Power and Choices

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Driving home one afternoon, Luna piped up sweetly from the back seat. “Go McDonalds, Mama?” I explained that we were not going to McDonalds, and that we were going home for lunch.

She pursued her request a little less sweetly. “Go McDonalds, Mama – eat french fries.” “No, Luna” I replied, “We are going home for lunch. We have sandwiches and strawberries and milk waiting for us.”

Less sweetly still, she insisted… “But I want go McDonalds! Eat French fries!”

“Sorry, Kiddo, maybe another time”

Now growling and fuming, the 30lb Tasmanian Devil in the backseat menaced at me from behind the confines of her 5 point harness. “Ohhh grrrr, I can’t wait I grow up. Save my pennies. Go McDonalds. Eat french fries. No one stop me!!” Looking in the rear view mirror, I saw black hatred in her eyes. Her face was bright red with rage. Her arms were crossed over her chest and she pummeled the back of my seat with her tiny feet.

Over the course of her childhood, I was reminded of this story frequently, because this is pretty much how it went with her. I was always both her golden ticket and access to what she wanted, AND the greatest and most invincible obstacle that kept her from realizing her whims and desires at any given moment and in any situation. Reason only went a little way at best with her, and I was mostly disregarded as completely irrelevant to the majority of situations. She always passionately wanted what she wanted, effortlessly justified her actions, and childhood was always her prison. Throughout all of her growing up, she verbalized her dissatisfaction and impatience with childhood and it’s limitations. She was eager to grow up, be sought out as an adult, and to be finally given the ultimate freedom and power to do whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted, and without any limitation or thought to consequence or a future of any kind.

I don’t imagine she’s the only child who has grown up with this self-centered, childish vision of adulthood – or insistent proclamation of self-fulfilled desire, no matter how fantastical it might seem once said out loud. Heaven knows the world is chock full of adults who act more on their immediate desires and greed with little to no thought for the well-being of the future for themselves or their offspring and community. But it was endlessly challenging, nonetheless.  While I didn’t begrudge Luna her desire that day in the car, I did want to tell her to pace herself with her indignant rage – so as not to burn out her whole spirit over something so small as an afternoon desire for French fries. I think, however, she would tell me that I just don’t get it.

I don’t remember feeling this way as a child – with eyes like spinning plates turned toward adulthood, certain that all fulfillment and absolute freedom awaited me – but I confess, I think I might have felt a bit like this as I anticipated parenthood. As a special education teacher, I had great freedom in making up and implementing curriculum based on the individual needs, talents, and learning styles of my students. However, they were not my own children, and I had only limited access to them.

As a soon-to-be parent, I very much looked forward to the long term project – the responsibility and privilege of watching and nurturing a child from their early days until they were grown. I looked forward to the fuller freedom of setting out and developing a life curriculum and perspective together – making decisions and choices that led us from one place to another – from one wonder to the next. The idea that I would be virtually unlimited in my options and freedom to make choices for my family…….Well, it was very appealing and I looked forward to it with as much anticipation as my young daughter looked forward to her French fries.

But the truth was (and is) that, when it came down to it, I felt nearly as constrained as Luna. I count myself fortunate to have – or feel like I have had – choices, and life is much more bearable with them. But it turns out that parenting choices are way more complex and deceptive than I ever thought them to be.

I had grown up in the Christian Science church and had only ever used prayer and metaphysical endeavors for the healing of body and distress of all sorts. Adopting a medically complex and involved child 4 years in the making was a stretch for me in terms of thinking about how to parent and seek treatment for him. Given that he was deeply entrenched in multiple diagnoses and various treatments and therapies, and given that I was under multiple supervisory and inquiring eyes, and given that I had been a parent for about 5 minutes, it seemed the best choice to follow the path that he was already on.

I remember agonizing for weeks about what kind of peanut butter to buy…… do I buy the brand that I had grown up on and figure that, even if it contained sugar – presenting evidence showed no negative affects on my health, OR should I spend the extra $2 and buy the organic natural kind with no sugar?

Should I buy the cheapest milk available and take the risk of the children sprouting breasts and entering puberty at age 7 due to the hormones that the cows ate, or should I spend the extra $3 per gallon and buy organic?  I was already down to raiding Cam’s penny jar as it was.

Do I let the kids watch TV or not? They were plenty used to it, and books did not hold their attention as much as I would have liked. And, more horrifying than that, as far as I could tell, they didn’t know ANY songs – even Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star was new to them.  Would witholding TV translate to them as denying them their basic rights, or serve to redirect and refocus their play and aspirations?

