3 April 2003

I’ve been reading this great book: Playful Parenting, by Lawrence Cohen. He’s in sync with Greenspan’s philosophy but expands it to fit everyday situations with all kinds of children. I’m not far enough into it to expound on the life lessons within, but suffice to say, I started it over the weekend, skipped around from chapter to chapter, gleaned a few pointers, and I’ve already found it enormously helpful. It’s the kind of book that tells you things you may already know but need the reminder (maybe even desperately need the reminder).

One reminder:

I told Damian last week that we could get together with Heidi this Wednesday. I then forgot to follow this up with a phone call to Heidi to solidify plans. Wednesday came. Damian greeted me in the schoolyard with a “Hi Mommy! We’re going to go see Heidi today!” But Heidi wasn’t home. She didn’t expect us, of course she wasn’t home. Bad Mommy let her kid down.

I explained, apologized, said maybe next week. Damian took it in stride. We got into the car. He wanted to know what snacks I’d brought. I told him. He asked again. I told him again. He asked again, got absolutely furious at me when I told him the same choices once more but left one out.

It’s easy to say “He’s being rigid, demanding ritual, demanding sameness, it’s part of his diagnosis, deal with it or teach him to accept that things don’t work that way.” But I’d just read this passage in the parenting book about how children will sometimes transfer their feelings about one thing and end up freaking out about something completely different. What’s the subtext? Deal with that.

So I did.

“Damian, are you sad that we’re not seeing Heidi after all?”

The yelling stopped. His voice got so quiet. “Yes. I’m sad.”

“Me too. I’m sad. I like Heidi.”

“I do too. And I like her house.” He went on to elucidate all the things he liked about her place. And was a delight the rest of the ride home and into the afternoon.

Same lesson, different form:

Tuesday night, Damian was absolutely impossible. He wanted to do things one way, ie: put his socks on before his underpants. Then he’d change his mind. Underpants before socks. Then he’d change his mind. He didn’t want to get into his pajamas, he wanted to keep his clothes on. He didn’t want books, he wanted to go straight to bed. He wanted one book, not three books. He wanted juice, no he wanted a snack, no he wanted a bath.

Not fun. An escalating struggle, because there was no right answer and no avoiding a battle of wills. Either you give in to the outrageous demands only to have him turn around and come up with even more outrageous ones (because the demands aren’t really about things he wants but about finding reasons to be angry), or you say “No” and “We’re going to do it this way” and then you have to put up with yells and screams and physical resistance. Reasoning with a kid like this doesn’t work either. We were both ready to strangle him. And of course, parental anger doesn’t help. Though right then calmness wasn’t helping either.

Finally, I carried him into the living room, settled into the rocking chair and started to rock. He was screaming, I think. Or maybe just demanding juice, telling me he didn’t want to rock, he wanted books, he wanted to be in a different chair, etc. etc. Or maybe both, I don’t exactly remember now. But I started talking through his anger. Talking about how I used to rock him just like this when he was a tiny baby, how it felt to rock him then. He quieted. Then I told him a story. He settled down to hear it.

This is the story I told:

Once upon a time, there was a mommy and a daddy but no baby. The mommy and daddy wanted a baby very much, and they tried and tried to have a baby, and every month they hoped they'd find out that the mommy was pregnant. But every month the mommy wasn’t pregnant and every month they were sad. That mommy was me, that daddy was Daddy.

Then one day, the mommy sat in this very rocking chair, wishing for a baby, and she felt the weight of one in her arms. The baby smelled good, like milk, and the baby’s hair was fine and soft. It wasn’t a real baby, just a ghost of a baby, the thought of a baby, but it felt real to the mommy. And she knew right then that she was going to have a baby, a real baby to cuddle in her arms just like that, and soon too.

A few weeks later she found out she was pregnant, that a baby was growing in her belly and she was going to be a mommy for real.

(“Was that baby me, Mommy?” “Yes, that baby was you.”)

Her belly got bigger and bigger over the months as the baby grew and grew inside of her, getting bigger and stronger. But halfway through her pregnancy, she started to bleed. So she and the daddy went to the hospital. A doctor looked at her tummy with a special machine called an ultrasound that shows what’s inside you and told her the baby wasn’t going to stay inside her tummy anymore. But the baby wasn’t big enough or strong enough to come out yet. If he came out now, he would die.

The doctor told her there was nothing she could do to keep the baby inside. He told her she was going to lose her baby. She told him he was wrong. She knew because she remembered holding that dream baby in her arms, how real it felt. She knew that baby was meant to be born and was meant to be hers. So she knew the doctor was wrong and that she was going to keep that baby inside her tummy until he was ready to be born.

That’s exactly what happened. The bleeding stopped and the baby stayed inside until he was big and strong and was ready to come out. And after he was born, the mommy and daddy held him in their arms and rocked him in this very rocking chair and he was just as sweet and beautiful and wonderful as they’d always hoped their baby would be. And that baby was you.

(“I love that story, Mommy.” “It’s all true, sweetheart.”)

After that, Damian climbed out of my lap and went to get Dan and ask if he was ready to read books now. And he was a sweetie pie all that night and into the next day.

Tuesday, the day this happened, was the day we said goodbye to the afternoon school. I think it left Damian feeling rejected or unworthy or somehow lesser. That’s why he got so insane that night. He was feeling something he couldn’t express but that felt very bad indeed.

Sometimes we need to know we’re loved and cherished for who we are. Sometimes we all need to be told stories about ourselves. Especially if they’re true.

last // home // next

current log / Damian essay archive / other essays archive / what's all this, then?

copyright 2003 Tamar