DUDE…we all have something to say on THIS wild ride!!! Warrior Mamma is where I put my thoughts to paper on anything from advocating for my kids…to wanting to sell them for 25 cents each!! LOVE LOVE LOVE – and laughter.
I have always loved the movie Finding Nemo. Near the end of the film Nemo’s Dad (Marlin), speaking about his son says, “I promised I’d never let anything happen to him”. His friend Dori replies, “that’s a strange thing to promise.” This simple exchange struck me in a profound way and the echoes of it have shaped my parenting.
Marlins promise is one so many parents make and hold ourselves to with fervour. It is the promise that haunts us through every new experience, every mistake, every injury. We see ourselves as the protectors, the guardians of mind, body and soul. We shackle ourselves with the obligation of protecting our children from the world. This big, wide, rapid, imperfect world full of complex emotions, and people and situations. We hurl ourselves into the role like secret service agents in a fire fight. We work around the clock trying to shield our children from what we feel is ugly, hurtful or confusing. We try to prevent anything uncomfortable and where we can not, we try to stop it from happening again, explain it away and dull their pain (and our probably our own ) with hugs and kisses and distraction. It is a herculean feat and we, of course, are mortals.
The thing that keeps me sane is what I believe Dori was saying in that one short line. Our job as parents is NOT to prevent anything from ever happening. I believe it is our job is to be there. In being there our duty changes with each moment and every experience. Sometimes there is no doubt we are supposed to intervene to protect them, other times we are merely there to ease the fall, help heal the wounds – or (hardest of all) witness the learning and do nothing. We are there to put things into perspective, help them understand what is a BIG deal and what is a little ‘bummer’. We are there to root for, cheer for, cry with and console. We are there to sort out options, make plans and coach. But we are the helpers, we are not fixers, and we are surely not GODS.
Life is supposed to happen.
Our children NEED us to allow life to happen for them. We do them a disservice when we shield them too much. In fact we do ourselves one too! Every child needs a chance to see their own strengths and practice resilience. Every child needs to feel what the world is like and know that they will be okay. Every parent needs to see that their child IS strong, and capable. We need to recognize their resilience and foster it further. When we stand in the way of adversity we stand in the way of growth. We stifle our children’s development and we fool them into a belief that life is and should be easy. Life is NOT easy. It is wild and rugged and BEAUTIFUL and worth all the effort – but not easy. We should prepare them for the choices, consequences and difficulties. We should be doing all we can to walk with them (not for them) through the hard stuff. Let them know that we are a soft place to land – but not to hide. When our children feel overwhelmed or unprepared we can be there to honour their feelings, share the experience and offer support. Our job is to know our children, to stay close enough to recognize when they need us, but leave space for them to experience, experiment, and learn their own way. It’s difficult, but it is vital.
I long ago released myself from the promise to never let anything happen to my children. I made some different promises. I promised to do my best, to pick the right moments. I promised to recognise the difference between grave and uncomfortable, and to help my children do the same. I promised to protect my children as best I can in the moments they need protecting and to be there to support and hold them in the moments when ‘life happens’. I promised, that I will allow my children to see me laugh as well as cry. I will be brave sometimes, and share my fears without shame so that they will know it’s right and safe to do both in this family. I vowed to listen to my children and learn with them as they learn through their own experiences. And if they will allow me the privilege I gave my oath to share my life experiences with them (the good and the ugly) so that hopefully they can learn through some of my mistakes and not have to make all the same ones themselves.
My most solemn promise was to never make a promise I can’t keep. Like for example, never letting anything happen to them. Because what a shame it would be if I got in the way of this challenging, beautiful journey they are embarking on. Life.
In addition to these promises I added a prayer.
Dear Sweet Destiny, please be kind with my children.
*What are your promises? What is your prayer? KATE
It all started early one Friday morning (as it typically does). My husband (Eric) was leaving for his week away at work. My children and I were just rallying for the day. We were all a little rough and ragged, having just gotten through a pretty dramatic bout of stomach upset that started last week at the park and involved a porta’ potty that would never be the same again. (GAG!) Regardless, we were trying to be chipper – it was Friday after all!
Eric headed out to pack the car and upon opening the front door discovered that our crooked little cat Hiway had been forgotten outside and arrived home SKUNKED. Eric had to be out and gone by 7:30am so there was no discussion, no question of who would be dealing with this. I groaned, I cursed, we locked poor Hiway in the basement to be dealt with later and we got on with the morning.
Since Trystan was on his way back to school and we were a little nervous about his belly on the bus I was driving him. Of course we were running late and things were hectic. By the time I had Trystan to school and Loukah at daycare I had completely forgotten about the little bundle of nasty awaiting me at home. Walking through the door was like walking through the perfume department in the devil’s department store. An mystic creature of stink hit my face, then wrapped its tentacles around my throat and crawled up my nose. “Oh God…the SKuuuunking!!” I turned on my heel and headed back out. I hustled to the nearest pet store looking for something to save us all. To my great delight there was a big bottle marked in bold letters on the first shelf. “SKUNK OFF”. A clear statement, such confidence. There was no doubt in my mind with a name like that it HAD to work! I chatted cheerfully with the lady at the cash thinking I had just solved my dilemma and would soon be on to other more important tasks , like a bubble bath and a cup of coffee!
