Yesterday over at Without a Crystal Ball, my guest post “You Might Be a Special Needs Parent If…” generated a surprising amount of traffic over here at EMN. My guess is that the ladies came over here, expecting to find more of the same … but the truth is, more often than not I forget to laugh at the ridiculousness that is my life sometimes.
Even though I live with Miss Funny Face, who lives to reinvent herself every day. Smokey eyes, copper eyes, nail polish in every color under the sun (and some she invents herself), hair pink one day and shaved the next. And an ability to change outfits at the speed of light … her definition of “outfit” varying wildly, so that I have to chase after her flapping coattails as she makes her morning break for the bus. Because I’m pretty sure if she’s got it covered on the way to school, it won’t be by the time she hits her first class.
Ah, Miss Funny Face. How I love you.
The teachers send notes home, of course. “Could you please have Sarah leave her jewelry at home? It’s a distraction in the classroom.” “Sarah keeps putting on makeup in class. She needs to focus.” “Sarah keeps using her Chromebook to watch makeup tutorials on YouTube. Please speak to her.”
Oh, reeeeeeeeeallly! And somehow you expect that I’ll have better luck managing your classroom from my home office than you do behind your teacher’s desk? Do tell.
Yes, I can (and do) inspect her backpack, confiscate contraband (to wails and gnashing of teeth over her foul luck in the Motherhood Lottery), and nag her constantly about her classroom deportment. On one memorable occasion, her incendiary response inspired me to resort to my mother’s solution: a couple of whacks with a wooden spoon on a fully padded, fully clothed derriere. (While I’m not a huge proponent of spanking, I had had it with her. And at the time, it did stop the fireworks.)
Her final word on the subject came the next day: a CPS worker on our front doorstep, with a report of parental abuse and alcohol use (the glass of wine I’d had with dinner the night before), who quickly assessed the situation and informed my surprised daughter that getting her bottom swatted did not constitute child abuse in the state of Indiana.
After the social worker left, we talked with our daughter with as much patience and kindness as we could muster. We knew where the resistance was coming from (though we didn’t say this aloud): she had already lost one family, as an infant. She still had one brother, but they are at the stage that they can’t be in the same room without bloodshed. Even after more than a decade of family life, it was hard for her to believe she belonged.
What we did say was this: Didn’t she know that we love her, that she is the most important thing to us? I’ll never forget her response:
“Ninety percent of the time, I know you love me. The other ten, you abuse me.”
I don’t know what surprised me more: that, as a parent, she gave us an “A” in the most important parental indicator … or that this sense of security was so easily shaken that she still associates discipline with abuse. (Asked to define “abuse,” she said it was yelling, making her feel bad, making her do so many chores, taking away internet, and making her write lines. Oh, and spanking. Definitely.)
One of the most challenging aspects of raising a child with developmental or neurological issues (whether FASD, PTSD, ODD, ADHD, attachment issues, or other kinds of mental or other developmental problems) is that it can be very difficult to come to a common understanding of reality. Attempting to reason with a child who is at war within herself is an exercise in frustration. You can argue, you can pray, you can encourage, you can reward (or punish, but reward is usually more effective with mine) … but you cannot erase that inner monologue that says the people who are caring for her don’t really love her (in adoption, that often translates to “they aren’t your REAL parents”), and that she is really unlovable, ugly, and powerless. Therapy can (and does) help. But it’s a long road, and there is no getting “around.” Only “through.”
All you can do is hold them until the storm passes … and then move on. Because love (like fear) takes many forms: it’s that midnight bowl of ice cream. It’s that family concert where you cheer her on for attempting to play the same three chords her guitar teacher has been teaching her for a month. It’s signing up to lead youth group, because making friends is scary, and at the end of the day you are her beacon of safety. It’s welcoming her into our bed at the crack of dawn for the bajillionth consecutive day, even when we all know there won’t be any more sleeping for any of us. And, the hardest love of all, it’s taking a deep breath and remembering how tenuous those ties can be, and willing yourself not to give in to the temptation to push her away, literally or emotionally.
It’s looking into those big, brown eyes and seeing … not the angry, snarly teenager who can’t WAIT until she turns eighteen and can leave this horrible place. But the sweet and silly funny face, that happy and cooperative young woman who graces our lives … at least ten percent of the time.