December 30, 2008
© Photographer: Shootalot | Agency: Dreamstime.com
I once heard a pediatrician say that young children see themselves as "one" with their mothers. This really hits me up-side the head sometimes, when I'm relating to my 3 yr old former micro-preemie, as I see it evidenced so strongly. If he gets hurt and I show any kind of anxiety or concern, he thinks I'm "sad" and panics until I assure him that I'm "happy" ~ only then will he allow me to even get close enough to examine the extent of his "boo boo". I think it is because his neurological system was so premature and bombarded in the NICU, that he becomes extremely deregulated emotionally, and literally looks to me as his emotional mirror. He NEEDS me to be his emotional security, or he is completely undone. We missed so many precious days and months bonding as a mother/child should.
So tonight, we attempted to drive about 45 minutes outside our city to see a Christmas light exhibit before they take it down. My Mom (adoptive) went with us and when we went to get in the car, I asked her to sit in the passenger seat upfront so I could sit in the back with the car seat. By the time I gathered up the myriad of things needed for a 3 yr old on even a short trip, and got to the car, I found that she was sitting in the backseat with my son. I tried not to think much about it and told myself it would be a good experience for both of them. Boy was I wrong. At first things were great, but when we found ourselves on the turnpike (with no way to really stop or safely turn-around, or even change seating positions in the car on the side of the road (my Mom uses a walker), my son somehow got completely anxious and wasn't able to calm himself down. It started by him finding an "owie" on his finger and wanting to go "get cream for it to make it feel better." Unfortunately, it escalated quickly and without me being back there to even TRY to calm him down, and in the front seat where he couldn't see me, he just lost it. When that happens, if I show even ONE ounce of frustration or pressure by allowing my voice to match his intensity or say "calm down, Honey", he gets angry and starts yelling for me to "go away". Like his little emotions NEED security and validation, and if he feels any frustration or anxiety at all, he can't handle it. Needless to say I was also feeling anxious with my Mom in the car, so I didn't feel like I could be completely myself and BOY did he "pick up" on this. It was a horrible 20 minutes before we finally reached a McDonald's we could stop at.
Here's the part I'm not proud of AT ALL. I felt so helpless on how to help my son, and finally just "let it rip" with choice words of my own. Along with the expletives, came this to my Mom, "if you would have sat in the front seat like I asked, I would be back there with him right now". It was out of pure emotion and wasn't meant to demean her. She immediately bristled up like a porcupine and denied that I ever told her to sit in the front. My husband piped in trying to be the peacemaker too, saying he told her to sit back there. In times past, I would have shriveled up into a complete guilty/condemned mess after making such an "attack" against my own Mother. Thank God I am able to look at it more objectively and not take on more guilt than I should. I feel bad that I "lost it". I don't want to hurt her. But I was angry that I couldn't help my son.
Finally when we got to the McDonald's I sprang out and ran my son in. He immediately calmed down (much to my surprise). Like he was relieved to be out of that car, too, and had no idea why every one else seemed frustrated.
Anyway, my Mom played it up big by this time: staying in the restroom long enough for us to feel like it was necessary to go in and make sure she was OK. Refusing to eat ~ "You all go ahead and eat, but I don't want anything. Just get me a coke with no ice to settle my stomach." Then, as I was in line ordering our food, I noticed her sitting at the booth digging in her handy-dandy "drug bag" as I call it. Prescription medication for chronic arthritis and pain she so sadly deals with. I had already seen her take a pill before we left, and now she was going to take something else? She kept searching in a bottle of miscellaneous tablets as I tried to fight back the guilt. Painfully familiar voices, "What if this (I) cause her to overdose and we find her on the floor?" "I am responsible for this, and cannot express displeasure or conflict or I might destroy her. We would lose her and it would be my fault." Sheesh. Pressure, guilt, pressure, guilt. Can we say, OVER-RESPONSIBLITY FOR SOMEONE'S EMOTIONS?
One thing I can say is that it is almost impossible to "fake it" with a preschooler. They can smell fraud a mile away. I have gotten alot of insight and laughs over him "letting it all hang out" and expressing ALL his emotions in exaggerated proportion to EVERY side of my family. Like the time we dragged him away from his cousin's (by birth) birthday party screaming and kicking as everyone watched us leave. I remember thinking as I walked away embarrassed that he was expressing some of the very emotions I have been too afraid to express to my (birth) family ~ and (adoptive) family ~ and in-laws for that matter. "Go Baby!"
