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Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Unthankful Thanksgiving

"How was your Thanksgiving?" a friend asked.

"Absolutely awful in the morning, and then better in the afternoon" I answered.

He looked surprised and responded, "Well lets focus on the positive." He pretty quickly started talking to someone else.

His response to me was reasonable and maybe even kind. I didn't blame him at all for trying to keep me positive. I mean, isn't that what "counting your blessings and being thankful" means?

Then I wondered, "How many people have had a really difficult holiday and simply don't feel like they can talk about it-- with anyone?" Being thankful and counting blessings does not mean being fake. Making everything slick. And this week I have realized that even though I've got this blessing identification thing down OK, I shouldn't try to skip around, face aglow, pretending to be the perfectly content mom whom I'm just not. I'm so far from being the mom, the friend, the wife whom I want to be. I'm broken, just like my special needs son and pretty much every human I know. I might as well not pretend to be otherwise. I want to be real.

T, my sensitive child, does not do well with holidays or any big changes in our family schedule. And for some reason, each time his difficult behavior improves after one of these super storms, like this Thanksgiving, I celebrate and move on, forgetting what we have been through. The wounds quickly heal. I create blogs about blessings. I forget to talk about the not-so-perfectly-figured-out stuff.

So there is a blessing-- I have extremely poor memory.

But let me get back to my very honest point-- today I don't feel blessed, and I don't feel thankful. Because when T has a hard time, he creates chaos and suffering for every person in our house. He follows his siblings around the house blocking their way, spitting in their faces, calling them names, pushing them, demanding that they give him their toys. He speaks in high-pitched tones, screaming, quacking, growling, jumping. He taunts our pets. He breaks things around the house. You might be thinking, "Why do you allow this? Discipline him! Send him to his room!" Well, when we try to use any negative consequences when he is in this "hyper aroused state", he has giant tantrums that involve throwing large objects, screaming, hitting, kicking, hyperventilating. They go on for long periods of time. They hurt inside and out-- everyone. In the end, we feel that nothing we do is right. We feel helpless.

When I feel helpless, I'm not nice, I'm not strong, I'm not patient, I'm not positive. I'm just tired. And I hate myself for being so tired. I usually start obsessively cleaning the house. I get angry. I get snappy.

Then I feel shame. Can anyone relate?

I asked Lynn, "what if my blog readers could see how awful I have been acting this morning?" He said something about how maybe it would be good for them to know the whole truth. So here you go...

This year Thanksgiving started at 5AM. Lynn and I jumped out of bed to respond to our burglar alarm claiming that someone was tampering with our family room door. No one was there, but the dogs were barking and the children were up. We tried to go back to sleep, but were roused again by fighting children. My middle boy N was crying. T was spinning around the downstairs screeching and quacking like a duck...Trying to trap N so that he couldn't leave a room, grabbing toys from him. Driving the poor boy crazy.

I rolled out of bed and stumbled down the stairs to the kids' rooms. This is Thanksgiving. I didn't feel thankful yet. It had already been a very hard week.

The morning continued with absolute chaos. T destroyed N's Lego creations, made him scream, stuck his face in my daughters', blocking her from walking, then pushing her when she screamed. He was aggravating the dogs, cats and any living thing in the house. I wanted tea. I had a headache. My feet hurt. I wanted to hide. I wanted to lock him up.

After breaking up another fight, I stumbled into the kitchen to find cereal on the floor, counters, table, you name it. The kids had taken all boxes out of the cabinet and had already eaten. There were dishes all over. I spun through a mental plan-- I had to clean this up before starting to make Thanksgiving dinner. We had friends coming at noon. But I couldn't clean anything because I had to get across the room in time to break up another fight.

I turned the corner to the dining room where I saw our dining room table. It was covered with blankets and sheets and pillow were underneath it. The children had turned it into a fort. I thought it was cute yesterday, even posted a photo on Facebook, but today it looked like a 20 mile high pile of work. Endless work.

I looked under the dining table and found hundreds of paper stars that had been cut out. Dirty dishes.

