Friday, February 7, 2014

Absolution




How could this adorable goof-ball be a trigger for anybody?



OK. I know I promised to write the next entry about “The Braggart Mom.” That annoying woman who wants us to know how well her kid sleeps, how much weight her kid’s gained, how much milk she pumps, how quickly she lost all her pregnancy weight, how healthy her marriage is, bla bla bla. Yep. She’s annoying. But I’m not going to write about her today.

I’m going to write about someone far more annoying. I’m going to write about me.

I’m really getting on my own nerves lately. I’ll be honest, about 88% of this is hormonal. (If reading about my hormones upsets you, just imagine how experiencing them feels for me.) This is a bad month. And it doesn’t make it any better that I’m one of the rare women who gets her cycle back immediately after childbirth. While breastfeeding. Round the clock. And the first person to suggest that maybe I’m not nursing on command can deal with the back of my hand. (It returned with Sam before I went back to work, so we can’t blame it on that. And it returned quickly with Stella, who was a nursaholic and with whom I stayed home for 18 months. So just TRY to suggest I’m not nursing enough, fool.) 

Anyway, I’m annoying. I’m annoying because I have a really short fuse. And while a lot of this is, as I so long-windedly stated, hormonal, this is by no means the only time I struggle with my patience. It is a daily battle.

People assume because I teach public middle school, I must have all the patience in the world. While I maintain my cool pretty well at work, that is because I can distance myself from the situation. I love my students and they can get under my skin, but I don’t live with them. They’re not my offspring. It’s different somehow.

But from the moment I gave birth to Stella (almost 6 years ago – what?), I found myself staring my short fuse in the face multiple times a day.

First, it was the screaming. Know how Stella has been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, meaning her five senses are heightened to the point that normal sensory experiences can be painful for her? Yeah, well, I think I’m an undiagnosed case myself. As a kid, I’d sob when I got my hair cut, because the brushing hurt so badly. I’ve always been able to smell scents others don’t notice (I really don’t miss smelling hoards of dead rodents in the subways of NYC). My hearing is so good that I hear every snide remark every single student says about me under his or her breath from across the room (most of which I ignore). And when a baby screams, it is my undoing.

Now, I know nobody likes the sound of a baby screaming. Women are biologically wired to want to rush to that baby’s aid, and our bodies make us extremely uncomfortable until we do so. But I’m telling you, it’s different with me.

When a baby starts to scream – really scream, not regular crying or fussing, but ear-splitting screams – I feel like my skin is peeling off. It’s like my body is a tea kettle that is boiling over. I want to jump out a window, to dive into an ocean, to crawl back into a warm womb. I cannot take it.

My therapist tells me that is a lingering effect of my PTSD. I’ll pause while you sigh and roll your eyes. All done? Yes, I know I sound like a guest on Oprah, but I have PTSD due to the crap that happened when I was a kid and helped out by the experience of viewing the twin towers on fire from my West Village apartment. I’m working on it, I’m a lot better, but I still have triggers. And, apparently, screaming is a trigger.

And while I have to endure a day of screaming every 3 months or so with Sam, and that’s bad enough, it was daily with Stella. And it was bad. (There are a million blog entries on how bad, but I’ll just quickly remind you that it was bad enough that I ended up in the psychiatric ER on suicide watch. That really kind of says it all.)

Stella grew out of the screaming, thank God, when she started to learn how to express her needs to us, as well as how to cope with her strong senses. But she still tests my patience every day.

Before any sanctimommies out there want to attack me, let me clearly state something: Stella is an incredible kid. I have been so madly in love with her since the day I met her. I love her so much it makes me ache. Sometimes I just cry when I come in to check on her at night. She is so kind (seriously – the best big sister ever), so funny, so incredibly brilliant, so creative, such a curious and gorgeous soul. I am lucky to have her in my life.

But dear God does she test my patience. And honestly, I think it says more about my small reserve of patience than it does about her.

And this morning was bad. I had both kids, because I had a snow day (I teach in a different district from where I live), and I thought I’d give Dave a break from dropping them off before hitting the highway. We’ve worked on the morning routine, laying out clothes the night before so we can avoid any arguments about that in the morning. So she got dressed pretty well. But she still needs a lot of help with things like buttons and zippers and socks. She’s in occupational therapy to help her with these things, because her SPD has slowed her development down a bit, and I’ve worked on my patience with it, even though trying to snap snaps while bouncing a fussy baby at the same time is not the easiest thing in the world.

But then it was time for her to eat. I poured her some cereal and went to a chair to nurse Sam. I really hate talking about kids’ attention issues, because kids just naturally get distracted (which is why those If You Give a Mouse a Cookie… books are so popular), but Stella’s distractibility is amazing. She would take a bite, then ask me a question about Strawberry Shortcake. I’d answer her question, then direct her to eat some more. She’d take a bite, then get out of her chair to look at the robins walking in the snow outside. I’d confirm that they were adorable, then direct her to sit back down and eat. She’d take a bite, then inform me that Talisker (our cat) was vomiting again, a fact that really upsets her. I’d tell her it’s OK, I’ll clean it later, then tell her to eat some more. She’d take another bite, then get up to look at the amaryllis and tell me she’s worried it’s not getting enough water. I reassured her I’d water it, then directed her to go back to her seat and keep eating.

