Racing Somewhere

I was driving home the other day and I got a bit turned around on the way home. My new office is a longer commute than I’m used to, and involves crossing a bridge. I ended up taking a wrong turn, finding traffic, heading over an unfamiliar bridge and not knowing exactly where I was. My cell phone was dead and I was on my way to pick P up from swimming. Suddenly I felt a panic – I was late. And what if no one could reach me? And what if something had happened? I cursed every stop light and raced there as quickly as I could.

When I pulled up, the scene was calm. P was not yet out of the change room and certainly hadn’t noticed my tardiness. I enveloped him in a bear hug. I leaned down to talk to him at his level. I indulged his desire to linger at the nearby library, even though the girls were waiting for me at home. We took out books even though he hadn’t returned the last ones.

And he was happy to see me. But he didt have that overwhelming joy that young children get. When I peppered him with questions about the day, he said “Can we talk later? I’m trying to read.” All of a sudden my small boy is gone, and I’ve got a kid. A delightful kid, but a kid. And I realized maybe that’s what I was racing toward. Maybe that’s where the panic came from – this feeling that I needed to get there as soon as possible. When you’re in the moment, their babyhood seems to last forever, but you blink and suddenly it’s over.

Advice for Myself

I always see these posts on blogs about “Things not to say to people who’ve had miscarriages” or “Things you didn’t know about special needs parents.”  And it’s so tempting, after hearing “Wow, you’ve got your hands full!” for the hundredth time, to catalogue the silly but well-meaning things people say to you when you have a child with special needs.  But then I realized that I really can’t make the woman on the airplane, or my husband’s great-uncle, or the therapist at the assessment centre read this article, so any advice for them just ends up being blown away in the wind.  Instead, I offer advice to myself.

Develop a thick skin.  That’s it.  Because people will keep making insensitive comments, and sometimes I will feel like educating them, and sometimes I will feel like ignoring them, and sometimes I feel rage.  But no matter what I feel, they’ll keep coming, so I must just stop letting them bother me (too much.)

Part of this is easy for me, because I do think I can recognize that most comments, even mildly upsetting ones, are well-meaning.  People will say things like “She looks fine!” or “My cousin was told he might have CP and he’s fine!”  People will draw analogies between my situation and totally unrelated ones, such as “Well my sister’s daughter was born with a  slight cleft lip, and she’s fine!”

Or sometimes people will make comments that make things sound much worse than they are.  When P matter-of-factly told the animator at the air and space museum that his sister couldn’t reach as easily because of her “brain injury”, I saw a look of horror cross his face.  I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for us.  Feeling sorry for myself from time to time is okay, but having someone else feel sorry for me is something else indeed.

The thick skin is also needed in dealing with medical professionals.  Sometimes it’s because  I’m asked, once again, to recount events that are very traumatic for me.  Sometimes it’s because someone says something insensitive about her prognosis.  Once an ultrasound tech told me that seeing my girl’s scan had ruined her day.  It was well-meaning, I think, as in she was saying she felt sad about it.  But seriously?

Another time, a person who was assessing my daughter started out our session by pointing out several deficiencies, which was upsetting because we’d worked for weeks just to get her to that point.  It annoyed me, but after fuming for a little while, I just let it roll off me.  Awhile ago, I got a report on C  and when I read it, she sounded so much worse than she is.  A report that said your nearly one-year old daughter is functioning at a level far below her adjusted age could have been pretty devastating, but by then my skin was already getting a bit tougher.  So I thought about it, and then dismissed it.  She has a physical disability and some of the markers that apply to other children can’t fairly be applied to her.  I can’t take it personally, or worry about it too much, because if I do that every time I see something like, I will be permanently tied in knots.

I have some more advice for myself on other matters, but I think that’s enough for tonight.

Surviving Life with Four Kids

I’m not usually big on advice posts. I actually abhor the advice culture that seems to permeate women’s and parenting magazines. Ever notice how men’s magazines aren’t constantly offering tips and hints on how to do ordinary tasks?

Still, I think I have figured out a few principles for surviving life with four, two of whom are twins.

Number one: I never plan to do anything that takes longer than seven minutes. There is a high chance that at least once every seven minutes some child will interrupt me. However, if I am thirty seconds into a task when it happens, I am probably safe to let that child cry, whine, or wait for at least six minutes until I finish whatever it is I am doing – be it showering, handling raw meat, boiling eggs, or having a Facebook conversation with my friend which will likely be the sole adult interaction of my day.

