Sunday, July 31, 2005

Back before Mermaid was born, I used to think I would have normal kids. Girls -- I thought I would have two girls, with stick straight hair like I had as a kid, that they would wear in little short bobs, like I had. I didn't really think about who they would be, just that they would be, you know, normal.

When Mermaid was preschool age, I got myself pretty convinced that I, personally, was not capable of producing a "normal" child. I loved Mermaid, of course I did, but she wasn't "normal" -- she had an as-of-then-not-identified disability. She might be "normal someday, she might not. We didn't know. It might be a genetic thing, it might not. We didn't know that either. I didn't let myself think about it very much and convinced Reasonable Man that if we were going to have another baby, we needed to do it soon. When I was pregnant with Enthusio, we found out that what made Mermaid not "normal" had a name: autism. I still didn't let myself worry about Enthusio until other babies his same age that I knew of were starting to use some signs or words. Then I was in a quiet panic for nearly two years, waiting for him to start really talking. He did -- but not before I'd had his speech evaluated and begun the process of getting speech services for him started. The following year was one long, figurative sigh of relief. He was "normal."

Nowadays, I don't necessarily believe there is any such thing as a normal kid. From the time Enthusio was a baby, I've tried to keep my emotional reliance on him being my "normal" kid in check. That's not fair to him. He's a child too -- he has as much right to bad days and all of that as Mermaid does -- as any kid does. Still, there was no way for me to foresee the way things have developed over time. Mermaid is lacking in social skills as a result of her disability, and sometimes her inability to empathize with other people scares me a little. She still has bad days -- terrible ones, in fact, where she'll argue that the sky isn't blue just to keep arguing. She also has the emotional skin of a rhinocerous. If she tries something new and she doesn't like it -- fine, she stops doing it and she lets it go. If someone isn't nice to her, whatever -- she avoids that person in the future. She is confident and independent and she knows what she wants. She knows exactly who she is and is happy with that person -- and she doesn't care what anyone else thinks.

These are wonderful qualities to observe in my child, especially after how much I worried about her when she was younger. Seeing the self-possessed individual she's developed into has helped me relax about her quite a bit, even though I know we still have a tough slog ahead in the teen years.

At the same time, over the past few years I've started worrying about Enthusio a lot more. He's a great kid -- sweet, loving, smart, open, enthusiastic, the proverbial light of my life. He is also almost completely unable to deal with frustration. He falls apart and cries when he's feeling hurt, angry, or wronged in any way, however slight. He gets picked on at school or whenever he's in groups of kids his own age, and he seems to have problems making friends with other boys.

This is hard for me for a couple of different reasons. One is that the ways I'm discovering he isn't "normal" are the same ways that I wasn't "normal" when I was a growing up. Hearing about what he is experiencing is a lot like reliving the worst parts of my own childhood. The other is that, after absorbing the blow of Mermaids disability and weathering all the difficulties of her early years, I think I had myself convinced, not that Enthusio would never have any problems, but that any problems he might have would be a piece of cake. And instead, the things coming up for him are not only exceptionally painful for me personally, but I find myself facing them without the help of a team of specialists I had to help me with Mermaid.

I seem to get myself good and worked up about this for a day or two every few months. This past Friday was one such day. This summer, as you know, Enthusio has been going to day camp. I hadn't really gotten the impression he was liking it all that much. When I go find him on the playground at the end of the day, he's usually by himself, or just on the edge of a group of boys who don't quite seem to be including him, and when I ask him if he's making friends, he doesn't really answer. We've heard about a boy named David who's been mean to him. He just seems somber and not himself when he gets home. Still, when I asked him if he wanted to continue for an extra two weeks, he said yes. So after puzzling over this for a few days, I started stressing and got out my copy of the The Highly Sensitive Child.

A few days perspective are telling me that I'm probably overreacting a bit. Enthusio is not a lost cause, and if I keep talking to him, reading, and going with my gut, who is better qualified than I am to help him grow up happy and healthy? I just need to remember that this parenting thing is going to keep throwing me curve balls, no matter what. Surely I've never been stupid enough to think I had it all figured out?

No comments: