Throwing Out Everything I Thought I Knew About Being A Parent

Last week, our son was diagnosed with a form of autism. He’s 8 years old, which means that I am struggling with the knowledge that for the entirety of his short life, all I’ve done is nag and berate him for things that he truly did not know how to control.

“Parent Coaching” is a nice way of saying “You need to re-learn how to parent your unusual child.” Yesterday I attended our first coaching session alone, because Robbie was stuck at work and unable to go.

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HOLY CRAP.

I learned so much in those 45 minutes. Parenting Maverick has been a huge mystery, a constant uphill battle, and now suddenly all the information is unlocked! It’s flying at me at warp speed — all I have to do is to hang on and keep up.

I learned that when he’s beginning to get upset, we have been approaching him in a way that upsets him even more.

I learned that once the rage cycle starts, he won’t hear or be aware of anything else. That’s why sometimes he denies having said or done certain things after the fact and refuses to apologize. He honestly doesn’t know he did them. OH MY GOD, THAT IS SUCH A RELIEF. I literally thought I was raising a sociopath.

The therapist also made a huge deal over how impossibly, impossibly hard it is for any human being to handle a child on the spectrum without losing her shit. Because it’s not just difficult, and it’s not just challenging. It requires superhuman mindfulness and patience that I have not yet achieved, but hopefully, through the miracle of modern medicine and practice of breathing techniques, I will one day master it.

I learned that my expectations need to be run over, smashed into smithereens, and destroyed. I’m going to have to eradicate every idea I’ve ever had about my child and what he is capable of. I’m going to gather all of the knowledge I’ve gleaned from parenting books and articles and burn it, because none of that applies anymore. I now know that my child thinks differently and copes differently, and it is our job to be flexible.

Even though I have so much to learn, we are definitely on the right path. As the therapist talked to me, my eyes were opened to what I’ve really been dealing with all this time. We’ve already put some strategies into place, and guess what? Things in our house are already so. much. better.

I feel more hopeful than I have in a very long time, and I am grateful to be on this journey with my fascinating kid. I promise to do better now, Maverick. I promise to do better.

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Pick Up The Phone: Being Responsible For Your Own Happiness

My platform is rooted in honesty.

Lately I’ve felt like a liar because I used to be a humor writer, I think. But then a lot of bad things happened in my life, and I couldn’t find humor as much anymore. But you guys stick with me anyway, even when I write about things like my mom having cancer and about my need for anxiety medication and my uncle getting murdered in my childhood home, and my head injury which, let’s face it, COMPLETELY KNOCKED ME OFF MY GAME.

Here is the truth: I got very depressed in February. Maybe I was depressed in January, and December, and November, and October. I don’t know because I’m in the thick of life right now. I’m swallowed up. I’m in the weeds, you guys. It’s disorienting and I have claustrophobia and I hate how this feels. I hate how it makes me anxious, and my anxiety manifests in anger, so I find myself yelling at my family a lot when they are just doing normal family things like smearing toothpaste on clean hand towels and leaving crumbs all over the floor.

They deserve a better me. I deserve a better me.

So I started therapy — for myself and for my oldest child. It turns out that I am not crazy, it’s just that the anxiety medication I was on was making me depressed and also I have a lot on my plate and my brain was bruised.

Maybe the knock to the head changed my brain chemistry, or maybe I just didn’t need that particular medication anymore, but either way I flushed all those tiny white pills down the toilet and breathed a sigh of relief.

I breathed another sigh of relief when we were told that our child isn’t crazy — in fact, he is quite the opposite. Extremely bright and polite to everyone except for his parents, so we can rule out Oppositional Defiant Disorder (thank God).

Maverick has ADHD. And I’ve long suspected it and I knew it, deep in my soul, but I just didn’t want it to be so. I knew he was hard to parent. So, so hard. He never has been much of a sleeper; he stopped napping at 18 months old. He’s extremely defiant and stubborn and loud and messy, more so than other boys. But he’s also brilliant and charming, just like his Daddy.

OMG … his Daddy.

His Daddy has ADHD, too.

THAT MUST BE WHY I FELL IN LOVE WITH HIM, BECAUSE HE WAS SO QUIRKY AND BRILLIANT AND UNPREDICTABLE AND NOW WE HAVE BEEN TOGETHER FOR 13 YEARS AND SOMETIMES HE MAKES ME WANT TO SMOTHER HIM WITH A PILLOW BUT I DON’T BECAUSE I REALLY DO LOVE HIM.

I married the right man for me, but it doesn’t mean that we are without our struggles. When we come out on the other side of this difficult phase, I’d maybe like to just forget it ever happened. It’s hard. Marriage is hard. But would I want to tough it out with anyone else?

No.

Mommy and Mav

Back to Maverick, all of the parenting tactics that work for other people? None of them were working for us. We have very low lows and very high highs and as much as I struggled, I fought for my son because I believe in him.

But then I reached a point where I was out of ideas. I needed help.

The day I sat in that dark gray chair decorated with silver studs and the counselor said, “You have done a fantastic job for the past 7 years, but you must be emotionally exhausted,” I burst into tears.

Yes. I am emotionally exhausted.

“Parenting is supposed to be exhausting,” she said. “In fact, if you aren’t exhausted, you probably aren’t doing it right.” She went on to say a whole bunch of other validating, complimentary things that gave me hope and let me know that I did a good thing by seeking help.

People say all the time that it takes a village to raise our children, and lament the modern loss of the village. I say that we have to make our own damn village. My village consists of a therapist for myself, a therapist for my child, teachers for all three of my children, and a handful of extraordinary friends.