I know I'm overly permissive and accepting of his behavior ~ one, because he was a 1-pound preemie, and I still can't distinguish how much of it is willful and how much he just can't help ~ so I err on the side of caution, even to the dismay of strangers and family alike who may think otherwise. I can't help it. Two, I don't want to stiffle his emotional development, which has already been adversely affected by his first experiences in life. I respect him deeply and see him as a courageous, strong-hearted individual. The last thing I want to do is cause him to have to "change" or "bend" his honest emotions or behavior which somehow serves a purpose for him. Even when the behaviors are not socially or developmentally the same as everyone else. But how to dicipher all this ~ I need help.
I go back and forth all the time with this. Normal "discipline" techniques don't work. Some "discipline" techniques are borderline abusive anyway, so why even read THOSE books? I found a website I'd love to read more into. It is called Beyond Consequences and speaks of honoring the relationship and the emotional integrity and security of a child over strict discipline.
I've seen some gosh-awful things in the name of "discipline". At the pre-school where my son attends, I watched a parent (in obvious stress) continue to tell her wheelchair-bound, non-verbal young son, who was obviously in great distress over something, to STOP CRYING NOW and pressuring him over and over with the words, "ARE YOU DONE NOW?" My heart ached for both of them. When I can't even get my son to cry at appropriate times, I see crying as something of a positive expression of health. When my son finally breaks down in tears after a struggle to allow me close enough to him for comfort, I am so relieved that he is getting closer to overcoming what he has gone through. Even though it breaks my heart. In our house (finally) we've decided that tears "make us feel better" and sometimes we need to cry.
If a picture really paints a thousands words, here's one that may paint where I'm coming from ~
Maybe it triggers some of this, who knows ~
Are my son and I alike, due to early separation from our mothers? Will he ever be able to heal emotionally and physically from those crucial lost months in my womb and in my arms? I believe in miracles. I have to. Isaiah 66:6 says "He will comfort us like a mother comforts her child." His comfort can somehow transcend the chasm of losing our mothers too soon.
I guess it is telling to see that I am posting about all these relationships in one post, as I'm truly at a loss as to how to sort through these intricate details and differences in the unique relationships I speak of.
Me and my Mom ~ My son and me. Can they even be compared? Should they?
Mom has actually bragged to my face (after watching my son throw a "tantrum"), telling me that "You only did that ONE time in my house ~ I happened to have a glass of iced-tea in my hand when you decided to throw one of those, and you got it in your face." I was speechless. Faceless.
Then (to top it off) I find an old picture like this
If your first thoughts are "What the HECK?" you are not alone! Those were mine too. But it never occurred to me how dishonoring and sad this picture really was UNTIL I HAD MY OWN CHILD and realized I would never put him through such an uncomfortable and developmentally inappropriate experience as a small baby, even if it was just to "get a laugh" or a picture. No freaking way. When my child cries, I don't wait or laugh or get any type of kick out of it. My natural instinct is to comfort him and relieve his distress. But I guess not everyone's is.
(*as a side-note: The picture above reminds me of adoption. On first glance it looks innocent enough, until you look alittle deeper and play that old "How many things can you find WRONG with this picture?" game.)
I'm not saying Mom was a horrible parent. She wasn't. I'm just trying to figure all this out for myself, as a Mother now, as a daughter, as an adoptee, as a person. I've heard adoptive parents talk trash about their child's "birthparents" and then proclaim that when their child "acts up" they got that "trait" from biology. How self-serving and dishonoring of their child's real self, loss, and emotions.
I grew up in a house that didn't honor honest emotions, but feared and avoided them. So did my hubby. Ugh...what new territory we are trying to forge. Some days I wonder, "So who is tip-toeing around who now?" Amazing how family dynamics are forced to change when people grow and behave differently. We can only hope for more honesty and compassion in 2009, for us all.
Thank God for awareness and the healing journey He has opened for my heart. I need wisdom. It is late and I am exhausted.
The night was redeemed. McNugget's saved the day, and Mom ended up pretending none of it ever happened as we enjoyed the lights. I'm talking hundreds of inflatable (my son affectionately calls them "blow-ups") Santa's, snowmen, Rudolph's, and every imaginable time-honored childhood "character" you could dream of. I'm glad we persevered. My son's eyes lit up at every turn. And Mom's did too. Mom made it home safely, and I'm still up.
Thank you, God, for Christmas memories, even though marred by imperfection. Love does cover a multitude of sins ~ all of us need cover tonight.