“I suck at parenting” I said into the phone, to Jeff, after spending another morning being Truman’s cattle-driver, torturer, and worst enemy–all in the name of getting him to school.
I’ve been a parent for seventeen years and yet what do I know about effective parenting? It doesn’t feel like much on days like today.
Truman wouldn’t get ready for school. This is his low-key avoidance tactic. It doesn’t work, because I still make him go to school. What it does predictably do is INFURIATE me. I have to drag him from his hiding spots around the house into the kitchen. I have to physically force his feet into socks and shoes, like he’s a baby. Same with his jacket. I have to pin him between myself and the sink in the bathroom to comb his hair, else he runs away. I have to LIFT his seven-year-old self into the car because he won’t get in otherwise. At school, I have to physically place him at his desk until the teacher comes over to place a hand on his shoulders so he won’t run after me.
The other moms get to stay nice and incognito in their cars with their messy buns and their leggings. Meanwhile, I’m trudging past the drop-off line of cars trying to look like my sunglasses, beanie, and athleisure look is completely intentional.
I’m the muppet with the pitchfork in this scenario. And no pants.
Today, the last four months of doing this every day coalesced into this moment of white hot rage at the futility of hand-over-hand, step-by-step enforcing my first-grader to go do something he struggles with day after endless day.
I shouted at him as I put on his shoes. I told him I am working really hard as his mom to help him, and this behavior is making me crazy. I yelled. He cried. He told me he doesn’t like school. We moved like a shuffling chain gang to the car, where I backed out of the garage and said the prayer. Yay for praying just minutes after screaming at your little kid. Do prayers like that even work?
I suppose I am making this about me, when it’s really his struggle. I’m the parent. The adult. The person tasked with remaining call in the face of every bad/difficult behavior autism has ever thrown my way. I know enough about behavior modification to know that reacting with ANY EMOTION to such behaviors is a surefire way to make sure those behaviors are repeated.
But here’s the thing. I feel physically incapable of remaining neutral. It’s a little late to ask me to remove all emotion from my parenting life, isn’t it Universe?
The irony of disabilities parenting is that the most egregious and heinous behaviors should ideally be met with complete and utter indifference.
Reader, I suck at this.
One might think that one’s reactions to the most maddening behaviors associated with autism would dim over time. Well, it’s not actually playing out that way for me. It’s like all the neuroses, rigidity of thinking, and pervasive anxieties I’ve faced in parenting people on the spectrum these many years are building with volcanic pressure to the point where I am effing losing it.
Allow me to pause from my lament long enough to tell you about two other notable things happened today:
First, I listened to a handful of the war chapters from Alma in the Book of Mormon and while I was fairly distracted with feeling my own inadequacy, I did pick up on the fact that in every threat, hardship, and battle, the Nephites were triumphant when they relied on God and lived as He had taught them. When they didn’t, they faced those threats and hardships and battles without God’s strength behind them, which basically meant they floundered and flailed.
There was no victory.
So I salted this little nugget away and wondered what I need to be doing differently to feel shored up by divine power when I’m about to blow a gasket.
Second, I took my mom on some errands and we stopped at Habit Burger for lunch, where I happened to see two of my dear friends from college, Nick and Emily. They were there with their caboose baby and we shared big hugs and a table while we ate burgers and fries and talked about how Henry is now the age that Nick was when I first met him (stop it; mind-blown).
When we left, I thought how funny it was that I ran into them. We never see each other. And to bump into two of my favorites and share a serendipitous lunch with them? Are you kidding me? There is no such thing as a coincidence. We drove toward Target (yay Target) and I felt God had organized this little random meeting as a gift to me on a day when I felt like a person-shaped object constructed of crap and regrets.
He did that for me. He helped me see my friends and feel love–to grasp a sense that the world is bigger than my parenting woes.
He rebooted me.
I felt happy.
Reader, I was a brat this morning. I was not a great mom. I didn’t even deserve this tender mercy, and God gave it to me anyway.
Why is He so good?
I guess it’s His prerogative. He’s God and as Elder Holland has said, “Surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.”
He did that for me.
The other day I read this: “And thou didst hear me because of mine afflictions and my sincerity; and it is because of thy Son that thou hast been merciful unto me, therefore I will cry unto thee in all mine afflictions, for in thee is my joy; for thou hast turned thy judgments away from me, because of thy Son” (Alma 11:33).
So there you have my Thanksgiving Miracle. It’s Jesus. He redeemed me in my ineffectual, overly-emotional ways. And my Heavenly Parents turned to me and poured out love and mercy.
I mean seriously though.
They did that. For me.