When my daughter was eight I was so envious of my friends who had daughters the same age, because they were going out together, having mother/daughter outings, getting pedicures, doing girlie things and I despaired that I would never have these kinds of outings with my child. I know how selfish this sounds. I know this statement is all about me and has nothing to do with my child or her interests or her feelings. I always dislike hearing parents talk about their children as though they were some sort of glorified extension of themselves, like a conduit for all the parent’s failings, as though this child was a metaphoric phoenix rising from the parent’s DNA, destined to be all that the parent hopes for, but has failed to do and be themselves. But at the time I did feel envy and also, was aware enough to also feel badly for having those feelings.
Flash forward to this summer.
A friend of ours returned home one Saturday afternoon with Emma, who ecstatically showed off her newly painted RED toenails. I was astonished. “You guys went and had a pedicure?” I asked. “Red toenails!” Emma exclaimed with glee, while positioning her foot next to our friend’s, who had the same color red on her toenails. “They match!” Since then Emma and I have gone every other weekend for our “pedicure spa” where we sit side by side and have our toenails painted. Emma picks out the color, which she insists we both have so that we “match.” Both of us look forward to these outings.
There are other examples of times I’ve despaired, thinking that whatever our current situation is, it will remain so forever. This is not specific to my daughter, but is something I am aware that I have a tendency to do in life and always have. The idea that things are fluid and constantly change, is a tough concept for me. I tend towards extreme thinking. When things seem bleak, I am convinced they will always be. When things are good I am suspicious and await the inevitable.
It is as though I believe I will have to pay for those good times, like an invisible law that shows no mercy. The good times are tempered with the “knowing” that they will be fleeting and won’t last. Over the decades I’ve gotten better at this, I am aware this is my tendency. I catch my thoughts quicker and am able to remind myself that I do not know what will happen next. But still I find myself easily sliding back into that old way of thinking. It’s not the reality of someone else’s life, it is the idea of someone else’s life that I compare myself to and that idea is never true.
These days I try to head off comparing the minute I become aware of it. It does not serve me. It does nothing to help me. I am not a better person because of it. It makes me sad and miserable and has nothing to do with either of my children or my life. In fact that thinking hurts my children. Both are highly sensitive to other people’s moods, they easily pick up on emotions and take them on.
At the moment, Emma and I are sporting pink toenails and every time I see our toes, I smile. They remind me of all those years when everything seemed grim and hopeless. When despair surrounded my every breath, when desperation hung in the air I breathed, when I believed I knew what we were up against, when I believed this was going to be our life, when I thought I knew and no one could convince me otherwise. That toenail polish, that gorgeous pink toenail polish that Emma insisted we both wear is proof of just how wrong I was. About everything. About everything.
What a privilege and a joy — being wrong, gaining hope…Love
Ha! Yes, gaining hope… such a great trade!
I think all parents get stuck in the thick of things and believe they will be there forever. When you have a newborn and no sleep, you wonder how long it will last. People keep telling you to enjoy each moment because it passes so quickly, but it feels like forever when you’re living it. And then BOOM, one day they’re starting school.
Just as you grow, your child grows and changes all the time. It’s just hard to notice because you’re with them all the time. It’s almost like watching grass grow.
oh my gosh, those months with a newborn… ALL parents know what that’s like and thinking it’ll never end and then suddenly your kid is a teenager and you can’t get them up in the morning to save your life!
This! Yes! Exactly!
Love this! I am in the process of working through this, but posts like this are getting me there faster. And this is the best for me and my child. Thanks again.
Aw… so glad…
I know how easy it is to become trapped in a cycle of negative thoughts, and how hard it can be to break that cycle. It can be the little things that help, like pink toenails or, recently for me, jumping in puddles. An innocent joy that lifts you and makes life feel better. I’m so glad you were wrong.
Oh Ben, I love the image of you jumping in puddles. Who DOESN’T like jumping in puddles?? 😀
I’msometimes really sad to read these. My mother has battled mental illness all her life, and my parents ignored me when they realized I wouldn’t interact with them (I’m autistic). But it’s also so heartwarming to see your love for your daughter. It gives me hope that one day someone will love me so deeply and truly and fully.
Thank you both for sharing your lives. My mother would never advocate for me this way, she thinks I’m empty inside, but reading this allows me to know there is hope. It helps me know that there are people out there capable of seeing how rich and full my life is, even if I can’t speak on it. Reading your words puts into words things that I could never form language about. It’s amazing.
Ive been in my head for 20 years, and experiencing this human connection, seeing my experience reflected, seeing others like me, is so healing.
(((Michelle))) Thank you for commenting. Your mom is missing out, of that, I am sure.
Michelle, please don’t give up. The way you were treated by your mom makes me really sad. A lot of us, neurotypical people, care deeply about autistic people like you. And Internet might be a good place to reach out and understand each other. (I hope what I write makes sense, since English is not my first language).
For myself and the families I work with; I try acknowledge, own, and respond to: the grief, grace, gratitude, and glory that accompanies us on the journey. Having lost one of my own children 22 years ago, it took time to learn that I travel best with these generous companions. Some moments are just the best… Red Toenails ROCK!!!! Love this post!!!
(((Julie))) Thank you for sharing this. Red toenails are awesome. Em has chosen a different color each time we go. Last time it was purple, this time pink, a couple of weeks before it was orange! Love that!!
