I packed a lunch for my oldest son today. I literally can’t even remember the last lunch I packed for him. But today was his first day of work…a real job…manual labor. Packing that lunch and sending him off on his own made me realize that even though on one hand, I’m counting down the number of days until I can send him on his way, I’m still holding onto him tightly with the other. Even though he daily makes me want to scream, I don’t relish the thought of anyone in the “real world” doing the same. I’m not a hoverer or a very tender mom. I even feel a little calloused at time compared to other moms I know. But today was hard. It was hard to bite my tongue and not give advice. It was hard to not worry. It was hard turning him over to someone else who I know will (thankfully) make his life very physically challenging. Ultimately it was hard to let him go and recognize that this is how men like his father are made…through hard work and hard knocks, through trial and error, falling down and getting up. And none of that involves me holding his hand any more. Just like that, my time with him has shifted and it is time for me to step back and lead from behind instead of in front, to teach through listening and silence instead of repetition of words. Dropping him off, I felt the urge to reach out and grab his hand for old times’ sake, but refrained as common sense warned against it. So I just watched him walk away without looking back, swallowed a little lump in my throat and drove away, alone with my thoughts and empty handed. Who knew what a little sack lunch could do…
An “amusing” half-day in the life of a mom and a kid with Christmas anxiety
Wednesday December 21, 2016
3:00 p.m. Grayson gets in the car with an amazing bag of Christmas goodies from his teacher.
3:01 p.m. He immediately gives everything away to his sister because “it’s stupid.”
3:02 p.m. …and quickly takes half of it back because “it’s actually pretty cool.”
5:30-5:45 p.m. A flurry of questions concerning what time we will have to leave to get to church, how long church will last, how long the drive will last to get to Christmas dinner destination, will we eat or open presents first, if we will open presents all at once or one at a time, if he can open Christmas presents alone in a room instead of with everyone, how we will get all the Christmas presents back to our house, etc…etc…etc…etc…etc…
8:30 p.m. Grayson is allowed to open one early present after asking a mere 50 kajillion times. He looks at the half-spherical soccer ball that lights up and gives the appearance of floating (that I THOUGHT he would enjoy), somehow manages to clench his entire face almost completely shut, throws the ball on the ground 3 times all while jumping up and down and raging about how stupid it is and crying hysterically. I’m simultaneously trying to hush the muffled laughter of four other children so things don’t entirely explode.
8:31 – 9:00 p.m. A series of going down to his room to cool off and coming back several times eventually ends in him agreeing to practice the CORRECT way of graciously opening a present that you don’t like and keeping unkind thoughts “in your brain,” to which he adds upon the conclusion of our practice session, that next time, he will wait until he’s calm to tell them that they didn’t pick out a good present. Sigh… I give him an “A” for effort (as I’m trying to keep the simultaneous exasperation and laughter “in my brain”).
9:02 p.m. …aaaannnddd he is fighting with his sister over who gets to play with the AWESOME soccer ball and trying to think of a good place to hide it where no one will be able to find it while he sleeps.
9:15 p.m. Grayson decides to move all of his presents down to his room so that he can open them alone in the dark in peace and quiet.
9:16 p.m. He decides that upstairs is actually better and returns them all to their spot under the tree.
9:45 p.m. He is sleeping!!! Husband and I giggle and plan next year’s holiday game – everyone has to act like Grayson when they open their worst present. Grayson opening “bad” presents is rapidly becoming an annual tradition that we have learned to find a certain amount of humor and endearment in.
9:50 p.m. Mom labels presents from #1-7, worst to best, so that he will know what to expect and wraps a jar of pickles to practice on in the morning.
5:33 a.m. I am awakened to thunderous footsteps tearing through the house and a breathless child excitedly telling me that he opened another present but don’t worry it was an electric toothbrush that clearly wasn’t for him because it was dumb (it was for him). I tell him I don’t care if he opens all of his presents. I want to sleep. Leave me alone.
5:34 a.m. He is back to tell me that he won’t open any more presents and maybe I should hide them…just in case. I tell him in the most patient words I can muster to get out and never come back.
5:35 a.m. He’s back again. He wants to know what he should do with the toothbrush. I’m getting up as I can see that this sleeping thing is clearly not going to work for me.
5:36 a.m. I’m stumbling (literally) to get coffee and explain my disappointment… “I like to watch you open presents…Daddy isn’t even here…I’m going to have to keep all your presents in my room so you don’t do this again.” Grayson looks at me with his eyes filling up with tears, his chin starting to quiver and explains to me in a cracking voice, “I just wanted to practice so I could do a better job at opening my presents.”
5:37 a.m. All of my irritability and sleepiness drain through a single tear trailing down my cheek. I shut my mouth and stop explaining and start listening. As hard as it is for me, it’s harder for him. I hug him and tell him, “Good job. I’m proud of you.” Thank God for my early Christmas gift – a dose of humility and a reminder to slow down and sit with him in his world.
To my new friend…and for anyone else who is struggling to feel that they are “enough…”
I can see you have a hard time recognizing the beautiful person you are and all of the wonderful things that you do. I shared that until you are able to see for yourself how amazing you are, you would have to learn to trust those who best know you. I realize that I just met you and don’t yet qualify for that role. But I have been where you are and my heart hurts because I understand how you feel.
