I Hope He Has Friends

I hope he has

My youngest son would happily watch YouTube toy review videos for the rest of his life.  I don’t let him, but he SO WOULD.  He especially loves the “blind bags” – those ridiculously priced little pouches filled with a single tiny version of a superhero, which you may or may not already own because you can’t tell what’s inside, damnit.  Little Bear has cried all three times I’ve surprised him with one because it’s WRONG and we need to TRY AGAIN, MOMMY!  I’m doing my best slow clap, you evil marketing geniuses.

Parenting a child with mental illness is, without a doubt, the grown-up version of a blind bag.

If it’s a volatile time, I wake up every. single. morning. wondering which version of Pea will come down the stairs.  Will he be happy and relaxed?  Or did he toss and turn amid a torrent of nightmares?  Will he give me the sleepy grin and crawl into our bed?  Or will he hover near my beside table wringing his small hands with worry?  I’m never sure.  I do a lot of praying, y’all.

Other times, the blind surprise is sneakier.  It appears in my lap out of nowhere with a giant “OPEN ME!” sticker and I’ve got no choice but to follow the directions.  Occasionally, it’s an unexpected blessing.  Sometimes, it’s an epic disaster that I’ve never entertained the thought of before.

I recently opened a disaster and it’s nothing and it’s everything.  Pea is about to start 3rd grade.  Pea thinks he is popular.  Pea is not popular.  I wonder if this is the year that he will figure it out.  Please don’t let it be the year that he figures it out.

It’s a loaded topic and more nuanced than that, but it hit me in just those words during a chat with my mom a few days ago.  When our babies are little, they are as “popular” as we are…meaning that your young child is friends with people YOU socialize with.  They don’t have much say in the situation, other than controlling the instinct to bite Sally and/or steal McNuggets and toy trains.  Pea is lucky to have some amazing friends thanks to my “tribe” in the neighborhood and for that I am very thankful – because he’s getting older and he’s going to probably wear the “weird kid” tag soon, if he doesn’t already.  He was briefly picked on by a 4th grader last spring and the boy’s catch phrase whenever he laid eyes on Pea was, “Hey, look!  It’s the Weird Kid!  Hi, WEIRD KID!”  Weirdly AWESOME, jerk face.  Did I say that out loud?  Anyway…

The bottom line is that Pea IS different.  His brain seems to operate in a different space.  He loves to tell jokes…one of his sweet teachers told me last year that she opened up their writing lesson by asking if anyone knew what “contractions” were.  Pea raised his hand to say they were “something that pregnant women had”.  I snorted with laughter over that one – but how many second graders do you know who have studied labor and delivery?  Pea tackled that topic at the ripe old age of 3.  He likes different things than his peers.  He plays in different ways than his peers.

And let’s face the elephant in the room, y’all.  He cries a lot at school.  He panics a lot at school.  He goes to the nurse a lot at school.  He tells everyone at school about his GAD and OCD because I taught him that it was no different than his friend with diabetes doing the same.  Except it is different, isn’t it?  I’ll NEVER be sorry that I taught him to stand tall and not feel ashamed.  But I’m only just now thinking about the social ramifications for his openness.  Blind bag, anyone?

Pea has one “best” male friend.  One sweet boy from his grade who is gifted and funny and loves to make up elaborate worlds and play in them just like Pea.  He’s laid back and easy going and fast becoming a popular little dude.  Pea is not his only best buddy.  The difference is palpable now.  This summer, he’s frequently out at other friend’s houses when we try to invite him over.

Pea doesn’t get invited to other friend’s houses.  I hadn’t thought about it ONCE until a couple of weeks ago.

Pea got invited to one birthday party outside of my tribe this year, and that was a BIG party.  The “tribe” birthdays are dwindling because most of my close friends have girls and they do things involving glitter and slumber parties now.  I don’t WANT people to force their kids to include Pea – that’s ridiculous.  I might be the odd mom out with that feeling, but I’m not for forced inclusion – unless the whole class is invited, of course.  I wouldn’t make Pea to invite the whole class to HIS small parties (when he has them) and the same goes for everyone else.  If you want to have five best pals at your party, they should be your FIVE BEST PALS.  But, LORD, ya’ll.   It shatters my heart into a million tiny pieces when I think of Pea not having his own buddies…kids with his name on the tip of their tongues when planning a celebration.  All the blind bags.

I want him to have a crew of boys who laugh and play and eat all the food in my kitchen.

I want to say, “No, you can’t go to Johnny’s house!  You’ve got homework!”

I want to say, “Sorry, Sally!  Pea can’t play tomorrow – he’s already got plans with Steve.  The rest of the week is crazy.  How does Monday work for ya’ll?”

I want my fellow mental illness mamas know that I feel your pain and we are all in this together.  I’m sitting with you and hugging your neck when you hear about the umpteenth party your babe wasn’t invited to.  I hate it, too.

I’m there during all those summer afternoons when your little dude is bugging you to have his buddy over and you don’t want to tell him the truth – buddy had plans with another friend.  You’re not looking forward to the day he realizes that he’s not ever busy.  I’m not, either.

