I awoke a short time ago, at 2:00 in the morning, and have not yet been able to fall back to sleep. My mind keeps recycling the thoughts of the prior day, and I find myself ruminating on them. Each and every day brings something to all of us that we wish we had said or done or handled differently, especially as parents. Each day is full of challenges. Each day is an opportunity to begin again. Each day is also a potential for failure.
I suppose that’s not an ideal way to look at it. I imagine my therapist would/will say, when I discuss it with her, that failure is simply giving up…to not feel there is any other option to choose. I don’t necessarily feel that way about yesterday; but I do wish that I had handled a few things differently.
I have, in my life, two children with very unique and very difficult issues to work through. Normal ‘parenting’ strategies don’t really apply to our situation. What may be an ordinary ‘annoyance’ for many children can be catastrophic in nature to the boys. What some parents may handle with a simple ‘talk’ with their own child(ren) can become an instantaneous battle for us. I often find myself in an escalated situation with the boys before I even know it is getting ‘out of hand.’ There are simply no warnings or predictors to what the triggers will be with them. We fly by the seat of our pants 99% of the time. We never physically discipline or punish them. But there are often raised voices and even yelling that takes place, sometimes on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s the only thing that stops them in their tracks.
I write a lot of stories about the boys, and of late have been told that I always make it seem like I am ‘this great f-ing dad’ with my words. I suppose I share more of the ‘good’ times than I ever do the bad. Some days I’m not a great f-ing dad….some days I am ‘that guy’ who lets situations get louder and more challenging than they need to. In all honesty, I’ve talked to other parents and different counselors and therapists and other caregivers I’ve met that say that it’s understandable and the stressors that exist with the boys and their behaviors are beyond ‘normal’. I have friends who are aware of the day to day challenges who often say ‘I can’t imagine how you two cope with that.’ The short answer is sometimes good, sometimes bad. The long answer is a lot less cut and dried. The long answer is that I sometimes just don’t know what to do….I try every single method I can read up on to approach and diffuse a situation, and none of them work, and I just don’t know what to do ‘next’. I am sure I’m not the only parent who has gotten there…who has gotten to that place of ‘I have zero clue what to do to fix or change this and I have to merely get through this situation.’
I am also sure I am not the only parent who yells at their kids, but most parents wont show you that response to a difficult situation, or even admit to doing it, and if they do they are instantly judged by others as being a terrible parent. I know because I’ve done it myself…though in reality I’ve judged the parents who seem to be yelling at their child not because it’s going to change the situation, or even seems warranted, but because they appear to want others around them to notice them and pity them and feel sympathy for the terrible, terrible burden they are saddled with. These people I think I will always judge. These people seem to berate and ridicule their child publically simply to garner attention for themselves. I have absolutely no understanding of that. What I do have an understanding of is having to take a child into a store and have them want anything and everything in sight and when you say no to them they tell you they hate you, and you’re the worst parent ever and they stamp their feet and shout and run off and it takes every ounce of strength to try to coax them back to being calm and explain that a trip to the store is sometimes just for necessities, not stuff we’d simply ‘like to have’. I also get that no one else in the world wants to listen to someone else’s child having a complete and utter meltdown while they are trying to do their own shopping. Well, folks…I am amongst your ranks….I get annoyed with it too….I would rather listen to a filibuster delivered by Yoko Ono singing the words off-key and simultaneously scraping her nails on a blackboard for background effect than listen to a child have a temper tantrum in a store. But you know what? It happens…it happens to me frequently…and we don’t all have the means to get a sitter at 8 in the morning when we realize we’re out of milk, or at 9 at night when our child says ‘guess what, I need colored pencils for my classwork tomorrow or I’ll fail the assignment’ so we can skip out to the store, unaccompanied. We don’t all have a happy pill to wrap in a Twinkie and feed to them before we enter a store so that they will simply trot along by our side like a good little Stepford Child and smile and giggle and say ‘Yes, Sir’ and ‘No, Sir’ and respond to being told ‘no’ with nothing stronger than an ‘Oh golly’ – and if you want an experience like that every time you go into a store or a restaurant, you need to look up Ward and June Cleaver’s neighborhood and hop in the Wayback Machine with Sherman and Mr. Peabody because those days are long gone.
