From the time Dane was born until about a year ago I spent alot of time crying in rebellion and frustration at how difficult he was to live with and parent. I had anxiety any time we were in public. I knew that I could not control him in virtually any capacity and that onlookers would likely stare at me wondering why I wasn’t doing more to keep my kid in line. I was still relatively new at this parenting gig and strangers and their opinions still controlled me.
I had a few run ins with those well meaning strangers that broke my heart or completely pissed me off. Once at mass, before Juliet was born, Dane had a tantrum and I brought him outside to wait for my mom and Elaina. He began crying during the readings and was still screaming when mass let out. As the parishioners poured out of mass, Dane was thrashing and yelling and kicking and crying in my arms and I stood there waiting expressionless. This happened often and I was embarrassed but I had been down this road before and I knew there was nothing I could do to change it. Before Dane I thought a tantrum meant your child cried for a few minutes, but I was wrong. Dane’s tantrums meant he cried for at least an hour. Thrashing and screaming. We had to get up and leave wherever we were when a tantrum began. There was no calming him down. There was no talking to him. Once it started that was it. As I stood there waiting for my mom and Elaina, a woman I did not know came up to me and put her hand on my shoulder. She looked at me with pity and said “I think I know what’s going on here.”
I smiled at her and said “yeah, he wants to leave.” And she repeated herself except this time she acted as if we were both in on the secret “no, I know what’s really going on.” She was insinuating that something was wrong with Dane. I knew that look and I knew those words. I knew them because in my heart it was something I had worried about since he was born.
Later, when he was 3, and we got the results of his evaluation it was a sort of validation. I was right. I was not complaining about nothing. And I realized it gave me a hope. There was a problem and with a problem came the hope of a solution. It was hard to hear about his challenges and what the future might mean for him, sure, but it was also the beginning and it meant we were going to have tools to help him.
I adjusted and life with Dane became my normal. I did not even notice how much energy parenting him required. This was my life and I had learned to accept it. I had adapted and I was chugging along. I did not cry in rebellion or frustration about this part of my life any longer. In fact, I didn’t even notice it. Until this week.
Juliet had a cold and she was very needy. She mostly spent her time either crying or pitifully begging me “hold me, Mama.” I asked my MIL to take Dane for the day so I could focus completely on Juliet. She asked if Dane could spend the night and he ended up staying at her house for a day and a half.
During that time with only the girls I realized how much easier my day was and I realized how much our family had adjusted to accommodate Dane and his intricacies and his difficulties. I realized how easy and free I felt without him and how much my time with him sometimes left me feeling like a prisoner.
And then I wondered. I wondered if we had done him (and ourselves) a disservice. I realized we had just kind of waved the white flag. We had adjusted to him without really pushing him to adjust to us. We had adapted the way our family interacted with one another and lowered our expectations of Dane.
I hadn’t expected enough of him. I had learned to accept his constant whining and his yelling. I had learned to accept he had no patience and was incapable of waiting for anything. Whatever he wanted, he wanted it NOW and I did my best to accommodate him as quickly as possible (despite how unrealistic that is with two other children to care for).
When he was younger I rebelled against his differences and asked too much of him. I punished and yelled and tried to implement what a 2 year old “should” do without considering what my two year old was actually capable of and now I had lowered my expectations and not challenged him at all. I had stopped pushing him completely. Now, at 3.5 years old I was expecting the same out of him as I had at 2. I was insulting Dane by underestimating him and I was modelling to my family that we had to change because Dane was incapable of change and growth.
It’s amazing what clarity a little distance can bring.
Now we’ll be working on a few bad habits and learned behavior Dane has fallen into. It won’t be easy but change hardly ever is. I’m sure this is one of those lessons I’ll have to learn, re-learn and unlearn many times over. This is one of those things you only figure out through action. Some of his habits I know we can change and others I wonder if I’ll be expecting too much. Is he ready to potty train? I don’t know, but I’m willing to find this (and many other things) out now. And that gives me hope.