good.
I work, with the full support and encouragement of Husband, from home. Part time. While C is at school. I drop him off and pick him up every day. It’s not because I desperately want to do this, although I do enjoy it. Seeing C’s little face light up when he sees me and watching him run toward me with gleeful abandon makes my whole day. Still, I’m not one of the Moms who live and breathe their children and have yearned for the parenting job from the time they were mothering their dollies at four years old (you know, the Moms that have personalized license plates that read “SCCRMOM” or “MOMOF4″). It’s more because we feel it’s what C needs from me. It’s what we chose. It’s what I do. I don’t know any other way, and apparently it has consumed me whole.
So where do I go from here? Frankly, I’m not really sure. I have carved out things for myself; I read, I write, and I watch “Intervention,” among other things. Yet it’s not enough. I need some emotional distance, which is something I’m not really sure how to go about securing. All the kids already call me “C’s Mom,” because of course that’s all I am to them. I have a feeling that I’d better figure it out quickly, before that’s all I become to myself as well.
I vividly remember an email from an old friend many years ago in which she told me she could hardly wait for her son to wake up in the morning so she could hang out with him. That statement stuck with me throughout the years, mostly because my favorite time of the day is about five seconds after C falls asleep. The guilt I feel about that has weighed heavily on me at times. What is wrong with me that I don’t revel in parenting as much as other people do?
Lest you get the wrong picture, I have to say that C is just about the most delightful child to ever walk the earth, and I wouldn’t trade him in for any other kid on the planet. Every grown up that meets him adores him, and I would venture to guess that nearly every single teacher in C’s school knows him by name. I can’t even count how many staff members, many of whom I don’t even know, have told me how much they love C. Last week, a substitute teacher stopped me in the hall and said if all kids were as joyful as C, she wouldn’t have retired. That is a pretty amazing testimonial to just how fantastic he is.
Yet somehow we’re missing that spark at home sometimes. We enjoy C, don’t get me wrong, but other things get in the way. Health concerns, therapies, behavior challenges and IEP details often threaten to take over our world. So much of the day is spent keeping the very specific, very necessary routine that we often miss just living. And missing that seems to translate into missing some of the joy that should come with raising children.
So my new year’s wish? While I don’t anticipate ever sitting by C’s bed in the morning anxiously awaiting the moment his eyes open, I will continue to hold my old friend up as the kind of parent I am trying to be. I hope to move past the routine to find that the joy is always there even when I seem to have lost it – I just need to remember to revel in it.
When I was growing up, I always wanted to move somewhere new. We lived in the same house from the time I was one year old until my parents moved to Arizona 35 years later. Bored with my small town, I fantasized about being the new girl in school just about every year when school started. I wanted to reinvent myself, become someone new, and change personalities like a chameleon changes its color.
College, and subsequent multiple moves after marriage, afforded me that chance to morph into a new person. I could be in a place where I knew not a soul, and be whomever I wanted to be. Yet now, facing the possibility of yet another move, I wonder what this new place will bring. Should I become the ever-patient mother who befriends everyone and bakes fabulous gluten free/casein free cookies for all the neighbors? Should I turn into that Mom who knows everything about autism and is the resource for all the other moms? Should I be the cool Mom who always has kids running through the house because they all want to hang at our place?
What I have found, however (and I won’t tell you how many moves it took me to figure this out, but I’m working on double digits here), is that wherever I go, the old me follows. I’m still the slightly frazzled, pretty tired, mostly good Mom who is trying (not always successfully) to do right by her kid, husband, and self. No new personalities that don’t really fit, no new ability to magically become June Cleaver (even though subconsciously she must be my ideal), and no new “cool factor” that I’ve never really possessed before.
I’m just always me. Just me.
My very brave boy decided again to run for student council. Sure he would get elected this year, he eagerly wrote his speech and earnestly talked about why he would like to be involved. He practiced his speech before school and apparently even added a few sentences on the fly while standing before his class.
He came home on the day of voting positive that nearly everyone had cast their ballot in his direction. I alternated between wanting to be completely supportive and needing to prepare him for the possibility that he might not get elected. Yet ever hopeful was I, thinking about his strong start this year and his seeming to finally have a little bit of a support system among the kids.
He was close, his teacher said, really close. For that I am happy. As for C, he handled the disappointment pretty well. His closing comment on the matter? “Good grief. I hope I get elected to student council before I get to college.”
Me too, C. Me too.
