People talk about their particular “skill set” for this or that job. My “skill set” does not include great coping skills. Just because I have a daughter who happens to be autistic doesn’t mean I innately know how to manage every situation, which comes with a child with special needs.
When Nic was first born, I opted to go the natural route and though the labor was seemingly endless, (38 hours) once he appeared, we were back home by that evening. The first night was utter hell. Every time his breathing changed I was up like a shot, staring intently at him wondering whether his congested breathing was normal. I remember thinking this was why mothers stayed that first night in the hospital.
“I wish he came with a manual,” I said to Richard.
But he didn’t. As all parents know, our children don’t come with a “Coping Skills for Idiot Parents” guide book as much as we wish they did.
Emma was born, again natural child birth and this time in a free standing birthing center. She was born at 4:30PM and we were home by 9:00PM. I felt something akin to terror because in addition to being a completely different infant than Nic, she seemed so uncomfortable, much more than Nic had, who was my only frame of reference. I remember thinking that I had the whole mothering thing down, having honed my skills on Nic. And then there was Emma, proving me wrong from the first breath she took, which came out as more of a disgruntled moan than a breath.
“What’s wrong with her?” I asked the midwife. Her displeasure from that first second the air touched her skin all too apparent. I knew right away I had no idea what I was doing. I was in over my head.
I continue to feel that way now and Emma just turned nine years old in January. She is growing like a weed on Miracle Gro, with no sign of slowing down. You’d think I’d have this whole mothering-a-special-needs-child-thing down by now. It turns out I’m a slow learner. I do not understand what she says a great deal of the time. I don’t have some sort of internal interpreting device where she says something incomprehensible and I’m able to translate.
“What did she say?” people often ask me.
I haven’t a clue.
“Why did she do that?” people will question.
Don’t ask me.
Every now and again I have an idea, but I also know there’s a 50% chance I’ve got it wrong.
When Emma begins screaming that her ears are popping and she needs help, there is a second where I wonder what I can possibly do that will make a difference. I go through the predictable routine, try to get her to yawn, offer her a piece of chewing gum, try to speak calmly to her and not give in to my desire to yell back.
When both the children were toddlers I was pushing them in their double stroller, (the Hummer of all child transportation devices ever invented) when we passed a woman screaming at her child.
“You are behaving like a brat!” she yelled at the little boy who couldn’t have been older than five. “A brat!” she continued. “You cannot get what you want by screaming!” she screamed.
It was one of those moments when you put your head down and just keep walking. Unless you have it in you to say something kind and loving to this screaming stranger, do not stop, do not entertain the idea you’re input will be taken as anything other than criticism or condescending, just keep walking. But it exemplified what almost all of us have done at least a few times in our lives. The hypocrisy we all catch ourselves in if we look deep enough.
Coping? It’s not in my skill set. But I keep showing up and maybe that’s a skill in and of itself.