I told the kids-- no morning video until the dining room fort has been cleaned up. So T started pushing the sheets around, into the kitchen.  He laid on them and rolled around. Quacking. I asked him to stop, and he laughed. I noticed that there were more sets than I had calculated-- about five sets of sheets. Pulled out of my linen closet and draped over the table two days before on our nanny's watch. Now I watched T sweep up dog hair with the sheets and blankets. Even though the cleaning lady came yesterday. I envisioned how many loads of wash this would set me back. I tried to figure out when, when, when I would have time to do that many loads of wash.

I pictured myself trying to get the wash done while getting my car back to the body shop this week, while getting the kids to school and all of their activities. T has been sitting on top of the car and now there is a mysterious leak in the roof. Water has been pouring into our SUV, and the rainy season in Marin has only just begun.

Then I snapped! I started to yell. I commanded my children to clean up the dining room. "I'm sick of it." I groaned. "I am sick of him destroying everything in this house. Hurting everyone...he destroys everything." I started throwing sheets down the stairs. Grabbing toys, maniacally sorting them, throwing things into the sink. Scrubbing dishes. I was freaking out.

Lynn came to the rescue and taxied T down the stairs so that I could catch my breath. Get myself back to kindness, patience and mothering the way I should. I kept cleaning. I breathed.

About an hour later, T had the mother of all tantrums. We can't even remember the trigger. It lasted about an hour. Lynn had to lovingly hold him outdoors, while he screamed, hit, kicked and bit. When it was finally over, T went to his room, hugged me, sweating, breathing hard, barely able to speak. And he fell asleep.

I cried. Then I finished preparing the turkey and I put it in the oven. I felt guilty that I had lost my patience, sad that T was inside-out and looking ill, sorry for my husband who had to wrestle with him for an hour, worried for my other two children who listened to a deafening hour of screaming after they had been aggravated and taunted all morning.

We played holiday music. As the turkey started to roast, it sounded and smelled like the idyllic place to be at that moment. A place to give thanks.

Our friends arrived while T was sleeping, and we were relieved to have peace.  The children played, I cooked and chatted, and I felt like I was part of Thanksgiving. Exchanging thoughts with friends, smiling, hearing the laughter of my children.

As I said earlier, the day ended pretty well. T woke up in a good mood. He played alright with everyone, he ate his food fairly quietly. He demonstrated his biking skills and even inspired one of the guests to learn to ride a bike. He looked like any other child. We appeared to be any other happy family. Much to be thankful for.

The days following Thanksgiving have not gone well. We celebrated my middle son's birthday and we are still technically on "vacation". Sensitive children can take days, even weeks to normalize after any big event or change. So I'm not expecting T to go back to normal for a while. There have been more tantrums and much more unnerving, chaotic behavior. I'm still tired, overwhelmed, worried, sad.

Now that I have finished writing this post, I can say that I'm grateful for the ability to write down my thoughts, for anyone who has read this post, for bikes, friends, blogs, my husband, sisters, my resilient children, my boy who helps me discover my limits, and for the ability to admit when life is just too hard. I'm thankful for a God whom I can go to with my chaos. He can handle me and my children. He can pick up the glasses that fell off my face this week, pull back my hair, and place them back on my head, showing me how to see life with more hope and gratitude.

I pray that tomorrow is a better day. I pray for the ability to see, hear, and receive, in the true center of my being, all of the blessings that are in my life.

“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'

'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit. 

'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.' 

'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?' 

'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.” 
― Margery WilliamsThe Velveteen Rabbit


Anonymous said...

So true. I have had similar incidents with Z (my special needs child) ~~Togs

lovingmommatoo said...

Sounds like most special occasion days at our house, too. And, yes, he always seems much better after a huge meltdown. An excellent ABA therapist I once knew called it an 'extinguished burst' and said it usually meant new developmental milestones :)

Amy Aves Challenger said...

Hope you (Togs) and lovingmommatoo and everyone else, for that matter, have a peaceful Christmas Eve and day if you are celebrating. This is the very hardest time for us. But so far we are doing OK.

I love the optimism in the "extinguished burst" concept:)

Many blessings--

Granny Nanny Times said...

Your writing is really authentic. It reveals the comedy that is part of being a human being. Thanks for sharing yourself, Amy.

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