Lest you think this post is about stress felt by parents, let me quickly say, it’s not. This post is about the stress I have observed my daughter experiences. The stress she feels and that I (often unwittingly and unknowingly) exacerbate. This is not about beating myself up, but is an honest look at how my reactions can make matters worse. As I’ve said before, it is my hope that as Emma’s mother I continue to make progress in my parenting, but also as a human being. Just as I hope and expect my daughter to learn and progress, I hope the same for myself.
“We have to minimize her stress.” This was something Soma Mukhopadhyay said during Emma’s most recent session with her. It was in answer to my question about when to graduate from using a letter board to a computer keyboard during her RPM (rapid prompting method) sessions. During the session Emma pointed to a letter, then Soma wrote the letter down, Emma pointed to another letter, and on it went until Emma had written an entire sentence. This technique, of one letter pointed to, one letter written down, helps with Emma’s impulsivity, which is amplified when she’s feeling stress. It was during this same session that Emma answered Soma’s question about whether she could feel colors, with, “Of course. That answer, those two words spelled out so easily by my daughter, made me laugh and cry at the same time.
My daughter types and does things that astound me. It doesn’t matter how much I believe in her competence, I am continually astonished, ecstatic and heartbroken all at the same time. Astonished because of the ease and confidence with which she will say something like, “Of course” in answer to a highly complex question, heartbroken because for so long these were words I never imagined I’d hear, let alone learn what I am now learning about her. I no longer believe these feelings are mutually exclusive to each other. Now, instead of wondering whether it was all a dream, I celebrate the exquisite beauty of my child and all she does that constantly reminds me of just how vast and incredible the human mind is. I am humbled, on a daily basis, in the best possible way. I would not trade the awe I get to feel when in the presence of my child for anything. Seeing my daughter defy every limited idea about her that has ever been uttered, including my own thinking, gives me tremendous hope for this world, for my own growth and for humanity.
I witness greatness when I watch her work and it is a beautiful thing. So when she expresses upset, which I now am able to identify as stress, it breaks my heart in a way that it didn’t, before I understood. What I used to think of as stubbornness or a temper tantrum or a form of manipulation, I now see as a product of the enormous stress she feels. And I have to wonder, exactly how much stress must she cope with? I have talked about what I perceived to be her “resistance” in typing, but am now beginning to think of it as less “resistance” and more stress. Stress from how very difficult it is. Stress from expectations, stress from making a mistake, stress from doing something different, and those are just the stresses I can easily come up with and relate to. I’m guessing there are many more I am completely unaware of.
Stress is something that, when she is gripped by it, all systems seem to simultaneously crash. To make matters worse, my stress level rises in direct proportion to hers and I am confronted with how unhelpful I am when I allow my stress to overwhelm me as was the case the other day. My response to Emma’s panic was to panic too. So much so that I could barely breathe. “You have to calm down!” I instructed her, while my own sense of calm, shattered so completely, was a perfect example of what NOT to do. It was the antithesis of modeling behavior sought and it reminded me of something my father used to say to my siblings and me – “Do as I say and not as I do!” I think he thought it amusing, however I remember it as anything but.
There are times I cannot predict, when something happens, things I don’t know or understand, and suddenly my seemingly placid, happy child is in a turmoil of upset. There is often a sensory component I’m unaware of. During these times sentences are repeated that are obviously meaningful to her, but that I find confusing. As her stress escalates, her ability to verbalize what’s going on plummets and my frenzied request that she “type it out” does nothing to alleviate the situation. The longer all of this goes on, the more I feel completely ill-equipped to keep my stress level from going into the red, let alone help her with hers. That Emma seems convinced I am, not only capable of pulling it together, but will be able to help her, is an example of my daughter presuming in my competence, which makes me all the more determined to work through my own issues and do better. I owe it to her.