A Mother’s Guilty Secret

Okay, here goes…

I dread picking up my children from daycare.

In fact, I find ways to prolong it.

Sick, right?  I’m supposed to want to pick them up.  I’m supposed to miss them so much from a hard day’s work of teaching that I’m bolting out the door at 2:20 pm.  I see a lot of my fellow teacher moms doing it.  Meanwhile, if I don’t have any meetings to attend and I’m not expecting any students to stop by, I find myself locking my classroom door, turning off the lights, and basking in the sweet silence that is suddenly my classroom.

Barring no prior obligation, 2:20-4:00 is the ONLY part of my day I get completely to myself.  It is sacred, and I never want to give it up. It is a time to get tasks done in a brisk, orderly fashion because my children, and the 165 other “children” I have, cannot inundate me with questions, concerns, and demands.  It is pure serenity, even if I’m grading papers, and that’s saying something.

Sadly, my need for quiet time is not the only reason I dread picking up my children from daycare.  Oh, if only it were that simple.

I dread the encounters with the teachers and the inevitably disheartening news I will hear.

I imagine a mom who walks into the classroom, glowing with pride as the teacher recounts with great zest how little Billy (why is it always Billy?) was the perfect angel yet again, sitting quietly during circle time, using the bathroom with no complaints, wiping his table space when lunch time was over.  The perfect angel who shares his toys and makes all the teachers wish he were their child.  Oh, he’s such a little darling.

This is what I get: Big C had a really rough day.  He pulled a girl across the room by her hair.  He knocked over a little boy’s block tower.  He threw sand in another kid’s face. He pushed a kid and took his ball.  He spent some time in the director’s office again (Dear God, it starts already?).  He refused to take a nap and threw a tantrum.  He scratched his arms up during a meltdown. He choked a girl when she took the toy he was playing with.  He threw a chair and hit another child in the face.

The best report I get is, “He had a great day….for him.”

My response to all of this?  Usually, with an embarrassed look on my face, it’s, “I’m sorry.”  Sometimes, I ask, “Is there anything I can do?”  They struggle with this and say ridiculous things like, “Well, just discourage this behavior at home,” implying I am encouraging it?  Gah!

I’ve learned to treat my pick-ups like a war zone.  I keep my head low and scan the room, looking for potential teacher land mines.  I spot Big C over by the puzzles.  I rush over, give him a quick hug, then it’s  Move!  Move!  Move!  We reach the doorway….I think we’re going to make it…and then I hear over the squall of children, “Mrs. Catharsis!  Mrs. Catharsis!  Can I speak with you for a moment?”

Damn schrapnel.

Then there are those days when I finally – finally! – get a pretty decent report on Big C’s day, and then I walk over to Little C’s toddler room only to discover he’s bitten another child.

Again.

I actually get excited when Little C gets a note home stating that another child bit him.

There’s something a little sick and twisted about that.  I know.

So that’s my guilty secret.  I love my boys dearly, but a mother can only take so much negative news before she feels utterly deflated.

Sometimes, a mother just needs to sit at her desk in the the dark and dream.

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Photo credit: t-dawg / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

This post can also be found on the blog, Sammiches and Psych Meds.

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Disciplining my child (and failing)

What do you do when…

~ Your child simply refuses to sit in time-out and instead makes a game of you chasing him around the house?

~  Your child head butts you when you’ve decided to give holding him down in time-out a try?

~  Your child hides from you — at home, in the garage, at the store — and he is an impeccable hider?

~  You yell at your child in exasperation and he simply yells back?

~  You spank your child in a last-ditch effort and he either 1) yells at you 2) laughs or 3) smacks you back?

~  Your child gives a wicked smile of victory after he’s finally caused you to blow your top?

WHAT DO YOU DO?

Let me provide you a little background and anecdote so you can fully appreciate the exasperation I am feeling.

Big C is almost four years old now and was diagnosed with high-functioning autism back in February.  Lately, he has been testing me (and I mean me very specifically).  If medals could be handed out for making mothers lose their cool, Big C would have a trophy case.

