One thing that may sometimes be forgotten is how having a child with any sort of special needs affects a relationship. Having a child, in general, affects a relationship, but it seems that having a child with unique needs exponentially affects how you deal with a co-parent. Because I handle things differently than my husband, I sometimes feel totally alone. I feel like his approach to discipline is different than mine, and while neither are right or wrong, our general philosophies and/or personalities make it difficult to meet halfway. My husband and I were crazy in love when we first met, and we continue to be crazy in love. But oddly, that crazy-love makes it even harder on the days when I feel alone because he’s the person for me, and we are not sharing experiences in the same way that we usually do.
Last fall we had a pretty big situation. With the new school year starting– a recent move, a new school (middle school on top of that), and the fact that he chose to join cross country and football at the same time, Cameron was beyond overwhelmed. I knew something wasn’t right when he was acting so calm all week during his very first week week of middle school. He seemed so… happy. I mean, he’s a happy kid, but transitions typically lead to supersonic booms; it was eerily quiet and calm. So when he had an emotional meltdown mid-week, I wasn’t at all surprised. However, as I’ve stated before, this was not something found in any sort of parenting handbook (and I’ve read a library shelf full of parenting books); this was fly by the seat of your pants parenting. I’m not sure I did the best thing, but I felt so stuck that I didn’t know what else to do…
When Cameron signed up for football, we explained how hard it was going to be. Cameron becomes mysteriously “injured” or “sick” or “exhausted” whenever anything other than what he wants to do is asked of him. Knowing of his “ailments,” we told him from the start that he would go to football even when he was tired or didn’t want to you. We warned him and warned him, but, per the norm, our warnings went unnoticed. I knew right when he arrived off the bus that day, saying the coaches were mean and swore at him, that we were about to enter a “Sam I Am” situation. You know, will you try them on a boat? Try them with a fox? Try them in the rain? Sam I Am is persistent! Cameron is usually not persistent in completing tasks, but that kid can argue himself out of something or us into something like nobody’s business. He’s relentless. And it is exhausting! I was already preparing my counter-argument to stand strong against “Cameron I Am.” Just as predicted, next he said his ankle hurt, which he had sprained a couple of weeks before. By the way, as of posting this, 10 months after his initial ankle injury, our precious hypochondriac is still milking that ankle injury for moments when he needs an extra boost of attention or rest. After the ankle excuse failed, Cameron said that he was so tired and had a headache and stomach ache. He was full of excuses, which is classic Cameron. I’m always trying to think about future careers for him, and I’ve yet to find one where “excuse-making” is a prerequisite; maybe he has a future in politics? All of his excuses bounced off of my excuse-rejecting armour, as I told him to get his stuff and get in the car. Cameron’s next line of defense was the ever-popular tears. They started about 10 minutes before we had to leave. Tears turned into sobs, but I stayed strong and made him get in the car. I was proud of how I spoke in my best Mr. Roger’s voice about how stress often comes out in tears, how difficult I knew the week had been for him, how it’s okay to cry about things like this, that even adults get to this point, but we all have to suck it up do what we have to do and then come back and cry it out some more. I even explained how exercising at football practice would probably help his stress. He seemed to be listening, until his sobs became even bigger and more dramatic.
Cameron has been dramatic literally since birth, prompting us to call him “Cameron Dramatacus” early on in his life. Obviously, we now know why he seemed dramatic as an infant , given all of his sensory, attention, and processing struggles, but even putting that aside, Cameron was, and continues to be, a drama-king. This makes it difficult for me to know when he’s just over-dramatizing or truly, truly feeling something. Also, I don’t know at which point to let him not do something he committed to because he truly is overwhelmed; sometimes, in fact most times, he acts overwhelmed only to be “forced” into something that he thoroughly and genuinely enjoys. Just weeks or less before this, I had forced him to go to the dog park when he was crying because he didn’t want to go. He ended up loving it and asking if we could go every week. Due to the fact that I do not possess a sixth sense for reading the brain of my pre-adolescent son, I never know what’s real. This makes appropriate parenting an extremely difficult task no matter how many parenting books I continue to read! In this situation, I went with the odds, which were that he was overdoing his drama. Again. I made him go.