I’ve written a lot in the past about the stages of grief when dealing with a diagnosis of any sort for a child. Having experienced both medical traumas along with the developmental challenges, I can say the medical traumas were more immediate and frightening while the developmental ones still sometimes keep me up at night.
However, I suspect for a lot of us, there comes a time when we pass through something akin to acceptance. There are frequent blips back to denial and anger smattered in there, but for me, I’m mostly hanging out in the land of “what is” these days. It’s not that I’ve given up and stopped trying to give C the tools to make his path in life that much easier, but I think all parents do that. And it’s not that I think there’s nothing left we can do to make C healthy and happy. We’re doing that too.
I suppose I’ve just settled into being a parent, and a parent to this child in particular. I remember once talking to the parent of an adult child with autism, and she (so haughtily, it seemed to me) smiled knowingly when I told her about doing hab work and supplements and a zillion therapies. “Oh yes,” she said, “I remember those days. You’re still in that period of frantically trying to do everything you can thinking your time is running out.”
I was moderately offended, even after I realized she was right. I didn’t really need to hear it at the time, and if I could have the conversation to do again, I’d remind her that at one point she was in the same place I was. We all go through that; the initial stage of late nights, plugging in every keyword from the neurologist’s report into google trying to find something that will explain what is happening. I’ve been through the constant therapy appointments, driving six hours round trip once a week over two major mountain passes simply for feeding therapy. Couple that with OT, PT, ST and hab, and we had a full load for awhile.
Now I’m sort of between the Mom who seemed so condescending and the Mom I used to be. Somehow, where I am now is not quite so frantic. So harried. So wearing. There are still days that seem like they will never end, and there are still tears of frustration at times. But for the most part, there is more calm. I’m not googling all the time. I put on jewelry and sometimes even make-up. The all day sweats and ponytails, while still present sometimes, are mostly behind me. I even have some friends that have nothing to do with special needs kids. And sometimes, we don’t even talk about our kids at all.
Just like our spectrum kids, I don’t suppose all of us parents have landed in the same place on the continuum. I hope when I get to the place that Mom before me was, I’ll remember what it was like to be in the thick of things with my kid and be empathetic to those in the trenches. But I’d also like to tell the parents coming up behind me that they’ll get here too, eventually. Maybe not at the same time or place that I did, but the peace will come. I promise.
In my days as a mother to this particular child, I wear lots of hats. I’m often playing special education teacher, doing my best to impart whatever skills I think C might need to make it in this world. Or I’m playing manager, helping him organize his weekly homework into a calendar so it will all get done. I’m really good at being an occupational therapist, working with him on how to put away laundry so his muscle memory will overcome motor planning challenges. And I try very hard to be a good behaviorist, facilitating a playdate so he learns in real time how to be a good friend.
All too often, these roles overpower the most important one, the one I feel like I get to do the least. Whether it’s just hanging out with C with no agenda whatsoever, or playing a game without trying to make it a teachable moment, it’s rare I get to be “just a Mom.” Those times of no extra hats on my head are too few and far between.
So tonight when I realized I had been in my home office, working alone for quite some time, I wondered what was happening in the rest of the house. I wandered out into the living room and saw Husband and C, side by side on the couch, watching last night’s Super Bowl on the DVR. I backed quietly out of the room and left them in peace. I’m hoping Husband is enjoying being just a Dad.
We have a pot on our front porch in which a desert quail pair have made their nest. Eagerly we watched as one after another egg appeared. With a grand total of 15 eggs, Momma Quail settled in to sit on them day after day. We left on a 10 day trip figuring we would miss the hatching, but much to our delight, Momma and eggs were still here upon our return.
Yesterday, when C cried to me because no one has invited him over all summer, I wondered again about our choice to have only one child. A choice made for a variety of reasons, and a decision made largely before C was born. Husband and I each have a brother, and while there were many times in my young life I would’ve paid someone to borrow my brother on a permanent basis, I now consider him the closest of friends. I regret C won’t have any siblings, nor any cousins, and wonder if someday he’ll feel all alone in the world.
Yet I knew, deep in my heart, that I only wanted one. Our early and later struggles with both C’s health and developmental challenges further solidified this decision, as we felt it imperative to give C our full attention. I look at large families with both admiration and awe for the energy Moms and Dads seem to have. Husband and I both recognized our own fatigue, partly due to our starting a family later in our lives as well as due to the issues we faced with C.