There have been a lot of changes recently, and I know this affects Big C.  I know this, and yet, it is still so hard to cope with.  School is out and I’m a teacher, so he is no longer going to daycare or his special needs preschool.  We’re only on day two of him spending his days with me and his one-year old brother, and I’m already at my wit’s end.

Case in point: this morning, I was trying to get the boys out the door because Big C is taking a social skills class (imagine that) once a week and today was the first day.  Naturally, it didn’t go smoothly at all.  Transitions are always a struggle for Big C, even with his visual schedule.  Honestly, I don’t even remember what set him off this morning, but all of the sudden, he was punching me on the back, quite hard if I might add.

I tried to stay calm. I really did.  I tried to recall what his in-home ABA therapists have been telling me: “Ignore the behavior.  He wants your attention.  Eventually, it will stop.”  So, I took a deep breath and ignored it.  I focused on Little C instead (per the ABA therapists’ instruction) and told him what a great day we were going to have.

The punching got more intense.  Big C started saying, quite calmly, “I’m hitting you, Mommy.  I’m hitting you, Mommy.”

He may as well have been saying, “What are you going to do about it, huh?”

I got up, carried Little C into the garage, and buckled him into his car seat, still ignoring Big C.   He proceeded to follow me into the garage too, sans socks and shoes, and sit on the tractor.  At this point, we had to get going, or we were going to be late.   No more time for ignoring. I told him, calmly, to get in the car.  He refused.  I then carried him into the car seat and begin putting his socks and shoes on.  He started hitting me again, this time adding in some arm-scratching (I need to remember to cut his nails).

Then, with his rather long legs, he stretched across the car to the other car seat and kicked his little brother’s fingers with his shoe-clad foot.

And then I lost it.

I grabbed his leg roughly, yanked it down, and then leaned in until I was half an inch from his face and screamed.

Of course he screamed back.  What the hell else did I expect?  For him to cry?  For him to obey?  Not Big C. He got pissed right back. The last ten minutes of demonstrating a calm demeanor were obliterated.  I let Big C use my back as a punching bag, and for what? I demonstrated for Big C exactly what not to do.

I know it’s not the end of the world.  He’ll be fine.  I’ll be fine.  Yet, I’m still living in fear every day.  Not of Big C, but of my own intense emotions.  I literally have to tell myself every morning to be calm, don’t let him get to me, he’s just a little boy. More times than not though, I explode, I do let him get to me, I do forget he’s a little boy, I do fail, and within that failure is a real fear that my inadequacies are hurting my child, a child who needs, and deserves, proper guidance.

No one ever said raising a child was easy, but for once, can’t it just be for a day?


K. Sawyer Photography / Foter / CC BY-NC

 

Typical Tuesday Night

As I finish putting away the groceries, I look over to the couch and see he has fallen asleep.  It’s 4:30pm.

I brace myself for trouble.

For thirty minutes, there is peace.  Little C (my one year-old) and I enjoy a thrown-together meal of leftovers from the fridge while the sleeping beast continues to slumber.

By 5:00 pm, the nightmare begins.  Big C awakens, confused and crazed over the sounds of me and Little C playing cars.  He screams, kicks, and shrieks.  I try to soothe him.

He hits me.

I try to squeeze him with a bear hug, knowing it can sometimes calm him down.

He tries to kick his little brother.

I try to coax him to eat some dinner, drink some water, watch tv, eventually settling for just leaving him the hell alone.  Little C and I continue to play, but it’s hard to focus with the shrill sounds of an irate child.  Little C continues to look over curiously, even attempting to offer toys to his big brother, while I shield him from the attempted blows.

I carry Little C into the other room, ignoring the demon that has possessed my child.  There is no trace of Big C in that body right now.  He is unintelligible: howling, blubbering, shaking with anger.  I hear a crash.  I know what he’s done without needing to look, but I do anyway.

His bowl of soup is on the floor across the room, its contents dripping down off the walls and nearby toys.  We make eye contact.  He defiantly grabs the chair he has been sitting on and knocks it over, trying to hit me with it.  Then, at an alarming rate, he starts shoving it towards me and Little C with the full force of his body, trying to knock us over.