I take that back.  I want ALL THE MAMAS to know that my hand is on your shoulder.  Being left out certainly isn’t bound to kids with special needs.  It happens to everyone.  And it SUCKS when it’s your child on the sidelines.  No matter what.

Let’s remember to support everyone whenever we can.  Be a friend to that mama who has a kiddo on the outskirts.  Being a parent is the HARDEST THING EVER and we need each other for love, kindness and vodka drinking moral support.

And honestly…WHO came up with these damn toy reviews on YouTube?  I would be all what-the-hell-turn-that-junk-off except that HobbyKidsTv is the primary reason that I’m able to shower daily.  So Imma let you finish.

<<cracks self up with Kanye reference and drops mic>>

 

hello-3

 

 

 

 

Perception

Coddling.  Merriam-Webster defines it “to treat with extreme or excessive care or kindness”.  It’s interesting, this word.  The connotation lurking around it is negative.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard the term mentioned in a positive light, although I do think that “excessive kindness” is an oxymoron.  Can kindness ever be TOO much?  I suppose the answer would be yes…I’m sure it wouldn’t do to be excessively kind to someone who was, say, robbing you at gunpoint.  But then again, I doubt you’d use a word like “coddling” in that particular situation.  If someone were being overly kind to a killer, we might say they were crazy.  Or selfless.  Showing kindness in the face of death would definitely be selfless.  But was she “coddling” her attacker?  No, that wouldn’t make sense.  But I digress.  I’m sort of a word nerd.  Is that a thing?  (It’s clearly a thing)

The term coddling gets thrown around a lot in my world.  When Pea was first diagnosed with all of his “stuff”, he was not even three years old.  In those days, nobody accused anyone of treating a two year old with “extreme or excessive care”.  But the little patients inevitably become bigger ones.  The behaviors that would illicit sympathy and hugs from others aren’t quite as palatable when the baby cheeks go away.  I get it, though.  Life is hard.  It’s not getting any easier.  We have to let our kids fail.  Flounder.  FALL.  We have to do it because LIFE.  I’m a FIRM believer in this.  They need to learn to pick themselves up and try again.  They need to realize that not everyone will always like them and vice versa.  If they don’t study, they fail the test.  If they forget to bring in their homework, they get a zero.  Mom can’t and shouldn’t save the day forever.  If they don’t learn how to roll with the punches and get through the bad times, what kind of adult will they be?  A craptastic one.  Much like the kids that we read about now who organize protests in college and file lawsuits because they got their feelings hurt.  Similar to the petty girl who wrote that horrible op-ed piece about not getting paid enough money out of college to afford the lifestyle she was accustomed to.  Kids have to learn to work hard – DAMN HARD – to succeed.  They have to learn to be GOOD PEOPLE.  We, as parents, cannot take the pain away.  We can’t fix it all.  They have to learn how much life can suck and how to come out the other side.  It’s the hardest part of being a parent, in my opinion.  It doesn’t matter if your child wears the “special needs” label or not.  Each child is special needs in some way or another.  All children have a struggle – A THING – that will make something harder for them one day.  ALL THE PARENTS have a big uphill battle and it’s work and it’s impossible and it’s doable and some days we do a super job and some days we need all the martinis.  But vodka, not gin.  Don’t be ridiculous.

Here’s the thing, though.  They may be taller, may have lost all their baby teeth and may quote YouTubers all. the. freaking. time. while discussing who they have a crush on…but 2nd graders are still babies.  Hard to believe, eh?  They love a good show about teenagers, but I busted my big guy pretty excited to watch the new episode of Paw Patrol the other day with his little brother.  They still have a whole lot to learn and a whole lot of maturing to do.  My Pea, in particular, has some big problems.  They are problems that he doesn’t wear on the outside, but they are problems none the less.  Now that he’s getting older, I’m moving into new terrain.  The era of being THAT MOM has started.  I’m the crazy lady who is double checking and triple checking that the substitute teacher won’t be the man who makes Pea panic.  I’m the one who has to RSVP “no” to an AWESOME nerf gun battle birthday party because Pea can’t handle that kind of environment.  It’s me who requests a teacher who gives lots of hugs and it’s moi who will ask for special treatment when her son has his feelings hurt.  It’s true, y’all.  I AM A CODDLER.  I coddle THE HELL out of Pea.  I totally and completely treat him with extreme and excessive care.  BLASPHEME, they cry!!

But…and this is a GIGANTIC BUT AND THE REASON THAT I AM WRITING TODAY…I spend just as much time forcing him to do EVERYTHING that you could never imagine.  You have, very literally, NO IDEA.  You can’t know that when I wake up, I pray that God will give me the strength to do the hard stuff again today.  You don’t know how far he’s come and how VERY VERY MUCH we force him to do – how incredibly opposite we are from “coddling” in it’s negative sense.

