Saturday, June 10, 2017

Lost and Not Alone

I hate being anxious.

I hate the feeling of never knowing what to say and worrying constantly about figuring it out.  I avoid calling anyone because I never know what I’m going to say on the phone or how I will know the conversation has run its course or how to extricate myself from the call when it does.  I don’t call people, even people I’ve known for years, to go to lunch or have coffee because even if I could navigate the phone call, I can’t imagine what I will say and can’t face the possible awkwardness of staring at each other with nothing to say. I rely heavily, very heavily, on my more extroverted friends to make plans and bring me along. I am incredibly lucky to have such friends and I treasure them dearly.

When it was just me, the worst consequence of this was that I stayed home alone more often that I would have liked.  When my daughter was younger, she became far more socially adept that I will ever be.  She made friends easily and seemed to always be the person in charge of making the plans.  My role was largely to chaperone and chauffeur them around, a role I was perfectly comfortable in.  But my son needs more from me. As I watch him struggle to figure out the social cues, his bewilderment and anxiety are a reflection of my own.  I watch him struggle to figure out why the others don’t want to keep talking about the same things and how to follow the natural course of the conversation, and my heart breaks for him.  His discomfort, for different reasons, is so close to my own.  I worry frequently that my inability to socialize appropriately has inhibited his social skills more than was necessary.  I’m terror stricken at the idea of calling another parent to arrange play dates and get togethers.  What will we do? What will we talk about?  What if they say no?  What if they say yes?  Paralyzed, I rely on organized activities like sports for opportunities for social interactions for him and try to convince myself that these will suffice.  So my fears prevent him from having more one on one interactions which makes it harder for him to learn social interactions, which isolates him even more.  I watch his friends arrange play dates and sleep overs and movie outings together and know I am failing him horribly.

I don't have an answer or an uplifting ending.  Sometimes, you just keep moving.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Ready to Fly...

It was never supposed to end like this.  It was never supposed to BE like this.  Brendan wasn’t supposed to go to ABC at Grays Woods.  Several friends had highly recommended ABC to us and we set out to enroll him (actually, we didn’t even know he was a “him” yet) at the University Drive center where their kids went.  When we called to ask for a tour and to possibly enroll this child-to-be-named-later, we were told that there wouldn’t be any openings at University Drive in August of 2009 (did I mention that we didn’t even know his sex yet???  Clue #1 that we were in the right place—very long waiting list. : ) ). We were told that the Grays Woods center had space open and he could start there and move over to University Drive when space opened up.  They were gracious enough to give us a tour of both centers and introduce us to the staff at both places.  We loved how bright and cheerful and happy the Grays Woods center seemed and we figured he’d be fine there for a few weeks until space opened up for him at the center closer to our house.  We filled out the registration form (which said “Baby Riggle” at the time) and crossed that item off the “to worry about” list.

Little did we know that neither University Drive nor “fine” were in the cards for us.

We dropped our Little Tigger off on his first day at the tender age of 12 weeks.  He never cried a bit.  I cried.  Matt cried.  Bren was happy as a clam.  For 5 solid years, Bren was happy as a clam.  In all that time, I can count on both hands the number of days he ever cried being dropped off, and one of those was because he fell and cut his lip just as I was about to leave.  By November it was clear that he was attached to his caregivers and the others at ABC and we decided that we would decline a space at the closer center if one came up.

Wouldn’t you know it; Amy contacted us the next day to tell us a space had opened up.  We looked at each other and chuckled before turning it down.  We never looked back.  To be honest, until this week we had forgotten that we ever wanted him to be anywhere else.

In 5 years, he learned to sit up and crawl, walk and run, talk and (sort of) listen.  He learned to play with the other kids and learned to make friends.  We made friends, too.  We stood side by side with other parents wrestling cranky infants into winter clothes they didn’t want to wear and into car seats they didn’t want to be buckled into.  We puzzled together over the evening we picked them up looking perfectly normal, only to find blue and purple bellies under their shirts at bathtime.  We hung identical hand print artwork in our kitchens and admired each other’s displays. 

The staff and parents at ABC became our friends and our extended family.  They worried with us over a string of ear infections that threatened Bren’s hearing, over the surgery for his magical ear tubes that eliminated the problem overnight, over the puzzling behaviors that heralded the onset of his ADHD.  They reassured us after Moore, OK that they had a disaster plan in place if a storm threatened this bright and airy school.  They reassured us after Newtown that they were reviewing already strict safety protocols and that they had given extra hugs and kisses to each of our little ones.  Best and worst of all, they worked with us, talked with us, mourned with us, and raged with us after the terrible events of fall 2011 and their fallout hit very close to home.  They helped us find age appropriate ways to talk to our kids about the storm swirling around their community and they reassured us that they were watching closely for any signs of trauma or distress in our kids. They were always, always looking out for all of us.

For 5 solid years, Bren was so well loved and cared for, that when it came time to register him for kindergarten, we worried about the impact of him leaving this safe and cozy nest.  We were so worried, that we even asked the school district to move him to the school closer to the center so he could stay there.  The moment the decision was made, we knew it was the wrong one.  I was scared for him to go out on his own, and, if I’m perfectly honest, I was scared for me. What would I do without these wonderful people to help look out for my little guy?  What would I do without these wonderful people around ME?  My fear of him leaving was as much about me as it was about him.  Slowly, we recognized that fear is a terrible way to start a future so we took a deep breath and moved him back to the school in our neighborhood.  We got ready to move him out of ABC.

