Perks of having atypical kids

preemie tee shirt

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My first kid came 16 weeks early.  I see your math-wheels turning, converting that into months.  Yep.  He spent 3 months in intensive care and 3 weeks in a transitional hospital.  He was about 6 months old when he first brought his hands to midline (the center of his body in front) and 8 months old when he passed a toy from one hand to the other.  Two important firsts for which we had been watching and waiting.

On each occasion we photographed the event, reported it to our parents, physical therapist, occupational therapist, developmental followup personnel, pediatric neurologist, and family friends.  And each time one friend or another said “I didn’t even know that was a milestone.  I wonder what else I have missed.”

A friend on a parallel path called to tell me when her daughter reached for a tree branch outside, around age 8, and how she and her partner wept with the joy of it.  That takes vision, planning, desire, cognition, hand-eye-mind coordination!  States away, I wept into my phone too.  We rejoiced together.

I survived tee

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The highs and lows of raising atypical kids are extremely low … and extremely high.  There are ways that parents of “typical” kids don’t get to experience the intense joy, love, and gratitude that we get to feel.  Initial diagnoses, possible outcomes, and planning courses of treatment are shocking.  Keeping track of appointments, services, medications, medical histories, and both short- and long-term goals are hard, and parenting atypical kids is hard, even grueling, with spurts of hopelessness and a constant quiet drone of worry –like that annoying neighbor who is always mowing his lawn.

In most cases, that’s not ALL it is though.  While the bulk of parents quietly check off those big visible milestones — tick, tick tick — we warriormamas study that list and all the wee steps leading up to each developmental check mark. Waiting. Watching. Hoping.  When it happens, it is huge.  A prayer answered, a celebration inside and out.  Hearts a-burstin’, eyes a-dancin’, skipping, cartwheels, screaming, and jumping for joy.  Jealous?  Our victories aren’t celebrated as points on the way to college, tech school, moving out, or adulthood, they are self-contained victories, and the joy we feel is so enormous, it can almost break us.

A facebook friend recently shared a report on which colleges graduate those students who end up making the biggest salaries, disappointed that his kid’s college wasn’t on the list.  As a parent, that is so far from my frame of reference, I can’t believe that we are both talking about parenting.  As I type this I am reveling in one good day — how it sounded smelled and tasted — and I know that in some deep way, I am the lucky one.

Come on over to Facebook and tell me what your hardest joy in parenting has turned out to be.

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We need to be tougher on kids. Really?

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A first-time mom to a wee preemie, I was scared.  Hovering.  Defending. That was a great skill for the nearly 4 months he was in hospital, but he did come home.  Then I got confused.  I was just as vigilant. Historically, I was not “a kid person” — small family, not a babysitter, and for some years sported a lapel pin that said “non-breeder” haha.

Then he came.  The best surprise, my biggest challenge.  I turned to my elders with minute-to-minute questions.

“You’ve got to be tough on him to make him a man; slap his hand; bite him back; don’t give in or he’ll be a brat.”

Their answers pained me.  I’m a lover not a fighter, and could not work up that opposition to my wee fledgling. Between helicoptering and slapping, there is an ocean…

Imagine parents holding little kids at the ocean. That kid is hearing the roar, feeling the water, freezing their toes, getting pushed by the waves, wide eyed and squealing.  That parent is watching, excited, proud, and ready to sling that kid to the hip when they reach up.  That seems about right to me.

You are my sunshine

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Alissa Marquess’s recent blog post over on Creative With Kids about folks saying we need to be tougher on kids, Is This What Causes So Many Kids To Be Brats?, led me to understand that not wanting to raise a brat is really based in anger, animosity and an imagined future. And opposition.

“Once we start name calling by thinking of our child as a brat we’ve stepped away from our role as a leader and instead we’re parenting based on fear. “

I believe that we don’t need to be in opposition to our kids, we don’t have to see them as little enemies… though that witching hour right before bedtime is a real test!  Fear and opposition take the fun out of parenting.  Rules can put some of that fun back.  Yep, rules.

List the top three family squabbles.  Make one rule about each.  Write that down, done.  The only thing left to do is point to the written rule!  Well, it’s not that easy, I know.  But I’m finding that talking about the problem with my elementary kids and offering them two or three possibilities for The Rule (one very very strict) usually gets us on the same page.  So if they agree to it, the rule can’t be disputed later.  Consistency is key, and they’ll stop questioning the rules if you don’t back down three or four times in a row.  Don’t crack!  Don’t even let them see you THINK about cracking!  Haha, give it a try and come share your success over on Facebook.

I am the best helicopter parent ever!

helicopter parent

Best parent ever! – Funnermother.comMy kid is a genius, handsome, funny, kind, creative.  I am sure of it!  I turn away candy, toy guns, commercial tv, video games.My kid is a genius, handsome, funny, kind, creative.  I am sure of it!  I turn away candy, toy guns, commercial tv, video games.

My kid is a genius, handsome, funny, kind, creative.  I am sure of it!  I turn away candy, toy guns, commercial tv, video games.

And this world will not hurt him. Because I am RIGHT THERE.  All the time.  Aren’t you?

Making sure nobody steals his toys, cuts in line in front of him at the playground, hurts his feelings?  Right?  Protect and serve, that’s us, right?

In the hospital with pneumonia, I chide his doctors: please wash hands in front of me.   One says, “that vigilance has gotten him this far.” Awesome.

But.

Parenting

Best helicopter parent ever! – Funnermother.com

Years later, I overhear the neighbor kid “Aw mom, I don’t want to play with him, he doesn’t know how to play my video games.”  Oops.  Am I hovering too much?

I answer the phone at the front desk of the academic library: “Yes, um, I see that you are hiring a curator?  My daughter’s background is in x, y, and z.  Should she apply?  How many applicants have you had so far?”

Wait, what?  Oh no. That’s wrong.

Right?

helicopter parent

Best helicopter parent ever! – Funnermother.com

Let me reflect a moment.  He’s ten.  Our pediatrician has been coaxing me to prioritize his social life, spend time with his friends, give him some space.  It clicked.

That’s where I’m headed, isn’t it?  Finding him work. Going on job interviews with him.

In cultural analysis we use the term “overdetermined” to describe how several different factors come together to create a very particular situation.  A kind of cultural “perfect storm.”

I learned to parent in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit – the first of three pressures leading up to my “parenting trifecta.”

prematurity

Best helicopter parent ever! – Funnermother.com

Nope, parenting did not feel natural or intuitive to me.  In the moment, I could not figure out why.  In retrospect, how could it possibly?  Thing 1 came three days on the right side of viability; three days earlier and they would not have tried to save him.  Four years later, that doctor praised my vigilance.   Six years later, I am at a crossroad.  It felt so good to grow up, move away, forge my life.  He should be able to do that, too, and I need to travel a different path to allow him to self-actualize.  My next blog posts will cover a) my own 1970s childhood and late maternal age and 2) parenting in a culture of fear as other overdetermining factors.

Do struggle with hovering?  I’d love to know your thoughts and strategies in the comments below.

Read more about “helicopter parents” here:

US News & World Report

Canada.com

CNN