I know families with lots of children, and they parent their brood with a grace, patience and skill I simply do not possess. A friend and her husband, after giving birth to 5 biological children, decided to foster, and subsequently adopt, a child with extreme bipolar disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome and asperger’s. Another friend and her husband have adopted 5 children, all on the autism spectrum, and are raising them off the grid with homegrown food, homeschooling, and the constant love and attention they need so desperately. In my book, these people are saints.
As we watched this evening, another large family was born. A number of the 15 eggs hatched in our pot, and Momma Quail kept reigning the hatchlings in with her wings and ensuring they didn’t make the jump to the ground before they were ready. I reflected on what must be the joy of having a large family at the same time I reminded myself that having another child simply for a playmate for C would not have been a good decision. As he watched the pot through the window for glimpses of the babies, C announced he’d like to be a quail, and when I asked him why, he replied he’d like to know how to fly. Although I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t just that he’d like 14 playmates to call his own.
There are two times when I don’t feel like I’m “on” with C. When he is somewhere with Daddy, or when he is somewhere with Ga (that would be Grandma, a hangover word from when he couldn’t say “Grandma”). The rest of the time I feel like I am “on” in some way. Even at night, given our continued use of a baby monitor.
School is no different; I dread the ringing of the phone. He is sick, he has eaten something he’s allergic to, or he’s finally sung “Brick House” (one of his favorites) to the principal and has been kicked out of school.
This child is a constant. I suspect, like my mother has sometimes gently suggested, that I am at times a bit too wrapped up in C. I freely admit to losing any sense of self after having C, and am now working very hard to regain it. Yet my answer to that comment, and to myself when I start to think about it, is “How could I have done it any other way?” As parents, we all just do what needs doing, and I firmly believe C needed my full and undivided attention. It’s not a sacrifice, it just is.
Today was one of those days…you know the kind – where nothing seems to go right? From the moment I woke up, at 6:15, to the ear-splitting scream (via baby monitor, which apparently sits WAY too close to my ear) of “MOMMY!!!!!!!!!” to this moment of going to bed, typing hunt and peck style due to the bandaged and very sensitive finger, it has been a rough one.
After hurling myself out of bed and running across the house expecting giant aliens to be coming through the windows or at least some blood, I entered C’s room and found him sans UFOs or major injury to life or limb. “What?” I asked, not altogether nicely, yet still expecting some unseen disaster to appear before me. “Ummmm, I can’t sleep. Will you snuggle with me?” Now, darn, if this isn’t just adorable, and sometimes might even work, but not today. After a brief, few sentences with choice words about when it’s appropriate to yell at Mommy in the wee hours, I went back to bed. It was short lived, however. Only mere minutes after I fell back to sleep, came the next most pleasant way to be awakened, which is “I NEED A WIPE!” This one is a constant occupational therapist’s nightmare as it’s particularly difficult to teach a body unaware, fine motor skills challenged, can’t place hands on something unseen even if it is part of one’s body, and still doesn’t wash hands very well little person how to wipe his own bottom.
This was day two of C staying home with a cold. He’s not particularly sick, but if he overdoes it, he will be. So he’s been home hanging out with his humidifier and doing his best to drive me to drink. Today, however, determined to do something productive with him, I decided we’d do a craft together. We searched the Highlights magazine craft pages, and I picked out two crafts that seemed doable and for which we had supplies. Naturally, when presented with the two options, C picked out a third. I reiterated the two choices and he picked yet another one on the page. This went on until he had chosen every single craft on the page except the two I said we could choose from. At that point, I left him in his room.
Once he decided to participate, I asked him to get four pieces of recycled paper. Predictably, he said he wanted new paper, and I repeated the request for recycled paper. He went and picked out new paper anyway. Then he went back to his room. This went on for quite some time, during which I had the usual argument I have with myself while in the midst of these episodes. I recognize the need for bending to C’s idiosyncrasies, but I also recognize the need to have a child who is capable of completing a task I request. This is a difficult balance, and one which causes great struggle for me. C is so high functioning that at times I wonder if I’m too hard on him and am forgetting the challenges he faces; that recycled paper (with printing already on one side) likely bothers him on a deep sensory level. It sounds silly, but I suspect it’s true – the writing on one side probably distracts him, catches his eye, annoys him. And the constant need to debate, discuss, and argue is probably not only resultant of his feeling crummy, but also an effort to exert some control over his environment. So I feel like Bad Mommy lady, but I know giving in at this point will make all future debates and discussions far more difficult, so I hold my ground.