I have to push a child who has been crying and shaking out of the car ALL THE TIME because I force him to go to school.  This is a tough one for people to believe because Pea loves school and loves his friends and pulls himself up by the bootstraps and does a damn good job when he’s there.  He’s able to do that because I force him to do it.  I had to let him fall. FLOUNDER.  I carried him, kicking and screaming and biting me, into preschool every. single. day. his pre-K year.  They let us use the back entrance because he was damn heavy to carry like a football.  I cried in the car after almost every drop off while I put my hair back into place.  That would be hard to imagine if you met Pea today.  I did it so that you could meet the Pea you meet today.

I joined online groups and made friends and took Pea to a social function practically every day until he started school.  I filled our schedule to the brim.  He would whimper and cry and be scared constantly.  I took him anyway.  We had to talk for hours beforehand and lay out exactly what was going to happen and where and how long he would be there.  It was a very exhausting period of time.  He needed to learn to socialize before elementary school started and it was hard as hell, but I kept on it.  I took him to birthday parties where we were an hour late because it took that long to get from the car into the facility.  It would have been much easier not to go, but I took him anyway.  He has to live here, on this earth and with these people, and I’m the only one who can throw him in the deep end and force him to swim.  This might be shocking if you see him at parties today, but that’s why I did it.  So you could see him at parties today.

He’s got a team of doctors.  He goes to therapy every Tuesday.  I make him miss recess and lunch for his appointment so that he doesn’t miss instructional time.  Recess and lunch are what get him through the day and he has begged me to change the appointment time.  I do not.  I force him to miss his favorite things because “life hurts, son”.  It’s probably strange to hear that this bothers him because he leaves school for his appointments with no issue, but that’s why I do it.  So that he learns to be kind and pleasant even when things aren’t going his way.

He tells me EVERY SINGLE DAY OF HIS LIFE about something that is bothering him…some little thing that is twisting around in his brain.  To Pea, everything is a BIG thing.  He has OCD and it manifests for him with constant looping thoughts that he used to call voices.  His mind is constantly and endlessly feeding back memories that nobody would ever normally recall.  Sometimes he will say them aloud, telling me something that upset him four years ago out of thin air.  I don’t pretend to imagine what it’s like being in his head, but it can’t be fun.  We work tirelessly to help him push the thoughts aside so that he can pay attention in school and do his work.  He has always held himself together exceptionally well at school, but he suffers for this.  He has terrible stomachaches and frequents the nurses office.  The cost of his easy laugh, his not complaining with every single breath he takes, him holding back his tears to twice a day instead of fifty, is to feel sick inside.  He would like to go home every time he visits our sweet nurse.  I forced him to fight harder this year and I get to listen to him whisper on the phone that his stomach hurts again and tell him that he needs to stay there.  That’s the hard stuff, folks.

I suppose my reasoning behind my ramble tonight is two fold.  First, don’t forget that you don’t know what someone else is going through.  (I know.  I say that a lot.  I’ll say it a lot more.)  I have so many surreal moments during my day to day interactions with people.  All sorts of little firecrackers are firing off in my head while I’m smiling and nodding and wondering inside if I should say what I’m really thinking…share that I don’t know if I can volunteer for the event because it might be one of the Bad Days…tell the truth about why Pea can’t go to the party rather than RSVP no and make up an excuse…tell my old friends that I’m not sure if we can get together because Pea might not be able to say anything to them for the first two hours and I won’t be able to pay attention to them because I’m wondering if he’s okay…it can be rather a lot to live inside MY head, too.  And I can tell you with certainty that I screw it all up A LOT.  I choose wrong.  I’m human…it’s kind of our thing.  And I’m going to get accused of coddling Pea A WHOLE HECK OF A LOT as he grows up, which brings me to number two…WHO CARES!?!?!  Be strong, my fellow parents!  Let’s do this together!!  Let’s raise our martinis after the worst day ever (or Dr. Peppers.  Whatevs.) and rejoice in the fact that it quite simply DOES NOT matter what other people think!  Doesn’t that feel blissful?!?!  Regardless of what your own situation is, remind yourself of the following things:

  • You are doing your absolute best even though you sort of suck at parenting sometimes.  And adulting in general.  And math.  (that part was for me)
  • LOADS of people love you to the moon and back, ESPECIALLY YOUR BABIES!
  • Some people think you are an absolute idiot.  They might be slightly correct on occasion.
  • A handful (or slightly more depending on your number of acquaintances…this is when it would help to be introverted…which I am SO not) think you are coddling your kid too much.
  • A bushel of folks think you don’t coddle them enough.
  • You thought I was going to say “peck” here, but I’m not because I’m shifty like that.  And occasionally an idiot.

Don’t sweat it, y’all.  Love each other.  Give each other some credit.  Trust your gut and do what’s right for your family, even if it’s not a popular choice.  If someone looks anxious or worried, ask if they need a hug…guaranteed they do.  And MOST. OF. ALL…if your child needs it – even if people on the outside looking in don’t get it, even if you are 99% certain that you’re known as “that mom” in various circles – you go right ahead and be the parent that looks like a stark-raving-lunatic-viral-HuffPost-article-inspiring-coddling-helicopter mama.  I know that isn’t what you are.  You know that isn’t what you are.  And that’s enough.