Little C cowers, tucking his little head into the crook of my arm.

My heart begins to race.  I start to panic.  I feel my own anger rising.  I want to simultaneously punch every person in the face who has ever given me unwanted advice about how to “properly” deal with my child.  Get your shit together!  I chide myself.  You don’t have the luxury of  losing it right now.

I set Little C down, setting him into a howl of his own.  I tell Big C to go  to his room.  He screams, “No!”  I promptly pick up all 40 lbs of him, throw him over my shoulder, and carry him up the stairs, into his room, and shut the door, chiding myself for not getting a lock installed yet.

I go back downstairs, pick up Little C who is on a justifiable tirade of his own now, and attempt to calm him down with Mega Blocks.  As we play, I try to enjoy this time together, but it’s hard when I hear the frustrated screams of my oldest up above, as well as the bumps and thuds of his room being dismantled.  I really, truly try to enjoy my time with Little C, but all I can really think about is how much I want to grab my keys, jump in the car, and run away.  I feel like I might throw up from the unnatural mix of emotions stirring in my gut.

Twenty minutes go by and Big C comes down, a changed man.  He actually asks for a second chance, which is a triumph, and apologizes for throwing the soup.  He sits down, eats a large meal, and the night continues on with a relatively easy bedtime routine.  I feel both relieved and annoyed that Big C is able to “turn the switch” so easily.  I know my anxiety and racing blood pressure will continue to last far into the night.

Tonight was a small victory.  I didn’t lose my cool.  My sanity, maybe, but not my cool.

I pour a glass of wine. . . I pour a little more.

Then I cry and try to forget,

knowing all too well the cycle begins again tomorrow.

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“When did you first suspect your son has autism?”

Um, never.

Autism was never on our radar, mainly because my husband and I had no real concept of what autism even was (we are learning quickly).

Regardless, I have been asked a form of this question by countless therapists, doctors, psychologists, pediatricians, teachers, social workers, friends, and family these past two months.   I’m never quite sure how to answer them.

And it’s a dangerous road to travel down, the “I should have known” road.  Trust me.  I’ve been down it.  It’s dark, dangerous, and inevitably leads to a dead-end.

The reality is that Big C is my first child, so I have had no frame of reference for what is ‘normal.’  To me, he is a perfectly ‘normal’ kid, albeit with some quirks (who doesn’t have those?), a bit of eczema, fearlessness, and an impressively high tolerance for pain.  He didn’t have any of those potential “red flags” of delayed speech or developmental delays.

But, oh, that temper.

It’s not uncommon at a family gathering to hear, in reference to my son, “He comes by it honestly!”  Both my dad and I are notoriously known for our hot tempers, so we’ve always chalked up Big C’s aggressiveness merely to temperament and family genes.

But then it got worse.

Big C started attending daycare at five months of age and everything was pretty smooth until he reached about 13 months.  Then, the shoving, slapping, and biting of other kids (and daycare staff) moved beyond the realm of ‘normal.’  The temper tantrums were getting more elevated and he was starting to bang his head on the floor when he got frustrated.  There was talk of  suspension (you can imagine how good that felt).

Then, it actually happened.  I’ll never forget it.  It was September 2012, the end of the first week of school (I’m a teacher: we’ll open that can of worms at a much later date).  I was pregnant with my second, and I got a call (not even a face-to-face) that Big C  wasn’t welcome at the daycare anymore.  I remember having to hang up the phone because I was sobbing.  I had never been so humiliated in all my life.  I felt like I had failed my son and so failed as a mother.

But we picked up the pieces.  My husband and I both took days off of work while trying to find another alternative (we had my parents to help too which was incredible).  We decided a nanny was the best fit for Big C at the time.  He simply wasn’t ready to be in a group setting.  We found someone we immediately connected with.  Big C liked her.  We liked her.  It was a done deal.

In the spring of 2013, little C was born with no complications, I took some time off of work to be with my boys, and the nanny said she’d love to watch both of them at the start of the next school year.  Life was pretty perfect.