So today is the day.  It’s the last day for our not-so-little-anymore Bren in the cozy, happy, safe nest made for him at ABC.  Next week he and all his classmates will take off for Kindergarten, scattered all over the district.  The best gift we got from ABC was knowing that we won’t be the only ones standing back watching them fly.

We love you.  All of you.  You will always be part of our family!

Friday, April 12, 2013

An Hour of "Yes."

My 3.5 year old son is going through a defiant streak this week (oh God, please let it just be for this week!) where he is just out of sorts and unhappy with the world.  I can sympathize.  It’s  been the kind of week when I just want to howl at the world until it bends to my will, or at least allows me to take a nap.  

Tonight, while his father made dinner, I decided that he and I would go for a walk to try to, as a friend’s mother puts it, “Blow the stink off of him.”  As we left the house and walked down the drive, he pointed to the right and said “Let’s go this way?”  Sure, why not?  So I agreed.  A block later, we came to the first intersection and he pointed straight ahead. “Let's go this way?”  Again, I nodded.  Yes, if we could walk on the side of the road.  He happily complied.

Within a few yards, we came to a point where we needed to either turn around,  take a path through the back side of a parking lot, or head toward the main road.  The sidewalk for the main road picks up here, so when my son pointed toward the highway and said “Can we keep going?”  I agreed, as long as we walked on the sidewalk.  He nodded agreeably and veered to the walk.

Ten minutes of not hearing the word “No,” and some much needed fresh air, had magically transformed him back into his sunny, agreeable self.  I decided that for the remainder of the hour, so long as it was reasonable, I wouldn’t say “No.”  We walked out to the highway and I let him pick which direction we turned.  After giving it some serious consideration, he turned thoughtfully to the right and pointed.  We headed north up the sidewalk, passing an auto repair shop with a display of tires outside.  He reached out his hand, clearly thought about this action, and looked back at me expectantly.  

 “I want to touch the tires,” he explained.

“Okay,” I agreed.  He ran his hand over the tread of one and then slapped his hand against it.

“It’s hard!” he exclaimed.  I concurred.  They need to be hard, they hold up the whole car on the road!

“We don’t throw wheels in the house.”

“We don’t throw anything in the house,” I amended “except the occasional pillow.”  He giggled.  We walked a little further on and came to a sign pole that he reached out and smacked his hand against. 

“I don’t touch the sign,” he said, clearly expecting a reprimand.

“You can touch that one.  It’s pretty tough.”  He nodded, considering.  We walked along, chatting about the cars going by, and in another block, he asked to walk in the grass, pointing to the space between a bank and the sidewalk.  I agreed, and we wandered through the grassy space, cutting across the corner to the next street.  As we passed the bank, he pointed to the door and announced “I want to go in the door.”  Hmmm.  By now I was committed to not saying “no” if I didn’t have to, but it was after 6:00, dinner was about ready at home, and we were clearly not going into the bank.  I considered for a moment.

“Honey, the bank is closed.  They locked the doors for the night.” I explained.  He thought this over for a moment, and then nodded as we continued on our way.  As we turned the corner toward home, he bent to pick up a pine cone.  My first instinct was to scold him to put it down, but I waited a heartbeat or two to think it over.  He was going to have to wash his hands before dinner anyway; what could the pinecone hurt?  I ignored it.  A few feet later, he bent to inspect a much more bedraggled specimen.  As he bent to pick it up, I opened my mouth to say “No!” but what came out was “Honey, that one’s really muddy and dirty.”  He poked it with his finger and wrinkled his nose.

“Ick!” he exclaimed, giggling, and walked away from the muddy cone.

“I want some milk!” He announced a few seconds later.  I nodded.

“Ok, but we need to go home for that.”  I agreed.

“Okay.  Let’s go home.”  And off we set.   

As we approached our own drive, he insisted we turn another direction.  Instead of saying no, dinner was about ready, I reminded him that he had asked for milk. He immediately struck out toward the front door.  After I shepherded him into the bathroom to wash his hands and back to the table, he turned to me and asked hopefully,

“Can we go for a walk again?”   I assured him that tomorrow, we would do just that.

Not saying “no” for that hour taught me a lesson.  It’s unrealistic, and unwise, to never say “No” to a child, and if he had asked for something unreasonable or unsafe, the answer would indeed have been a firm “No!”  As we left the house, I had reminded him that he needed to hold my hand the whole time.  He never once objected, or I would have had to say no.  That’s my job—to keep him safe and teach him to follow the rules.

But sometimes I say no, as all parents do, because it’s the easy answer.  Because it’s what we think we should say.  When we left the driveway, I had intended to turn left, and if I had been distracted or annoyed, I might have said “no” when he asked to go to the right.  When he asked to walk in the grass or touch the tires, I might have said “no” out of habit because these were not our yard or his things, but there was no harm in saying “yes.”  Those tires were destined to far tougher treatment than the pat of a 3 year old boy.  That grass had probably never been trod on by more than a handful of humans before.  Deciding I wasn’t going to say “no” prompted me to consider these things before giving him an answer.  It forced me to think of a different response to the bank door; one that allowed him to puzzle over the locked door and come to the “no” of it on his own—a critical thinking lesson on an evening walk around the neighborhood.

No one likes to feel as though their life is beyond their control, but when you’re three, the whole universe is often beyond your control.  Most of that is by necessity, but it doesn’t always have to be.  I could be more thoughtful in my answers and give him the chance to come to the “no” on his own, by his choice, some of the time.  If I model thinking over my responses before I give them, he might just learn to do the same.