Camaro might have had little to no attention span, but it was Luna who kept me on my toes at all hours.  Despite the fact that she still dressed in diapers and toted a sippy cup, she was a force to be reckoned with. The amount of time between the occurrence of her thoughts, and the action taken to realize them was shorter than the amount of time it didn’t take her to tell me. She was a girl of action and saw herself as both invinceable and omnipotent – the Boss Of Her Own Universe. If I gave Cam a direction, Luna was inevitably right there next to me – at age 2 – giving him her slant on my direction, and following up with him to make sure that he completed it to her satisfaction. If I gave HER a direction, she would either partially perform it with her own spin, or feel free to ignore me completely and carry on as if I didn’t even exist. Utterly charming to everyone else, it didn’t take me long to figure out that there was a mounting trail of throttled toys, scissored clothing, and broken household furniture and appliances piling up when my back was turned. Items disappeared and never reappeared.  Clothing, stuffed animals, and then furniture started to present with slits in them that were oddly the same size as scissor snips……. it was all pretty subtle, but the evidence eventually overwhelmed my ability to explain it away.

I felt an enormous amount of pressure in becoming a parent. I had been raised by a set of parents who confessed no feelings of insecurity or doubt about any moment of their own parenting, or any worries about their 3 children over the span of years in raising them.  I walked into the journey of parenting with 2 little people who were already vocal and mobile, and who had already accumulated years of unknown experiences and operated from the assumptions they made from these experiences.  As in……… Why did my children sneer at, poke fun of, and hide in fear from any law enforcement people that we saw out in public??  Why were Cam’s ONLY spontaneous words cuss words and how, if he couldn’t easily communicate basic needs and wants, could he use them so appropriately??  I quickly realized what a grace it was to start out parenting with a newborn who was totally dependent and utterly trusting of their parent – who didn’t yet express an opinion or offer up a challenge at the end of a sword on a regular basis, and who slept a lot – thereby giving their parents hours at a stretch to figure out what their next move was. Oh, what I would have given for a few hours to figure out what to do next……..

The children woke up between 4am and 4:30am every day.  Even for a lifelong morning person, this was a bit extreme.  While it ensured that I would never be late for work, it did mean that, by the time the rest of the world was up and cracking fresh to a new day, I was already looking for a rest stop and was heading fast toward the downslide of my day toward evening.  By the time suppertime arrived, it was all I could do to scrounge us up something to eat and stay awake longer than the children – who often fell asleep in their food.  In the early weeks/months, I remember showing up at my parents’ door on Saturday mornings by 8am – with a car load of dirty laundry and 2 wild kids ready to play.  My recollection is of my father and brother taking the children away – leaving me to slither to the floor and my mother to pat me, saying “there, there…” and ply me with tissues.  As I remember it, it took a very long while to build up my parenting muscle enough to find a sustainable rhythm that included enough sleep, 3 meals a day, and clean clothes for each of us.

 

 

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Concrete Steps

The summer came to an end all too quickly after Luna arrived, and soon it was time to head back into a new school year for me. I had accumulated a large cache of sick leave over the years that allowed me to be quite creative with my schedule, and work only part time for the first semester. For the days that I was busy in the classroom, I enrolled Cam in a local preschool, and a friend offered to include Luna in her at home time with her own child.

Every day that I picked Cam up from school, he would stare in amazement me when I came through the door. And as I buckled him into his car seat, he would say “Mama, you comed back – you picked me up!” as if this was some sort of miracle. I couldn’t figure it out. Eventually, after weeks of this, I called Patty and asked if she could shed any light on this behavior. The only thing she could think of was their practice of taking the children to daycare daily, but once in a while – when they went on vacation, or wanted a break from the kids – someone else would pick the kids up from daycare. They didn’t ever tell the children, she said, because they didn’t want the children to feel abandoned by them, and if someone else – a stranger – picked them up, then the children would be more likely to blame the stranger – not Patty and Sly. This line of reasoning left me speechless. But it also explained another mystery behavior.

Every night – EVERY night – as I put the children to bed…….. read them books, sang to them, and tucked their little selves in snugly with their stuffed friends……. They would inevitably ask “Where we go tomorrow, Mama?” “Where we sleep tomorrow, Mama?” “Who be our Mama tomorrow, Mama?” I found it somewhat reasonable following a big disruption in their lives, but the question was SO persistent, and they had – random vacations and events aside – lived a somewhat seemingly predictable life with Patty and Sly….. So, after weeks and weeks of this, and with the growing insight as to how concrete their thinking was, I decided to make them a few equally concrete props.

From photos cut to the size of a credit card, I made them each a double-sided photographic necklace. On one side was a photo of them with me, and on the other, was a photo of the three of us together. I tucked these into their little shirts each day when we parted, and they were free to pull them out and look at them as needed throughout the time we were apart.

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Since Luna really liked books and Camaro really liked photos – especially ones of himself, I made them their very own book that told their very own story. It was important to me that their story be accessible to them, and that any personal feelings or opinions that I might hold be left out. While it was easy for me to have a million emotions and opinions and judgements about who had done what in such a manner to them throughout their lives, the bottom line was that all that they really needed to know was that they had been loved and cared for since birth – to whatever degree each player was able to demonstrate it to them. With those 2 guiding principles in mind, I set about this project very late one night.

When all was said and done and delivered, these 2 items were perfect for the job, and as it all sunk in, the anxious questions ceased, and a sense of stability started to build.