And then it wasn’t anymore.

In the fall of 2013, we thought it’d be a good idea for the nanny to take Big C to preschool twice a week so he could start getting acclimated to other children.  It had been a year since he’d been removed from his previous daycare; we assumed he had matured and would be fine.

But he wasn’t.  He struggled immediately, and after months of trying, we chose to remove him.  It wasn’t a good fit.  Meanwhile, our nanny was visibly stressed and struggling with Big C.  She made comments that it felt like he was regressing and that she didn’t know what to do anymore.  Then, in December, right before Christmas break, she quit.

I didn’t cry this time.  I laughed.  Granted, it was hysterical laughing, but I wasn’t throwing a pity party this time.  I took it as a sign that he needed to be in a daycare again, full-time, one that could provide him with the resources he needed.  What those resources were, I had no idea , but I wasn’t going to have him form an attachment to another nanny, only to have it severed again.

We lucked out.  With some recommendations from friends, we found a daycare through our local school system who claimed they had never kicked a kid out (seriously, I asked).  We decided to give it a try, and Big C is still there now.  They’ve been incredible working with him, challenges and all, and have guided us through some pretty overwhelming stuff like the creation of an IEP.  I have no doubt they will be a tremendous asset to us as we continue to deal with this very recent diagnosis of autism.

So how did we finally find out Big C has autism?

You’ll just have to read the next post, my friends.

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Photo Credit

“He’s a bad boy!”

It was last August, and it still pisses me off.

I was with my sister-in-law and her two kids at one of those questionably sanitary play places with all the giant equipment for kids to climb up and around in.  I was with my very recently turned three year-old (spoiler alert: turns out he has autism) and my four- month old son.  Needless to say, I was tired.

Sidebar: I pride myself on being a mom who diligently watches her child in any group or public setting.  I have to. My son is aggressive.  He’s been kicked out of day cares (stories to share at a later date).  I monitor him closely because I fear for the other children.  His aggression is exhausting, anxiety-inducing, and downright embarrassing at times.

Enter cranky old lady.  Rather, enter cranky old lady’s shouting, “That boy is hitting her!  That boy is hitting her!”

The pit of my stomach drops.  I swear I looked away for only a minute!  Gulping, my eyes glance up to the top of the play structure (unreachable for any average-sized adult) and see my oldest son hitting a girl about twice his size.  I can guarantee you what happened.  The older girl probably bumped him as she walked by, and he assumed she was trying to hurt him.  In a flight or fight scenario, he’s all about the fight.

Regardless, it’s obviously not okay to hit other kids, so I call to him to come down from the structure and “take a break.”

Big C (what my oldest will be referred to as from now on) sits with my sis-in-law while I go order some hot dogs and fries, baby in tow.  As I walk back with food, I hear her (bless her heart) talking heatedly to the cranky old lady.

“What’s going on?”  I ask.

The woman glares at me and says, “That boy of yours is bad!  Maybe if you didn’t raise him to hit, he wouldn’t be!”

At this point, I’m visibly shaking with rage.  I imagine myself decking the cranky old lady in the face, then standing triumphantly over her body.

Sometimes it’s so fun to imagine.

Instead, I take the high road and just get right in her face (Big C’s not the only one with the fight response).  I say a lot of things I can’t exactly remember anymore, but it is something along the lines of, “Are you kidding?  You think I teach my kid to hit?  How dare you!  He’s three!  I’m doing the best I can!”

Whatever I said, or how I said it, must have been intimidating on some level because that woman backed away and didn’t speak to us the remainder of our stay.  She did, however, speak to the two little girls she was presumably a nanny for, calling them “bad” when they made a mess throwing their trash away (clearly cranky old lady has her own set of issues).

Why do I bring up this little anecdote for my first post?  Because it is a prime example of what I fear.  People judging my son.  Judging me.  People’s inability to see beyond face value.  It terrifies me.  It makes me so angry I want to punch something.  Hard.

So instead, I write.  Writing about that cranky old lady is its own sort of reward.

And please, keep reading.  I have so many more stories to share.

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Photo Credit: AbbyD11