When he does come around, we happily sit down to make our cut out butterflies, and my punishment for being Bad Mommy is quick to come. I promptly send the scissor blade right into my index finger, and while the blood is dripping down my arm, I am reminded of this morning’s worry. It has come full circle, and I expect the UFOs to be landing out in the backyard any moment now.
Leave house 20 minutes before school is out even though we live 2 minutes away from school to ensure spot in front of pick-up line. Be glad C and what loosely could be called “friend” B have stopped bickering over whose mother comes first which always ends up in tears for C because either B’s mother came first or because B is upset because I came first. Be annoyed that the newest pick-up obsession is that I have to be in first 10 cars in line. Be annoyed at self for giving into this neurosis but know that picking up a crying child is not a good thing and know that this obsession, too, shall pass. Worry about what next obsession will be.
Arrive at school, am car number 7, breathe sigh of relief. Turn car off and listen to radio to try and catch up on day’s news. Be reminded that many, many millions of people have stresses far worse than ours, resolve to be happy, positive, thankful person. Feel blessed. Wait for bell to ring. Watch for C to come out of building and know simply by the way he waves before approaching car will explain tone of his entire day. Be happy when wave is appropriately jubilant and resist opening door from inside as newly found independence in opening door is a good thing as long as fingers don’t get slammed. Encourage him to get in car before starting to tell about his day as there are approximately 10 zillion cars behind us waiting to pick up their kids. Remind him to be careful closing door and silently chuckle remembering the time when door was simply too heavy and he fell right back out of car onto sidewalk. Revel in fact that he’s socially aware enough that he actually felt embarrassment at that incident, and marvel at how quickly I got out of the car and around to the other side to see if he was okay (he was). Wonder if I could ever move that fast again.
Get door closed, pull away, stop once past the pick-up line to buckle into 5-point harness mentioned before. Ask about day, about special, about who sat by at lunch, who played with at recess. Listen to recitation of school announcements, lunch menu, which classes had perfect attendance and wonder if anyone else in the entire school even listens to that stuff half as carefully. Wonder about streaming text TV they have in classroom and be amazed that C ever tears his eyes away from it. Wonder if they’re putting subliminal messages in there somewhere because if anyone would have them sink in it would be C.
Get home, greet dog, wash hands, empty backpack, talk about homework, make snack. Wonder when this will become routine enough that I don’t have to prompt, and figure it will become routine about the time school is out for summer. Have snack, do something fun or have in-house therapy session. Start thinking about dinner, plan dinner, get dinner started for grown-ups, make dinner for C. Preferably (for him) something that can be dipped in ketchup. Search shelves of freezer making sure to get proper GF/CF/egg free for C and be impressed with self that I finally gave each family member their own shelf with special food on it. Wonder how we got so many allergies in one family and remind self Husband doesn’t have any allergies and it’s really just self and C who have 9 zillion allergies between us. Eat dinner, stay at table afterward to do homework. Remind C to write slowly and wonder if am striking appropriate balance between Encouraging Mommy, Nice Mommy and Task Master Mommy. Take bath (complete with epsom salts to draw out toxins, baking soda to draw down stomach acid, and vapor bubbles to draw out sneezes). Get out, slather in lotion made of absolutely nothing because absolutely everything causes rashes, put jammies on, make up silly compound words because THAT IS WHAT WE DO after a bath.
Do bedtime chores, wonder if we’ll ever be able to move box of baby toothpaste closer to toothbrush area (step 4 in the 90 step process necessary to introduce toothpaste, which he has never used), and be thankful he seems to have inherited good teeth. Wonder how he will ever, ever, ever get through a full dentist appointment. Resove to make using toothpaste a summer goal. Remind self to start a list of all these summer goals I keep thinking about and wonder again about being Task Master Mommy.
Read book together, have a few minutes of hang out time, remind Daddy it’s time for lights out. Watch Daddy get cup of ice water, go into C’s room and sing song. Collapse on couch as Daddy finishes song, turns out lights, turns on noise machine, shuts blinds, and exits room, shutting the door to the exact same spot every single night.
Breathe for a few minutes and take bets with Husband as to how many times C will call one of us. Try to be Nice Mommy because C going to sleep unhappy does not make for a restful night for anyone. Try to balance patience (when C calls for us 13th time) with certain knowledge that we are completely and utterly allowing ourselves to be manipulated.
Crash on couch again and laugh at self when I think of how much I thought I’d get done tonight.