Yes. It’s cute. And it doesn’t bother us on the weekend when we can lounge around all morning. But when we have a time limit. It can be frustrating.

But, you know what? I kept my cool. I counted down, I gave her warnings, she ate an OK amount. But it was later than I would have liked. I really wanted to drop her off before car pool, because I find car pool so frustrating, and Stella really enjoys going to her before-school program. (Car pool is stressful because Stella has trouble unbuckling her seat belt – another fine motor function she struggles with –  and moves V E R Y   S L O W L Y getting out of the car. So by the time I’ve stopped, unbuckled her, given her her backpack, and prompted her 50 times to walk in the building, there are 400 angry cars lined up behind me. It’s just something I’d rather avoid if I can.)

So, I ran out to the car and started it so it could warm up. (I only do this on the REALLY cold days, everybody. I know it’s a bad habit.) I got Sam into his winter garb, strapped him in his car seat, put on my snow boots, got my coat on, got Stella’s coat on, helped her get her shoes on, and we were ready to walk out the door. And that’s when I remembered show and tell today, and how much Stella was looking forward to bringing Ducky Sue, her stuffed duck.

And I actually had an argument in my head. It went something like this:

Oh! I need to remind Stella to go get Ducky Sue and put her in her backpack!

Are you CRAZY? We’re running late! We need to get out the door. Now! She’ll be OK.

No! Don’t be mean! She’ll be so sad when she realizes she forgot her.

OK. Fine. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So, I asked Stella to run up and get Ducky Sue. I told her she needed to be fast. And then I peeked out the window to make sure nobody had stolen our car yet.

She went upstairs and I waited. And waited. And waited. Then I called up to her. I heard nothing. I called again. Nothing. So…I left my son and my running car to see what was going on.

She had Ducky Sue, but the toy chest she’d removed the duck from was messy. And Stella, my gorgeous Stella who copes with the uncertainty of her world that is filled with very strong sights, sounds, sensations, smells, and tastes by maintaining tight control of everything around her, was obsessed over putting that toy chest back exactly the way it was. And she would not listen to me when I told her we had to leave.

And I guess I was triggered. Or maybe I was just an annoying jerk. Because I lost it. I didn’t employ the 1,2,3 Magic discipline tools we’ve had so much success with lately. I didn’t calmly tell her she could clean it up later. I yelled. And yelled and yelled and yelled.

I got in her face and yelled. I told her how much she tests me. I asked her why she is compelled to move more slowly the later we are. And of course she had no answer for me. She looked sad. She looked scared. And I wish I could have hit myself.

I read an article recently on how modern parents hit less but yell more. It also stated that yelling can be just as bad as physical abuse. I’ve never hit my kids, but I’ve yelled. I’ve gone through better periods and worse periods, but it is what I do when I suck as a mom. It is my weakness. It is the thing I do that makes me furious at myself.

I apologized and told her that while we need to work on her ability to move faster when we’re late, me yelling at her wasn’t the right way to handle it. We hugged. We were late. We had to endure car pool. She got in the building. I pulled away, checked that Sam was sleeping in the back, pulled over and cried my eyes out.

Yes, parents make mistakes. I can’t expect myself to be perfect. But I’m better than that. 

When I was little, my dad would scream at me when I was slow. I took too long in the bathroom, I took too long to eat my meal, I walked too slowly, I dressed too slowly. I was screamed at. And screamed at. And belittled. And hit, from time to time.

So now I’m an incredibly prompt adult. Prompt and stressed out and so freaking concerned with getting somewhere on time that I become an a-hole to my kid. I want to help Stella become a person who is cognizant of time, who is considerate of others, but I never – EVER – want her to feel like she needs to get in and out of the toilet in 20 seconds (like I do) or who scarfs down her meals (like I do). 

I’ve been given a gift: to parent the way I wanted to be parented. I cannot squander this gift.

So, yeah, this is an incredibly long-winded and rambling entry. And this really serves to help me forgive myself, more than anything else. (On a side note, I recently started a thread on the local moms message board where we can confess our worse mom moments and it blew up instantly! I guess so many of us feel pressure to be perfect, so pressured to appear perfect, that the idea of getting to tell all our dark secrets was just too tempting. It is an easy way to forgive ourselves. It is going to confession for us non-Catholics.)

So I hope this helps me forgive myself enough to calm down and move on. I’m going to keep using the tools in the 1,2,3 Magic book (which I highly recommend to both parents and teachers, by the way), and I’m going to remind myself that it’s more important for me to take a deep breath and count to ten than it is for us to be on time. Being a little bit late won’t hurt us, but being a jerk to my kid will.

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