I told him that he needed to go and talk to his coach is about his stress and how he feels. At that point, if he and the coaches decided it would be okay for him to miss, that would be fine. But he needed to be his own advocate; it was not my responsibility. We pulled into the parking lot, and he refused to get out of the car. I went to the field where the kids were practicing and left him in the car, thinking that the car is hot, and he would be joining me shortly. He didn’t come. I waited for about 20 minutes at the side of the field, until I walked back to the car and got a phone call from my husband, Jon. Jon talked to him and told him he needed to go. Cameron didn’t move. So here’s where all I’d learned from the myriad of parenting books just exited my brain and freely floated into the universe. Because at this point, I literally drug him out of the car by his football pads–even though he is significantly stronger than me–and explained to him again that if he didn’t go to practice, he still needed to talk to his coaches about what’s going on. I reminded Cameron that I’d already talked to his coaches about his processing issues and that they were very nice about it. I’ve always tried to teach Cameron that he needs to tell people himself, though, because in the end it is him that will need to advocate for his needs, not anyone else. At this point, Cameron was out of the car and following me like a sad sloth (if there is such a thing– I feel like sloths are perpetually happy animals) while I walked up ahead of him. I gestured to a coach and asked if I could talk to him. “Me?” he asked. “Anyone,” I replied. Then I rambled while holding back my own tears, “Cameron wouldn’t get out of the car he’s upset he’s overwhelmed maybe you heard he has some sensory and processing issues I just don’t know what to do so would you talk to him?!?!?!” It should be noted that at this point in the catastrophic event, I was so overwhelmed myself, that I, the captain of the Manners Police, didn’t even say “please” or any other nicety. I was borderline rude.
The mild-mannered coach sat next to Cameron and asked him what was going on. He spoke to him for quite awhile, sharing that his own son has issues, and that his family has not moved even though they’ve wanted to, because he knew his son couldn’t handle it. He shared that his other son has ADHD and that he learned after 15 years that yelling does not work [insert sad trumpet sound]. He said he knows that parents push their kids, and they should–when it comes grades–but not when it comes to football. At this point, I felt pretty much awful. I yelled AND I was pushing him to go to football! However, I truly didn’t even want him in football, so I was definitely not pushing him to participate in football; I was just trying to get him to follow-through with the commitment he made. I still don’t know when that line of pushing or letting him decide what happens should start and when it should stop. In the end, that coach was amazing. He told Cameron that Cameron’s number one concern should be his happiness, followed by grades, then followed by football, if that’s what Cameron thinks should come next. He told Cameron to take a break– that it’s not that big of a deal, and that it’s okay, and that the coaches won’t be mad at him if he misses a couple of practices because he is feeling so overwhelmed.
In the midst of all of this I realized that I was going to be over an hour late for dinner with a friend. I only realized this because she called me after I was 20 minutes late, making me feel even worse about all that was going on. Then I realized that I had forgotten about dinner for a very good reason, and that was that Cameron needed me there in those moments even if I wasn’t doing the best parenting job in the world. I was still present for him and not preoccupied with the fact that I was late for dinner.
When we got home, Jon was clearly unhappy that Cameron did not stay at practice. The whole night was basically destroyed for the family, as Jon was infuriated while I escaped to dinner with my friend–which I think was probably the best option for us all at that point. It didn’t occur to me until I got home that Jon had been dealing with the aftermath of this on his own. However, while I was unhappy about the meltdown, Jon was unhappy that Cameron didn’t go to football practice. I was also worried about the choice that we had made to move our kids– at that point I was very much doubting whether or not the move was the right choice, even though Cameron hadn’t had a lot going on for him at the old school, where he was frequently bullied and came home crying. I was also just feeling really sorry for Cameron and for my reaction to him when he really needed me to be more understanding. However at that point, Jon was focused on how Cameron spent the rest of that evening walking around “smugly” because he got what he wanted and his coach agreed with him. I didn’t see that because I wasn’t there. Our differences in opinions and perspectives left me feeling like I couldn’t talk to my partner about the most significant situation that had happened in our family– the move and its effects on our children. My frustrations were exacerbating Jon’s frustrations, leaving him to think that I was angry with him when I wasn’t. The fact of the matter was that this was a big move for all of us, and my emotions about the move–whether or not I thought it was a good move or not– were directly related to my children’s emotions. Because they were having a bad week, I had guilt about it. I can now say this was a good move for our family, but it’s been nearly a year now.
It’s almost football season again. Upon reflection of this awful day, Cameron has decided not to join football this year. He wants to be in cross country too, and he was too overwhelmed when he did both. He liked the football games, where he rarely played, but didn’t really like the practices. It’s a lot of work and he recognizes that he doesn’t want to do it. Whew! We think he’s more of an individual sport kid anyway, although there are other team sports he’d like to try. While this could have been handled better, and while it put strain on the relationships in our family, the positive outcome is that Cameron is able to recognize his needs and make a decision based on them, even when I couldn’t. Cameron I Am persists!
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