If I absolutely must do anything takes longer than seven minutes, I break it into seven minute parts. Also, if I get longer than seven minutes… bonus! Sometimes if I am very lucky I might get an hour or even 90 minutes during which all my children are asleep or at least reasonably content. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does I am astoundingly productive. Or sometimes I just watch episodes of 30 Rock and knit. Like I said, it doesn’t happen often so I take advantage.

Also, I go to places where there are people around. I love my afternoons picking up P from school, even though it often means I wake the twins from a nap. That’s because there are usually moms there who are happy to hold a twin, point out if my toddler is about to leap off the jungle gym, or just chat to.

Also, I had to throw out all the advice that applied the first two times – Never wake a sleeping baby, sleep when baby sleeps etc. etc. I wake the girls to go to Mother Goose because it keeps me sane to get out of the house. Although I always napped with P when he was tiny, I have accomplished “sleeping when the baby sleeps” approximately twice in the six months since they have been home.

I often think “to each according to their need.” It’s impossible to slice your time evenly among four. If you are a happy relaxed baby and your sister is a bit higher needs and requires tons of physical interaction, you might find yourself woken from quite a few naps to go to medical appointments, and sitting in that bouncy chair through a lot of showers. I can’t feel guilty over this or try to keep score. When we do get “alone time” occasionally, it’s that much more special.

And last but not least, I get my groceries delivered. And I really wish I’d thought of doing it about 10 months ago instead of just six weeks ago. Worth every cent of the $8 charge.

Every Bruise is Kissed

P had his first day at “big kid” school this week. He’s been in the same wonderful home daycare since he was 11 months old, but he’s getting ready for kindergarten in the fall. He’ll be in an out of school care program, and they recommended that we start him at one of their summer camps this month so that’s he’s not having too many transitions at once. This way he’ll get used to after-school care, and hopefully it won’t be too many changes all at once. So we sent him off to their day camp with his backpack and lunchbox and dozens of other kids. Instead of being greeted by the motherly woman I’m used to, it was a couple of 20-somethings. They were very nice, but they were so young! P has to walk to his cubby and put his stuff away. He has to remember to put his hat on, and keep track of it when they go out. He constantly forgets what I’ve packed, so he doesn’t realise he has a swimsuit or a change of clothes. Or we forget something, like today they went off to a waterpark and we forgot to send a water bottle on this scorcher of a day.

For the last four years he’s been in a cosy home daycare where he was one of four kids. In a lot of ways he had outgrown the place, particularly this last year. I could have sent him somewhere different, and he did go to preschool a few days a week. But I trust my home daycare provider so implicitly. I never worry when my kids are with her. She’s so incredibly gentle and kind. For some people taking care of young kids really is a calling, and that’s the case for her. My instincts also told me P wasn’t ready to be a in school-like environment where he’d be with kids only his own age. He has years to be in school, but I wanted him just to be able to play. It was good for him to be around babies, and toddlers, annoying as they might be for him at times. I think it’s been wonderful that he and M literally spend 24 hours a day together (minus 2 hours of preschool), even bunking down in the same room at the end of the night.

So he’s spent several years in this wonderfully gentle environment. The woman who runs the home daycare ferries them all around the neighbourhood, toddling them dozens of city blocks to parks, the family centres, the library and the community centres. I’ve never heard this woman raise her voice, or even act annoyed – and I have spent a lot of time watching her reign over those kids. She also does almost everything for them, which meant that P doesn’t have to keep track of belongings, or apply his own sunscreen. When the younger kids nap, he gets her all to himself for some quiet time. P was such a high-needs baby, I really can’t imagine it otherwise. When he was tiny, he was always in her arms when I’d pick him up. He needed that, because even last year, he’d stand for several painful minutes mournfully waiving goodbye from the preschool window. Until very recently, he had no interest in ever being “dropped off” somewhere. I was even unsure if he’d last at the two hour bike camp I signed him up for while we were on vacation. (He loved it!)

Something has changed in the last few months. When we dropped him off at the daycamp, he just started playing. He wasn’t phased by the goodbyes. And now, instead of being the biggest kid, he’s the littlest. But although he loves older children, but they don’t always love him, and the interactions he tells me about are sort of poignant. They went to the splash park today and I asked him who he sat next to on the 40-minute bus ride:
Me: So did you sit next to E on the bus?
P: No, I chooseded to sit next to someone else.
Me: What was his name?
P: Um, I don’t remember. I sat with him both ways.
Me: Well did you have a good talk?
P: Yeah! I talkeded and talkeded. But he doesn’t know a lot about stuff. Like when we were in a tunnel, he thought it was a submarine.
Me: Well he probably knows about other stuff. What else did you guys talk about?
P: Well, when I sat down next to him on the way back, he said “Oh no! Not again.” But he got me anyway! [pause] Actually, we didn’t talk much on the way back. Oh, well one time he did say “Stop that!” when I fell on him. But it wasn’t my fault cause the bus turned around and everyone fell.

