The Cure for a Neurotic Person: Children
I have a rigid personality. This fact is not new to me. I like things to go as planned. I do not like change. I am steel. I am ceramic. It all started in fifth grade when family friends asked me to go away with them for a week's vacation. I missed school and returned to find that the desks had been reconfigured. When I walked in, my little flip top desk had been moved across the room from where I left it, positioned in a pod with three different classmates. While there were only about sixteen students in the class, and my previous podmates were scattered just feet away from me, I felt lonely and afraid. I'd come to trust seeing their faces each day and took comfort in the routine of working alongside these three particular students. I had butterflies in my stomach and choked back tears that morning until recess. I pulled my Juicy Juice pouch and butterscotch Fruit Roll Up from my lunch bag and I will never, ever forget how it tasted and how I threw it, limply and unwanted, into the metal trash basket after my teacher refused to switch all of the seats back to their previous configuration. At the time, I did not see my request as ridiculous and, remember, this was the 80's. My teacher did not kneel down at my level, put her hand comfortingly on my shoulder, and share that she understood how I was feeling but rules are rules and, in time, I'd learn that my three new pod mates were just as fun and nice as the old ones. She didn't send a note home to my mom about how I'd had a hard day and cried quietly to myself for 8 hours. She just said no and to stop being a baby and to go out to recess.
As you can see, I've never recovered from that fifth grade moment and go back to it regularly when I consider my general inflexibility and anxiety. I feel most comfortable, and comforted, when I know what to expect. If only that silly teacher had told me before my vacation that my pod was going to be switched, I could have returned prepared! I likely would have imagined the pod configuration in my head, planned small talk with my podmates, ("Oh, what kind of Little Debbie did you bring today? I brought Star Crunch!"), considered the way the light would fall upon my desk during reading circles, and planned how many steps it would take to get to the rug for story time. Sure, make fun of me. There are so many super people out there who agree with me:
"Organize. Don't agonize."-Nancy Pelosi
“I believe luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you hadn’t been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn’t have been lucky.” -Oprah Winfrey
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” -Benjamin Franklin
“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” ― Abraham Lincoln
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin
That's it, Ben Franklin, you summed it up for me. Lack of preparation is failure and I do not want to fail. In addition to being rigid I am also competitive. No, not like star athlete, valedictorian competitive, but like intramural Dodgeball champ, family reunion balloon toss winner, finish 3rd in a road race of 7 people competitive. Whatever task is at hand for me to accomplish, I want to do it as best as I possibly can and if I end up on the top, I feel pretty good about it.
So, thanks to these awesome personality traits, my feathers get ruffled all of the time. If I have plans to hang out with a friend and the friend bails at the last minute, I get frazzled. If I want to go for a hike and it rains, I get upset. Need to send off an email and the internet goes down- watch out. Running a race with me and you fall into my pace group? I'm not going to say that I may not elbow you or spit in your general direction.
It's at about this point in time when you are wondering how someone so neurotic is surviving parenthood. Being a mom or dad is the antithesis of rigidity, organization, planning and perfection. My blood pressure sky rockets on the days when I get to work and then get the "your kid just puked in her lap" call. I have cried when all I want is a date night and the sitter cancels and all I get is the honor of cleaning a turd out of the bath tub.
Anyone who is a parent knows that you lose control as soon as you conceive and definitely as soon as your bundle arrives to your arms and care. I've been a mom now for ten years and I'm not going to lie. Every day is an upward battle; a battle to let go of expectations, competition, control, anger, desperation, resentment, fear, loathing, exasperation and instead embrace exhaustion, patience, flexibility, acceptance, kindness, love and hope. Now, I'm not a God person but I do believe that the universe speaks to us if we choose to listen.
The universe spoke to me 10 years ago on a cold, Upstate October night. The universe gave me a gift. The universe stopped me in my neurotic tracks. I'm not sure I understood the full magnitude at the time but, in the years to come, I learned that the universe saved me. The universe gave me Caroline.
Who would I be if I was not Caroline's mom? I don't think about this too often because I'm too busy being Caroline's mom (and let's not forget Char's too). It scares me to think about me being the mom of someone else. Would I be the mom, standing on the sidelines yelling to my kid about making the winning game goal? Would I be the mom insisting my daughter wear a matching hair ribbon with her outfit for picture day? Would I be the mom hyper tuned in to the friend dynamics in her daughter's classroom? Would I be the mom who poured over homework and pounded spelling words into her kid's brain to change last week's 90% to a 102%? Would I be forcing her to engage in bazillions of after school activities? I'm not saying that partaking in any of this is bad necessarily, but my rigidity, competitiveness and anxiety could easily make me an over-the-top mom.
Being Caroline's mom means putting most of that behavior aside. I've never stressed over her getting a 100% on a spelling test. I could give a shit about the standardized state tests as long as she isn't nervous about taking them. I know she isn't the most popular girl in class and she doesn't get invited to every birthday party. She's never scored the winning goal and she isn't a musical protégé. She's not climbing mountains. At least not physical ones.
I watch Caroline climb mountains every day and, over the last ten years, I've watched her blossom into her own unique and special person. Sure, when she was younger, I felt sad because she wasn't advancing at the same rate as other kids and I felt isolated because our daily challenges were different than the daily challenges of our peer parents and their children. Caroline reminds me every day that we may not get what we planned for and that we can't control everything in our lives. She reminds me that there's more to being a kid than wearing cute matching outfits, having a gaggle of girlfriends and being the best over others. Caroline reminds me not to be competitive but instead to just be.
I can't be rigid with Caroline. I have to be flexible, pliable and strong. I can 't be steel. I am her graphene.Every day with Caroline is a new configuration of desk pods and I have learned to greet each configuration with patience and understanding and I refuse to let a change of plans ruin my butterscotch fruit snack. So Ben, Oprah, Abe, and Nancy, meet Gilda, Tori, Yvonne and Metropilitan Nikolaos:
“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the movement and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.” –Gilda Radner
Some of the most wonderful people are those who don't fit into boxes." -Tori Amos
“Often people ask, "How can you say you're blessed to have a son with Down syndrome?" My outlook on life has forever changed. I see my own challenges differently. He's always showing me that life is so much bigger than self.” ― Yvonne Pierre, The Day My Soul Cried: A Memoir
“Each child with special needs such as this does not come into the world in order to make our lives difficult and make us suffer. They each come into this world for a reason and have their secret inner voice. It remains to us to offer our love; to 'bear one another's burdens'; to experience a collective humbling — to realize, that is, that we are not as powerful and important as we think; and to try to lighten that person's burden and understand their language. These children are better at speaking the language of God.” ― Metropolitan Nikolaos of MesogaiaM