Friday, August 15, 2008

Observations from the Seedy Underbelly

I am not a typical parent....I'm certainly not the kind of parent I always imagined I'd be. Here are some random examples to explain what I mean:

1) No matter how close we get to the arrival of the new baby (and it's coming alarmingly fast this time!), I have yet to be wistful and teary-eyed about Emerson growing up to be the big brother. I don't worry about having enough love for both of them and I don't worry about Emerson feeling misplaced. And yet, pretty much every other mother I know who's having a second child or just had one is feeling this way. Is it because I'm a cold-hearted bitch? Is it because Emerson's developmental delays make the "growing up" part seem painfully slow? Maybe both?

I'm thinking it may be more the former. I think this because I am also not nearly as eager to meet this new baby as I was to meet Emerson. Don't get me wrong, I know this baby will bring our family to new heights of love. I know I won't feel complete until he's safely tucked in my arms and I can't wait to see what he'll look like. But I also know the sleepless nights and hard work ahead!

This morning, Emerson and I slept in until 11am (no matter how hard we try lately, he wants to stay up until 10 or 11 and then sleep in until the same time the next morning). I have to admit, it's been pure heaven and I am soaking up every minute of it because I know it won't last much longer!

Later this afternoon, a man came over to buy a baby monitor I had posted for sale on Craigslist. The moment I opened the door, I could see he was a man on the edge. He explained that he and his wife had a 3 week old daughter who was sleeping horribly and recently came down with a fever to make matters worse. They were hoping this new monitor (the kind that sets off an alarm if your baby stops breathing) would give them the peace of mind to let them rest. I tried to reassure him that it will get easier after the first month of hell, but I conveniently left out the part about how the next 10 or 11 months are only slightly better.

I suppose at least this time around, I have the reassurance that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel and that most of the time, just surviving is good enough!

2) In the great parental competition, I am just the waterboy. (oh, don't worry - there are many more sports metaphors to come)

When you get pregnant, you start to suspect that parents are very competitive because every one is quick to offer advice and admonishment if you don't see it their way. When you have the child, you are immediately thrown into the ring and must battle it out for "who's child is the most beautiful/healthy/intelligent/coordinated/well-mannered/etc, etc." The way parents vie for their child's position at the top of the heap is sometimes subtle - just an apgar score dropped here or a "she's in the 90th percentile" there. Other times it's more obvious as one parent gloats over a new word their child learned and the next is quick to top it with the full sentence their child said the other day. It happens in playdates and on playgrounds - in coffee shops and church nurseries.

I know this not because I am a top competitor, but because I've watched it from the sidelines. I suppose one upside of having a child with developmental delays is that no one feels the need to compete with you. I've realized lately that I am like the gay friend who gets to come into the dressing room while you change - in other words, not a threat. This means that I not only witness the battles from a safe distance, parents also confide in me what they are thinking about their competitors.

I haven't quite sorted out how to feel about this status. Insulted? Relieved? I suppose at some point Emerson will be caught up to his peers and I will get a taste of what it's like out there. Or maybe the new baby will give me the opportunity sooner than I think. Either way, I should probably make the most of this cushy seat on the bench while I have it.

3) I know most people believe that you are only given what you can handle in life - what you need to teach you important lessons. I also know many parents who believe that each child is born to the perfect parents for them. If this is true for someone, or helps them get through the day, I sincerely support that. For me, however, it just does not hold true.

What is the one quality I struggle with the most? Patience. What is the one quality Emerson puts to the test on a daily basis? Patience. I suppose he is the perfect child to teach me what I need to learn. But I can't believe that was fate because I can't believe that learning a life lesson should be at the expense of a child. I think the perfect parent for a child with special needs - the kind of parent Emerson deserves - is one with enormous amounts of patience and optimism. I can think of many people who exemplify these qualities including my husband, but I am not among them.

I'd like to believe that I can somewhat make up for my deficiencies by the sheer amount of love I can show him. I can do my best to be what he needs at any given time and rest assured that Robbie will pick up where I fall down. But I will never come close to being the perfect parent for him.

The other day, we met up with some friends who just came back from a summer of visiting different meditation retreats. The one friend was confiding that the more she went within herself during these retreats, the more she struggled with the negativity that kept creeping up. At first she felt the need to change it and only be positive all the time, then she realized that maybe it was best to just accept it for what it was. Another friend agreed with her, and added jokingly, "Maybe you should make a t-shirt that says, 'I'm a bitch, but I'm at one with it.'"

I would be the first one to buy this shirt.

I am not a typical parent and I'm nowhere near the perfect parent, but I can be at one with that. Or at least I can try.


  1. And I'd be the second person to buy that shirt!

  2. I loved this post!!! I have the same muted feelings about my pregnancy (and technically, this is my first one...I thought I would be more "into" it). I share your feelings about sitting on the baby-savant sidelines. Patience is not my virtue either...what ever am I going to do with 2 more children coming back to back with very different needs. I basking in this last hoorah with just me and my oldest...selfish or not...we won't get this back.