Extraordinary friends get a phone call halfway through getting hair extensions put in and head over right away to drive you to the hospital because you’re feeling weird 6 weeks after a concussion and need to have your head scanned again.

Extraordinary friends learn your actual weight — which is not the weight on your driver’s license — because you have to say it out loud in the E.R. triage.

They also understand that they are never speak of it. Ever.

Part of being a grown up is knowing what you need and then going out and getting it, because grown ups are responsible for their own happiness and well-being. So today, my friends, I ask you to take stock of your own lives and make sure you have what you need.

And if you don’t, then WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING READING THIS?! Pick up the phone and make shit happen.

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The One Where I Let My Family Off The Hook.

I feel like I have some explaining to do.

Recently, a new friend said to me “When I started reading your blog I thought you were going to be a certain way, but then I MET you and you are just so … poised. It surprised me.” You know what surprises me? Being called “poised.”

I have also had people expect me to be more “Tina Fey or Amy Poeler-like.” First of all, whoa. I wish I were Tina Fey or Amy Poeler-like. I am SUCH A HUGE FAN OF TINA FEY. She’s a hilarious writer (Bossypants is one of my favorite books) and entertaining to watch on television. I’m sure she is just as fun in person over coffee, not that I’m obsessing over that idea or anything. But I’m not like those ladies, I’m sorry to say. I’m not even all that funny in person. I just nod and smile a lot, and if you take that and add in the blonde hair, well … I’ve had many, many people mistake me for an idiot.

I write because my life is stressful and I struggle with it and mostly because I want other women to know it’s okay to admit that things are hard. I want to give and get solidarity.

Here is where I let my family off the hook.

I come from a very long, very southern line of conservative Christians, and none of them use the word “fuck.” Now that I’ve gone and gotten an essay published, and the title of it includes that word, I feel like I need to make sure everyone knows that I wasn’t raised to talk that way. Please don’t judge my parents or my grandparents and think someone didn’t do their job. I think they fear judgement, from you, from the church, from God … but I assure you, I have good moral character. I am grounded in how I was raised.

I write what I’m inspired to write. Some days it’s really heartfelt. Some days it’s really angry. I don’t feel like I need to make excuses for what I do, because I’m proud of it even though it makes my mother and grandmother and who knows who else cringe and wish I would just STOP TALKING ABOUT DRINKING AND STOP USING THAT LANGUAGE. Well … I could. But then I’d be lying, because while I was raised in a family who did not drink, I happen to really enjoy it.

If I were afraid of judgement, I’d use a pen name. This blog would be very motherhood is amazing and perfect, rather than my children are freaking psychotic.

Asher is three years old now. Do you know what that means? That means he loses it over everything. Do you remember what that’s like? No? You lucky bitch, you’ve blocked it out already. Well, it usually goes something like this, over and over and over throughout the day:

Me: Asher, it’s time to go! Do you want to wear your Crocs or your Pumas?

Asher: I DON’T WANT TO WEAR MY CROCS!

Me: Okay! Let’s get your Pumas.

Asher: I DO IT BY MYSELF.

Me: Okay! I’ll just help you if you ask me to.

Asher: (screaming unintelligibly)

Me: Do you want some help?

Asher: I WANT TO WEAR MY CROCS!

Me: (I get the Crocs)

Asher: I DON’T WANT TO WEAR MY CROCS! I WANT TO WEAR MY PUMAS! I DO IT BY MYSELF! I NEED HELP! DON’T TOUCH ME! HOLD ME!

Meanwhile, the “baby,” who is not a baby anymore but I still call her that, has dragged all of her clothes out of every drawer in her room and every pot and pan out onto the kitchen floor. And I can’t blame her, because the shoe drama was mind-numbing and she had to busy herself some kind of way. Good for her. All I want to do is scream “FUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” at the top of my lungs.

But I don’t.

I breathe. Sometimes I lose it, but mostly I breathe. I pick up the pots and I stay calm. I check myself so I don’t hurt anyone. And then later, when no one is bothering me, I write about it and I feel cleansed. That’s why I always say that writing is my therapy. The fact that anyone would want to read it never ceases to amaze me. Maybe I need an actual therapist, yes? I may look into that.

My upbringing has nothing to do with my writing. If I wanted to write about what it’s like to be raised so conservatively and discover the joy of a latte at age 21, I could. And I may. But not today.

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Pinterest-Perfect.

If you’re new to my blog, I need to make sure you understand that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I don’t know anything about anything, so if you’re here because you want to learn how to be a better person … I can’t help you. I write because life is hard and I really don’t have the time or money for therapy. So you’re it. You’re my therapist(s). Congratulations!

This summer is going so well, but I have zero time to myself. Like, none. This irritates me.  I operate best with some time and space to call my own, and if my children would just RECOGNIZE and stop being children I would maybe have the potential to be a Pinterest-perfect mom. Or at least have more time to write about the idea of being one.

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I assume that the moms who are able to be Pinterest-perfect either have an awful lot of help at their disposal, or their children are not real children. My kids are sweet but I literally feel like I’m running in circles all day long just dealing with what they’ve done or stopping what they are about to do.

Ideally I should stay one step ahead of them, but that’s difficult to do when the baby has tipped the garbage can over and you find her playing in raw egg, just at the precise moment your older two decide to start bloodying each other on the carport outside. All of those parenting articles are supremely unhelpful when Salmonella and blood is happening in separate, simultaneous events. Have you ever read anything that addressed that situation? Neither have I.

Apparently, my children do not want a Pinterest-perfect mother, which is working out well since I’m never going to be one. So in that regard, I suppose we really are going to live happily ever after.