Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Not Finished Yet, Mom

“Not finished yet Mom.”

Kevin whizzes past me on a tricycle around the cement track in the day care’s back yard. The bright center is abuzz with children-a little girl adjusts a plastic tiara over her blonde curls while she feeds her baby doll, two boys create cities at the sand table with trucks and shovels. Kevin, as usual, is outside and, as usual, is almost completely covered in dirt. I have never minded him getting dirty, and he does a five star job of it. I can't even tell what color his pants are supposed to be. As he pedals furiously to come around for another loop, I step in front of the bike and put my hands on the handle bars.

“Kevin. Look at me.” His 3 year old innocent blue eyes, rimmed with devastatingly long lashes, gaze at me in adoration. FIVE minutes.” I hold up my hand to emphasize the point. “Then we go home.”

“Okay!” he chirps, then plants a sloppy kiss on my cheek and pedals away towards the jungle gym as if headed for a mission of importance.

The five minutes slowly tick by as I make small talk with his teacher and continue to warn Kevin about the countdown. Finally is is time. “Okay Kevin, time to go.” He ignores me. I call again. No response.

“Kevin.” I walk to him, put my hands on the tricycle, and speak more firmly. “Time. To. GO. NOW.” He dissolves into a heap. A screaming, crying, kicking, flailing heap of angry child. It is as if someone turned a switch, and the blond haired cherub planting kisses on my cheeks has suddenly grown horns and developed a taste for mutiny.

“I am NOT going home NOW!” he screams. He's heavy in my arms as I carry him out the door to the car, struggling to put him in his car seat as he screams, kicks, and writhes in my grasp. People are looking at me with curiosity. Why is this kid so upset about going home? I mean, is there a...reason? Stay calm, don’t yell, don’t spank, just get him in the car becomes my mantra. The sounds of his angry screams reverberate within the car as I attempt to navigate traffic, and in an attempt to keep myself cool I put on a CD and turn it up to block out the sound. His response is like I've touched a match to a can of gasoline.

“TURN THAT OFF!” he chokes and sobs, and continues to scream, so loudly that my head hurts. I turn the music up. Stay calm, stay calm, almost there, concentrate on driving… .Relief. We are home and I gently deposit him in his room, close the door, and heave a sigh of resignation. Downstairs, I can hear his screams, muffled now by the walls of the house. Hot steam erupts from the kettle as I make myself a cup of tea, and now, completely emotionally spent, my head touches the oak tabletop in our kitchen. Drops of water gently fall to the cool, smooth surface and I realize that I too, am crying. I love this child beyond reason, and yet for a brief moment I wish that I could have left him at daycare. This scenario is just too much for me. Three days a week, for three years without fail, the wrath would ensue. Every single time I picked him up from daycare.

I tried everything. Threats. Bribery. Rewards. A Naughty seat. Time out. Punishment. Spanking. A visual schedule. Warnings. Humor. You name it, name the book it came from, I tried it. I read a whole plethora of self help parenting guides, I consulted other parents, yet not one thing helped. Nothing. The depositing him in his room came purely from a desire to keep him safe on my part, because I honestly felt that I would completely lose it at some point. Even once in his room, he tantrumed at full tilt for as long as an hour and a half. I felt like a complete failure as a parent, because not one other person I knew was having this problem. I had to be doing something wrong. However, nobody could tell me what. The ironic thing is that I work with exceedingly difficult special needs children. I’ve had scissors and chairs thrown at me, been physically attacked, spat on, restrained children weilding baseball bats, and have had feces wiped on me. Kevin was, and is, a whole different ballgame. No matter what I do, or how I try, some days I find myself feeling completely inadequate. As if no matter what I do, it isn't going to make a difference and I'm just grasping at air.

Today I know my son’s special needs. I know that he has sensory difficulties, fine motor problems, higher language delays, social issues, learning disabilities, and most ironically, is also highly gifted. The diagnoses all brought a great relief when we heard them because no longer did I always feel like it was my fault, that somehow I had caused Kevin’s issues, but that there really was a tangible reason why nothing worked. Why even to this day, some things just don’t work. A co-worker once told me about her ADHD son and how she refused to leave him with anyone because "There are days where I want to kill him and I'm his mother, what would someone who doesn't even love him do?" I found myself nodding in agreement. I can't imagine Kevin having a parent who is even slightly unstable and in some way, this gives me comfort. He was given to me for a reason.

Kevin is now 10, on the cusp of becoming a teenager, and the emotional ups and downs are so rapid, and so extreme, that some days I think that I’m losing my mind. He clings to me like a life raft to help him navigate through the seas of adolescence, but at times I feel more like the rescuer being drowned by the victim. He is angry at me when he has a bad day as if I, through some magical mothering power, should just intuitively know what is wrong and wave my wand to make everything right. When he is in this state, normal things that would usually not phase him become insumountable issues. The teacher that scolded him at recess morphs into "All the teachers hate me". The child who made fun of him after school is "A huge bully." He rants, screams, whines, cries, talks back, and sulks. Simple routines like going to bed or getting ready for school become battlegrounds. Gone are the writhing tantrums of toddlerhood, and in some ways I miss just picking him up, depositing him in his room, and shutting the door.

However, I know to hang on. If experience has taught me anything, it's that the storm always clears. Sometimes it takes only minutes, sometimes days or even as long as a week, but when it does, in its place appears something of pure, raw beauty. Something so sparkling, so incredible, that you swear you’ve never seen anything like it-and that no matter how long you live, you never will again. The love that pours from my child comes with the same unbridled passion as the tantrum before it.

"Hang in there. Hang on for those moments." I tell myself, as I again rest my head against the tabletop. "One day, he'll be finished."

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