The wonderful thing about P, is that he really isn’t bothered by it. He tells me all of this in a matter of fact voice. Maybe he’s oblivious or maybe he doesn’t care, but he teaches me something. I was always such a sensitive kid. I still get misty-eyed when I remember how someone made fun of a drawing I did when I was 5.

I don’t think the transition will be entirely smooth. I notice already he’s being a bit more naughty to get our attention, but it doesn’t surprise me that much given how exhausted he is at the end of the day.

I was in someone’s office at work a few months ago, and stole a few glances at the graduation pictures of his kids. He saw me looking at them and said “You know, you’re looking at those photos thinking that time is so far off for your kids. But it isn’t. It goes by so fast.”

P in 2008

It sure does!



P is always amazing me with his remarkable memory. We visited friends of my brother’s recently and we hadn’t been there in a year, since my brother housesat for them. Before the visit, I never mentioned that we’d been there or even where we were going. When we walked in, P said “We were here a long, long time ago.” I love it especially because, for P, a “long, long time ago” might mean yesterday, or it might mean 12 months ago. He hasn’t yet grasped “tomorrow” or “yesterday” so it’s the default. He is also constantly saying hilarious things – pondering his world. Like this morning “Forks are bad for babies. Because they could poke themselves with the little things. And knives too.” Or a few days ago “Ants don’t have faces because their heads are too small and the faces don’t fit.” He always wants what he wants though, is a natural negotiater. He will bargain with anyone – pleading for his friend’s mother to buy him a car. He has a real sense of the dramatic too – like I show up at daycare and spot him playing in the distance, seemingly happy; once he sees me his whole gait changes and he sort of limps over, lip quivering “S won’t SHARE with me.” What he really means is “I want S’s toy.” When his appeals to me are fruitless he moves on to S’s mother, who of course tries to get S to share the beloved toy, even another parents at the park. This kid could be a great lawyer or a great actor.

M is such a nurturer. She is the cuddliest baby. She has this little dolly that wears a cheap pink sleeper and stinks like baby powder and always has one eye stuck closed. But she just beams when she sees it. She hugs it and rocks it and pats it and sings to it (DA!DA!DA!DA!DA!). It’s fascinating to me partly because that sort of nurturing is not something P ever did. She also loves blocks and putting stuff together. And of course cars – she is constantly revving them around. Well, not constantly actually – only when she can wrest them away from P, or finds one forgotten on the floor. She has 1 or 2 of her own cars, but of course his are far more appealing. And she too is developing a sense of the dramatic. She has always been such a mellow soul – easily passed to strangers and happy to entertain herself for long periods. Suddenly she will THROW HERSELF TO THE GROUND if a toy is taken away, or she doesn’t get what she wants. I have to admit, I like seeing a bit of spirit in her though.

Things I Carry

What do I carry with me? A big stuffed black bag, but it’s never enough. I’ve been known to text friends in the vicinity of where I’m going to say “Can you meet me outside the community centre? I forgot my wipes!” Sometimes I forget snacks too, and my son chows down on a dry cracker while looking up at me and saying “But I’m hungry Mama!”

I carry worries with me too. At first I tried to stop myself from worrying, afraid that I would attract negativity in my life. But it proved impossible. “Worry is the work of motherhood” said one of my pregnancy books. And so I embraced it. For a while I thought if I thought about it, it was unlikely to happen. So I tried to worry about every possible thing that might happen, knowing that if I considered it, it would probably never occur. Would Grandma drop P in the bath while I was gone? Would the daycare provider hold his hand tightly when he crossed the street? Would the sitter let M play with the toddler toys that have too many small pieces? I roll over all the possibilities in my mind, almost as if I could just think it, I could prevent it.

Despite all this baggage, I think there are some things I’m good at not carrying. Guilt. If worry is the work of motherhood, then guilt is the cranky colleague – always looking over her shoulder and second-guessing her. Don’t feed the baby that Mum-mum – there’s no nutrition in it! You shouldn’t have let her cry for so long in the back of the car! Your son hits you? You must be doing something wrong to have a kid who hits you! You work? You stay at home?? When I hear that little voice I push it away – I throw it away, along with the used up wet wipes, the soggy diapers, the pieces of paper and pinecones my son collects along the road on the way to the park. And some of the time, I succeed.