There was a time when I had two children ages 3 and under. They were born healthy with no delays of any kind. They were held from the moment they were born, I nursed them both, I was a stay at home mom until they were in school, and for the most part they were well adjusted children. We didn’t have to second guess how we chose to discipline them or teach them. They were fast learners, they rarely had tantrums, and parenting them throughout their early childhood was, dare I say, easy for my twenty- something-self.
I remember seeing other children act out at the grocery store or in church and wonder “what in the world…”. Their poor exhausted parents, worn from sleepless nights or chasing down disobedient children. I’m not proud of it but sometimes it’s hard to look away because kids can create such a scene, such a noise, and it’s a spectacle and you want to know just one thing: how is that mom or dad going to diffuse that child…and until they do –
I saw it today at Sam’s Club. A mom pushing a cart with two little ones and the little girl was not amused. In a split second she went from calm to shrieking to darn near explosive. She started screaming and saying random things on repeat, and it seemed as though she had checked out. It seemed as though she was “offline”. I recognized that scene. I recognized that “offline-look”. I saw her through different eyes than when our first two were little, because sometimes I’m that mom now and I know what it feels like to realize that you are publicly parenting a child who reacts differently than most children her age. I now know what it feels like to have to choose between giving in to your child and teaching them nothing (in order to to spare yourself some public humiliation) vs. seizing the fresh and public opportunity to embrace the teachable moment you would rather have in the privacy of your own home.
This child in her cart became unglued in what could not have been a louder vacuum of attention seeking. I pried my eyes off of them to the other onlookers and every eye was fixed on her. Some were whispering to their spouse or child; probably telling them not to stare while they were staring themselves. For whatever reason her overstimulation, exhaustion, hunger, and emotional threshold had reached a fever pitch and she kept on and on and on and there was little her mother could do. I tried not to watch because I know how it feels to suddenly be watched and judged and she did not need one more set of eyes on her, but I couldn’t–not-watch because she was spectacular in a moment where she could have easily left her things and her self check-out scanner in the dust and bolted to the safety of her mini-van. I’ve been that mom too.
While everyone stared, she leaned in at eye level and spoke to her daughter. Her face was calm her eye contact unwavering. Her body language remained unchanged and she continued to do what she was there to do. When she finished she was on her way, eyes fixed on her cart and her children – both of whom now had calmed. In that moment I was glad there was an audience. In that moment, if I were a braver soul, I would have hopped up on a table and led them in applause. When did we become a society where children are expected to tolerate things as adults. When did we become a people who allow adults to have bad days, personal days, sick days – but not children. I’m not saying in those moments we aren’t to teach our children that there are ways of communicating disappointment, grief, anger, joy, fear appropriately. Of course there are. These are precisely the golden moments of teaching – the unglued – tantrum – terrible – horrible – no good, very bad day moments. Too often though, we concern ourselves more about how the publicly explosive child affects our reputation as the perfect parent.
Parenting a child who has come from hard places (institutionalized care, foster care, less than ideal home life, special needs) is a game changer. I often wonder if it would have been easier to start out parenting Grace and how differently I would have parented our biological children. I once thought being a veteran parent gave me an edge on other adopting parents but it really didn’t. We had to do a hard reboot because we have to parent Grace differently. We have to think outside the box. When I attempt to use veteran parenting techniques which were successful with our biological kids on Grace- it backfires every time. We have to endure occasional explosive moods in malls and at the park and squeeze every ounce out of those unplanned teachable moments because we are ever about the business of teaching and modeling new ways to respond to her knee jerk reactions to panic and meltdown. Some say this is parenting “in the trenches”. These are the toughest times and it’s all uphill from here. I disagree: we also have two teenagers. It is all tough and it’s all worth it.
Surely the love we have for this toddler is all encompassing. It is unique, it is monumental, it is unconditional, and we would undoubtedly give our lives for her as we would for our first two children. We would, without hesitation, cross the world for her again and again if we had to. We love her fiercely. Love, unfortunately is not enough. Love really isn’t all you need – but it is a good start. Loving her is easy. How do you not love this:
For you who are “in the trenches” with me while you help to heal and parent your child who has come from a hard place complete with unforeseen triggers and memories and terrors that are real to them – but unknown to you: let’s band together and be brave as we undoubtedly draw the attention of onlookers who gasp and stare while our child flips their actual lid in the line at the grocery store over something they will have forgotten by the time they reach the mini-van. Let’s, all of us, choose to be publicly awesome while we diffuse our unglued child with heaps of grace, mercy, compassion and patience while we pray silently and aloud for wisdom to have understanding for what drives their behaviors. Let’s decide to be honest about our struggles with each other because sometimes the best words to hear from another parent in the trenches are “Me too”. Sometimes knowing you aren’t the only one generates just enough bravery to go back to the grocery store or the mall or the playground where the last meltdown occurred and create a new memory and claim a precious victory.