There is No Right Answer

I recently came to a conclusion about how I wanted to tackle the next step in Dreaming of Eden — which I don’t want to discuss in detail because there’s this weird difference between making a decision about doing serious writerly things, and saying them outloud. But it made me realize that as a writer, I have no obligation to do things a certain way.

I’m not going to write about this publishing method versus that publishing method — you’ve heard it all before. Rather, I’m talking about this feeling ingrained into writer’s to defend their decision to deviate from expectations. I don’t mean just within the realm of publishing, either. I’m forever in a state of defending why I still write and read fanfiction. My sister is has been explaining to people for years that she doesn’t write those epic-length series because she wants to be a published — or even a read — writer. (Shit, I’m even guilty of committing the Saaaaaaaaam, why don’t you want to publish those? In fact, I’m overdue for a harassment. To the Twitter!)

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The Painfully Honest Story of How I Get Mad at Me, and It Manifests as Mad at My Toddler

I don’t want to hit the post button. This does not show me in a good light, and it hurts, but sometimes the discussions about the ugly things have to happen.

This morning Miles upended half a gallon of milk on the floor. You’re not supposed cry over spilled milk, but you can apparently lose your mind like a lunatic. Lest you think I’m being dramatic, no. My response was to tell him to go to his bedroom because I didn’t even want to look at him — I really wanted to spank him, but at least had enough reason to tell myself No — and then to post on Facebook about how I was going to throw him out into the wild.

What you’re witnessing here is clearly good parenting.

Thing is, it was an accident and I knew it. I know he was upset, and I know that I only made things worse by carrying him off to his room like a prisoner. I can tell you exactly how it happened in his brain, even. He wanted a glass of milk. The cup was already on the table. He’s fairly independent, and had all the tools necessary to get some milk. He goes into the fridge to get his own food all the time. This isn’t a new development. Then, gravity overtook his ability to control the jug of milk, and there we go. An entire half-gallon of milk on the floor.

I lost my temper. I am ill-tempered. And on the Facebook post my friends have largely responded in the jest that this sort of post usually is, but I was legitimately angry with him. I shouldn’t have been. I could have scolded him, yes, and explained to him why what he did turned out to be a bad thing — but to get angry? Hello, wrong response. Andy got home from his walk after I was ordering Miles to get back into his room; thankfully he took over the role of reasonable parent. Meanwhile, I fumed and posted about pulling a Sparta on my three-year-old. I refused to talk to or touch him. I left the apartment to run an errand without telling him goodbye.

Okay, we all hate me as much as I hate me now, so I’ll get my point: I was — and am — more mad at my inability to be a reliable, reasonable parent than I was at the action of spilling the milk.

The spark of anger was that yes, I just bought that half-gallon of milk yesterday. It was the only milk in the house. But what should have died there sort of exploded.

I was right there; our apartment isn’t all that huge and I was literally about 10 feet away from where he was pouring the milk. By the time I heard the noise, I was peering over the edge of the couch to see the last of it go over the edge of the honey pot. (It was a very small little honey pot that we’d recently cleaned.) Why didn’t I ask what was going on when he went in the fridge? Why didn’t he ask for help? What was I doing that was so important, that I couldn’t pay attention?

I love that Miles wanted to do something on his own, and instead of turning it into a learning experience I taught him that his mother is dangerously goddamned unhinged. Maybe he’ll remember it next time he wants to do something, maybe he won’t. Maybe it’s going to affect how he chooses to express his independence in the future. Or the thought I find more haunting these days: what if his first memory of me is me saying, “Are you fucking serious? I don’t even want to look at you!” (And yes, it is extremely painful to write that sentence — because no one wants to admit that in a fit of temper they actually said are you fucking serious to their toddler. Because no one, especially not me, wants people who sometimes think of her as a good parent to know that no, she’s actually not.)