Yep. Totally get this. I just have to remember that what we consider to be “fun” or “something all kids do” is not necessarily what our kids consider to be enjoyable. I remember when Nathan was two he just didn’t care about opening his birthday and Christmas gifts (his birthday is one week before Christmas). I went into my room and cried. Now he is going to be 5 (how did THAT happen?) and it is OK if he doesn’t get excited about his gifts or his birthday or Christmas. His little sister is more than happy to help him open his presents and there are aspects of both celebrations that he enjoys a lot (the lights on the tree….hearing everyone sing happy birthday….eating cake….eating more cake…). I also know that (as you said) things will not be the same forever. He might get into openings gifts in a few years. (Or maybe not.)
Yup, mine is content to have others open gifts for him, but loves to blow out candles. So we re-light the candles and let him blow them out to his heart’s content. Mine does not eat his cake – or at least not at the party. I save him a piece for later and he may or may not eat it. It’s funny what parts of the celebration people enjoy (or not – my father never liked parties at all). Just keep doing what works and don’t waste your time/energy/money on the rest.
Ha! Yes blowing out the candles and Emma loves singing Happy Birthday and she also now LOVES vanilla cake!
Oh Beth… yes christmas and birthday presents. If Nathan is like Emma, he may just decide he LOVES christmas presents by the age of oh about TEN! It all changes… that is the one thing we can count on.
He very may love opening gifts in later years. But until then, his sister will just have to do double duty.
Celebrate the moment – it is worth remembering and will bring a smile later in life. It is the little moments that bring the greatest happiness! ( My daughter loves pedicures and manicures and discovered this in her 20s. Something I would never have assumed, as a friend helped her discover this “girl time.”)
You are so right it IS the little moments… so grateful for them!
I love this post. It reminds me that not every child hits that developmental or social milestone like everyone else. Social “norms” stink and oh, the stress this can create! But also, it reminds you that life is not a race to the finish line…slow it down and enjoy the beauty of our children — in whatever level engagement we have with them — no matter what. Thank you Ariane.
My husband used to have to remind me, “this isn’t a sprint…” And the whole idea of finding beauty, where ever we are, well it’s a luxury for some, but for most of us, it is also a practice.
I think the trap of how you say you thought about your child initially is an easy one for parents to fall into inadvertently even if they have or perhaps especially if they have so called “normal children”. I see such parental agony expressed for things that don’t seem all that agonizing unless they are framing their offspring in that completely unrealistic, pressure cooker way.
I think therefore it may be a bit harsh to view it as selfish on your part as it must be something a parent has to battle a bit against or it wouldn’t be so common. Rather your realization that you were wrong to think that way is what is sadly uncommon. If every single parent could do a rethink on what a child is as they grow think how much less stress and upset there would be.
I am not a parent. I don’t know what it is to bring life into the world and have it loaded with hopes and dreams some of which may initially turn to dust with a simple label. I know my mother never could cope with my autism but in the end she loved me. All she ever said about it towards the very end was when I mentioned some tests was that she hoped they were not saying I wasn’t crazy because I wasn’t crazy. It took a lot for her to say that much I know and while it will seem like very little to people with a high gold standard for mothering it was enough.
Everyone should ideally enjoy what is not what will come, so while enjoying the pink toenails may indeed be a calm before some new storm worrying about that next storm and heck we all know they will come, will give it more power.
Right now I feel like I have been stuck in a nightmare for a very long time and it is indeed hard to think some day it will change. I will never have pink toenails but something has to shift towards a better place some time and I hope when it does I don’t view it as as transitory as it probably will be but enjoy it.
Towards the end of my father’s life he was in tremendous pain and his body was failing him on pretty much every front and in every way possible. I remember feeling terrible for him. And then he told me that every now and then he would sit in his wheelchair outside and enjoy the wind on his face. And for a few moments he felt pleasure. But those moments were brief to be sure and I do not know nor can I imagine that they in anyway canceled out his constant pain.
I don’t know what it is like to live with the sort of anxiety and discomfort you describe, I don’t know what the stress must be like, I can only imagine. But for what it’s worth, I hear you. I love that you come here and comment. I think of you and I hold you close.
I swear Ariane it’s like sometimes you get inside my head and write about the things that I struggle with most, thank you for laying it out on the table for me and helping me to work through it too. 😉 \m/ blessings and light to you and sweet angel Emma
Aw… thanks so much. Always good to know we aren’t alone in our human-ness! (I have a friend who, whenever I tell her about something I feel ashamed about, she replies with, “Oh so you really ARE human!” Always makes me laugh and it’s such a loving reminder…
So here’s to being human!
I am a little bit like you waiting for the other shoe to drop hopefully I’ll grow out of it.
oh I hope so Nisha! I am quite a few decades older than you and I’m hoping I’ll grow out of it too!! 😀
Thank you for this. Today I had an unexpected tour of the autism classroom that the school feels my 5-year-old son should move into for grade 1. I wasn’t prepared, since this was a spontaneous result of a spontaneous conversation with the principal of the school….and as we walked past all of the other “typical” classrooms, I found my head filling full of comparisons (and my eyes filling full of tears), while my gut was filled with the same kind of guilt you wrote about. I’m getting better at not comparing, but there are days like today when I find that really hard. Thank you for the reminder to stop looking at what others are doing, and start looking for the pink toenails that are all around, if I just pay attention.
Oh Victoria, the dreaded school tour… This comment brought back memories… Neon pink toenails may be needed!
Thank you for this…my daughter is not yet 8, but we’re in a hard stretch and I needed to remember that she continues to grow, and is still very young. Our spa day will come -and indeed, other notable moments present themselves on a fairly regular basis. Only look….
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