You approached me because of our shared struggle in raising special needs kids. My impression of you right off was that you live with gratitude (you didn’t have to come up to me to say thank you), and you are courageous (for being vulnerable with someone you just met). I quickly realized that you are exceptionally amazing because you willingly chose to bring two struggling children (that are not yours by birth) into your practically empty-nest home. I don’t know if you recognize the magnitude of this choice. It doesn’t matter if you have been scared or have second guessed yourself…you willingly exchanged your life for theirs and there is no greater love than this.
And forgive me, but I Facebook stalked you tonight. I looked at your pictures and I didn’t see irritability or failure or anything else that you mentioned. What I did see was a strong woman fighting to give two children a normal life; children that would have otherwise been lost to the proverbial system. I saw two children living in a house surrounded with beautifully tended flowers and attending church in a loving community. I saw birthday parties, extravagant school projects, Halloween costumes…all things that these children would never know without you. I saw your beautiful smile in many pictures. How many forgotten children never receive a genuine smile? Do you realize what normalcy, consistency and safety you are giving to these kids?
Of course I know that there is more to meet the eye than what is portrayed on social media. I know that you rage and cry and scream and want to drive off in your car and never look back. But I also know WHY you feel this way. It is NOT because of who YOU are. It is because of the situation you are in and the ways you are being stretched and pushed beyond your capacity. You are strong day in and day out. You can’t even truly rest while you sleep because of the dreams and nightmares. You are trying to love two children as your own, even though you missed out on the essential bonding years of infancy. Not only that, but you work full time!! In my book, this certainly qualifies you for some kind of major award!
I can see that you truly want the best for these kids. You really love them. But I can also see that you’re tired, you’re depleted and you’re running on fumes. You are human and you have a limited amount of time and energy. So you have to, for everyone’s sake, eliminate all the needless junk in your life. By this, I mean get rid of the self-imposed guilt. Expel the hovering, vicious thoughts telling you that you’re failing. And especially, eliminate (as you are able) all of the self-doubt that pushes you to believe that you’re not good enough, patient enough, loving enough, whatever enough. You are you and that is enough. At the end of every day you are empty. This is because you have given everything so that they might want for nothing . It will never feel like enough because they are bottomless pits at this point (regarding their neediness). But with time, maybe their special needs will be less because of the backbreaking work you are putting forth now.
Above all, try to look at yourself and everything around you with soft eyes. Pursue beauty and that which feeds your soul. Your face lit up when you talked about books…maybe you could make yourself a cozy reading niche? Perhaps gardening or photography are undiscovered talents? Regardless, figure out how to love, cherish, and respect yourself. It is not selfish…it is survival. Celebrate the small things, turn your morning coffee into a sacred ritual. Give yourself permission to sit and do nothing without judgment. Fight for joy and pray for the eyes to see light and beauty.
And though I don’t know you well, know that I love you. We are connected through our struggles and sufferings and I understand. I understand that you sometimes feel trapped in your own life. I recognize that you constantly feel as if you are on the verge of a mental breakdown and I am all too acutely aware of the guilt that has become your constant unwanted companion. But I also see that you are strong enough. You will have to work hard at resting, strive to surround yourself with love, and be a continual advocate for yourself and your family. But I know that you can do it. Hang in there and believe me when I say that you are amazing. Good strength!
There is a strange new man living in my house. He is tall, dark and handsome. Apparently, he is also extremely smart. He’s always brandishing this alleged intelligence and for some odd reason, constantly feels the need to remind me of his self-proclaimed autonomy. But it’s ironic…although he can drive a car, he can’t make a sandwich. And even though he’s able to decode insane chemistry equations, he looks at me like I’m speaking in Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice if I ask him to clean his room. This same “man,” who I am barely allowed to touch, also crawls into my room at 4 a.m. asking me if I have any medicine for his “tummy-ache.”
This paradoxical way of living is making me a little insane. If I relied on his feedback at all, I might be a bit schizophrenic and (only) slightly insulted. I have been told I’m a dictator, a crazy woman, completely irrational, and even a crack-addict! The unfortunate thing is, I’m not even sure that I completely disagree. Sometimes I feel like the wicked queen, wanting to wave my wand and banish him from my kingdom forever. Other days I feel psychotic, like I could literally strangle the life out of him that I imparted 16 years ago. At times, I cry, mourning the loss of childhood and sweet innocence. And on rare occasions, my sanity returns to me (if only briefly) and I am able to look into his eyes and see my child. I see his fears and struggles, his pain and insecurities, his dreams and failures. In an instant, he becomes a mirror to me and I am laid bare before my fears and struggles, my pain and insecurities, my dreams and failures. I am amazed and humbled as I realize that even though it seems that he is fighting against me, in reality, we are fighting together…fighting for his personhood, his character, his soul.
This stage of his life can only be likened to a second birth. Many days, I feel as though it is one big, fat, long contraction…sweating and toiling, but painful and very seemingly unproductive. But this time, I am not laboring to bring forth a child, I am laboring with my whole heart and soul to bring forth a fully grown man: a man who is loving and appreciative, respectful and kind, hard working and moral. This is not an easy task in today’s world. So to get through the labor pains, I keep before me the hopeful glimpses into his heart…images of him on the river, hunting with his dad and brother, the amazing photographs he takes, his hidden self-reflective side…and I find my hope that one day, the hard work will be over and standing before me will be an exceptional human being. Lord willing, we will be able to look back and laugh together at these days and what he has put us through.
And then…when time has passed and he’s grown and married and fathers my first sweet grand-baby, I will pull up my chair and popcorn and eagerly await for the arrival of my dear friend Karma!