If there’s a silver-lining to this disgusting event at all, it’s that I realized what’s actually going on inside my head when attempts to discipline Miles fail. He doesn’t listen. He laughs when I tell him “No,” or he just doesn’t stop a behavior that’s hurting or damaging something. It pisses me off, yes, but what really gets me is that I’m failing, that I don’t know the right combination of words or tools to make him understand why his behavior is bad. I don’t understand what to do after trying everything I know — from timeouts to gently explaining why that hurts/is naughty to yelling — and I get mad. I get mad at the situation, and I get mad at me, and I get mad at the toddler even though he really carries the least fault in the situation. He’s a child. He’s supposed to be a pain in my ass, and I’m supposed to be able to help him become a reasonable person.

How the fuck am I supposed to craft a reasonable person when I’m not even one myself?

How I Learned It Would Be Okay

Welcome to the March 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With Special Needs

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how we parent despite and because of challenges thrown our way. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I’m rocking the initials here, because I haven’t had a chance to chat with K’s mom online. While I know her well enough to know that she would be okay with my sharing my perspective on our time together — better safe than sorry.  

When I was 18 I nannied for a little boy (K). He had some severe asthma, but K was a bright, happy toddler who happened to trouble hearing that impeded his verbal development. By the time he was kindergarten — when I visited him last several years ago — you wouldn’t know he faced any obstacles as a toddler at all. In terms of having special needs, I suspect K was as lucky as you could get.

K was just three months when I met his mother (A); I was 14. He was the first openly breastfed baby I met; when A pumped, she did it while I was there and was even comfortable with that fact that I stared in open awe. In the coming years K was the first child I watched overnight; A’s family was the first I met that co-slept. A was first mother I met who was really different, and I was amazed.

Seeing the way A raised K influences a lot of my parenting, even eleven years after I first met her — especially because of all the challenges K (and A, as his mother) faced.

About a month after I graduated high school I moved in with A and K, who was three. We were great friends, and she worked long hours in healthcare. I lived with them for six months, and I probably learned more than I left behind.

Let me give you some background. K’s asthma was so severe that he took two medications every morning. We were always on alert for things that might stuff him up, because they could rapidly become emergencies. I took him to his first fireworks display that July with a diaper bag full of emergency supplies, just in case the smoke gave him trouble. Anything that caused him to get stuffed up was a problem. When a cold hit the house, we went on full alert.

More difficult was the communication. I admit that at 18 I didn’t really grasp the problem, but it boiled down to this: K couldn’t hear sounds correctly, and thus wasn’t able to speak. If you didn’t know K, you didn’t understand him — it was that simple. A was divorced, and when K’s dad would call he didn’t understand a word he said on the phone.

Living with A was difficult, but she taught me a lot about how to be a parent. More than the style and values I picked up from her, there was more to it than that. A was under a lot of pressure, and I got to see what parenting gracefully under pressure looked like — and sometimes, what it looked like when it fell apart.

She never, ever treated K like he was broken. Sometimes he would just lose it, being so frustrated that he couldn’t communicate. It would stress me out — it would stress her out — but she took everything as it came. She didn’t try to control things she couldn’t, while staying as informed as possible on what she needed to do as his mother.

She never shied away from the fact that her son had problems speaking. If someone wanted to know why he couldn’t speak correctly, she just told them: “He has trouble hearing, so he doesn’t know the right sounds.” There was never any shame to it. She never got upset when people didn’t understand, even if she would rant later if they chose to be rude or dismissive.

She taught me that it’s okay to accept help. And that it’s okay not to have it all together all the time. Sometimes, while K was otherwise occupied, we would sit on our porch and she would just unravel. She loved her son, completely and absolutely, and was still sometimes be so utterly exhausted with him.

She taught me not to worry. Worrying wasn’t going to change what K was going through.

Now that I have a three-year-old of my own, I recognized the signs that he was behind verbally — it’s rather uncanny.  His doctor confirmed our concern, so next month he’s scheduled for an evaluation handled by the local school district.

I’m not worried. Whether his delay is because he doesn’t have the right outlet to develop his language skills or because of something more serious, I have an idea of what’s ahead and how to deal.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 13 with all the carnival links.)