There is such a stigma these days on looking like you wear anything but a cape, tights, and a big red S on your chest when it comes to being a parent. Sure, it’s nice to have someone say ‘you’re doing the right thing’ and ‘you’re doing a great job’, and offer words of support and reassurance…..but I’d trade all that in a minute for someone telling me that mythical, elusive ‘magic answer’ to break through the challenges and make a real difference. I’d trade any of the accolades I’ve received in the past eight years of parenting kids for the ability to always be calm, cool, and rational when the kids’ behaviors get out of control…..hell, I’d even trade them to remain that way 75% of the time instead of always. All the parenting ‘tips’ and ‘guides’ say the same thing…remain calm. And you know what….when I’m reading them, late at night or early in the morning when the children are sleeping…or like right now, while I’m writing about this, sitting up at 3:30 in the morning, with the only other noise I hear besides the ‘clack clack clack’ of my keyboard being the dog snoring a few feet away….I’m calm….I’m cool…I’m collected….’ When I have one child jumping on my sofa after being told at least ten thousand times not to and they have grabbed a toy or pillow or blanket from the other child, and the other child is screaming ‘DADDY….DAAAAADDDDDYYYYYYY….HE WON’T GIVE IT TO ME…….’ and about to completely lose all control because it triggers their ADHD, or when the phone rings and it’s a medical professional I’ve been playing phone tag with for three days and I just happened to be near enough to the phone to hear it ring, and the children obviously think that the ring tone on our phone means the circus has come to town and it’s time to race through the room chasing one another and screaming and slamming doors behind them and throwing things at one another and barreling into me and screaming at me to pay attention to them….or I’ve been up all night and all day with one of them because they started hallucinating on an increased dosage of their medication and I’ve been bitten, and kicked, and hit, and scratched and had to keep trying again and again to calm them down and realizing I’d sacrifice nearly anything I own to get them to sleep so that I can sleep, even for a couple of hours, so that I’m a little stronger and a little more capable when they do awaken if the situation hasn’t improved for them….when that happens; as it has this week, I guarantee I won’t be calm, cool, and collected then. I guarantee all reason will go out the window. I guarantee that the complete and utter exhaustion associated with being awake from 5am Thursday morning until 9pm Friday night will have taken it’s toll on me, and I will have no reasonable response to another meltdown other than ‘BECAUSE I SAID SO, THAT’S WHY!’
So yeah….yesterday I had a ‘failure’ moment as a parent. I saw something beginning to happen that would, based upon ample history, trigger a meltdown in one of the boys, and I stepped into it and removed the other child from the situation, which really only set off a meltdown and screaming fit for him…..and in the long run really didn’t fix much. But right then and there…in that moment…it seemed like the only thing to do. It seemed like the only way to prevent one meltdown was to be the cause of another. For one child I succeeded in doing the fair and right thing. For the other child…because I felt I had no other option….I failed.
It’s now 3:40 in the morning. In a few short hours my little cherubs will awaken from their slumber and the chaos will start all over again. There is a fresh layer of snow on the ground….one of them will be able to get out and play immediately because his boots from last year will still fit him. The other one won’t be so lucky, because his boots DON’T fit, and in the abundance of activity associated with moving, getting new insurance and new doctors and new referrals and multiple appointments and getting the house ready for Thanksgiving to take place here and Christmas shopping done very early to send it all off to Vermont so that the kids don’t see their gifts in the back end of the car and give up believing in Santa Claus too early because they are smart enough to figure out it was us that bought them if we have them with us…..I’ve failed to obtain a pair of boots to fit one of the kids and will have to get to a store sometime today to rectify that situation. And until I do….I’ll be the worst, most awful, horrible dad in the world because I’ll have to tell him ‘no….you can’t go out yet…not yet’…..and there is less than a 1% chance he’ll understand and accept it without it triggering a meltdown in him, once again.
I suppose I should get some sleep…..because that meltdown is going to come awfully early…..and if I have anything other than a 1% chance of success in handling it with any grace, dignity, and aplomb…..I need to fortify myself. Maybe, with a little more sleep I can look at these situations as ‘accidents of life’ rather than failures, and hopefully, in time, even the ‘accidents’ will lessen. Eeyore said ‘They’re funny things, accidents. You never realize you’re having them until you have them.’