Once home it took about 20 minutes to capture, and another 20 to thoroughly soak my miserable, squirmy, uncooperative patient. I don’t know who was more upset about the process but when it ended neither Hiway or I were feeling very snugly. She looked like a drowned rat and smelled indescribably horrible. I smelled pretty much the same. It was a confusing sensory experience. A mix of wet cat, skunk and that perfume they sell for preteens. That kind of chemically floral head-achy stuff!? Ya’ you know it. It’s generally sold in brightly coloured boxes and features images of teen heartthrobs. I think it’s called – SHOOT ME NOW!
Let me say this. It’s not because of my experience that this product is automatically junk. Maybe Hiway encountered a particularly repugnant skunk. Maybe her skunk had been eating cabbage. I don’t know. All I know is that for me, SKUNK OFF did not live up to its label. In my experience it basically just redefined my understanding of the word ‘malodorous’. One could argue it was meant to mask the skunk smell with a more pleasant deodorant type of scent. Even at that I would have to say EPIC FAIL. Disappointment, sadness, frustration, nausea. I was feeling it all.
I gave myself a reprieve. Ever the optimist I decided to give the product some time to “set”. I felt perhaps it needed time to permeate. I was not a skunking expert after all , they were. Maybe there was a chemical process that needed to take place!? Maybe the smell would sort of just dissipate as the product dried!?? Yes, I decided. YES, I would believe that. Off I went with hope in my heart and a belief that MAGIC would happen while I got a wash and soak in the tub.
Two shaved legs and only one plucked eyebrow later the phone rang. Trystan was sick again and needed to be picked up at school. I hopped in the car (looking half surprised) and headed off to gather my wee man who had become quite fevered and was having a lot of throat pain. Four hours later we emerged from the ER just in time to pick Loukah up and return home. Knowing I still had a stink giant to slay, and wanting to squeeze a little something good into Friday for the boys, I grabbed the need antibiotics (strep throat), bought some popsicles and promised them both a snuggle and a movie.
ALAS THAT WAS NOT WHAT THE GODS HAD IN STORE…
We arrived home to find the entire house now smelling of skunk and perfume. I had never realized that a smell could hit you with such force! It was like a solid mass! Like, someone was experimenting with chemical weapons in my HOUSE!! The cat was miserable. She was skulking around like she was trying to get away from herself. She held her body low to the ground and scuffled the way cats do when you drop a towel over them and they want it off. Poor pathetic, putrid little beast. I set the kids up with a show and hit good ole GOOGLE to research skunk solutions.
After carefully considering and sifting through the world of lay and lame internet advice I had decided against anything to do with tomato juice. I selected the SPCA as a credible source. They said to use vinegar, baking soda and a little dish soap. This made perfect sense to me! It sounded quite similar to something I had used not long ago to clean the grout between the bathroom tiles and that worked great. I set myself up in the bathroom then brought Hiway in and locked the door. By this time the kids show had finished and they had taken an interest in the de-skunking process. They arranged themselves on the bathroom counter as if it was stadium seating. Little did any of us realise the REAL show was just about to begin.
Side note: I should mention that my children had recently entered a phase of brotherhood in which they could fight about ANYTHING, and it came on fast. Without exaggeration I can tell you, they would be getting ready for bed and start fist fighting over who would kiss the other goodnight first! UGLY. Tiny demons!
The following is a true account of events as they happened:
In case you’ve never done it, vinegar and baking soda create some pretty impressive fizz when mixed together. It makes a pretty good sound too. Much like a cat hissing actually. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what Hiway thought she was hearing as I mixed the formula and began trying to spread it over her. She was frantic! She surely believed she was being overtaken by an angry,invisible adversary!
I embarked on trying to pin my wet, writhing, terrified cat with one hand and with the other hand slather her with hissing vinegar solution. At first the boys were calling out suggestions and cheering for Mommy as if they were my trainers and this was a paid sports event! Suddenly their attention became focused on the items on the bathroom counter. They hooked onto the toothbrushes and got into a debate over who was better at brushing their teeth. Soon they were pushing and shoving each other. Hurling the cruel-est of their childhood slurs like “poopy head!” and “butt face!”. I was trying to get them to stop for fear one would push the other off the counter and get hurt. It was, of course futile. They had entered their own world of childhood conflict. That world nearly impenetrable to mothers voice. I pulled them down off the counter to mitigate the risk while they solved their dispute “the old fashion way”, and turned my attention back to Hiway, who by now was trying to make her escape through the tiny crack under the bathroom door. As IF this was my life!?
As I was trying to restrain the cat and act as referee to the poopy head brothers I was mildly aware that the entire scene had taken on the look and feel of a low budget wrestling match. There was yelling, screaming, scratching, and clawing. Vinegar and baking soda froth was being shaken in all directions. It flew in clumps, as if from the mouths of rabid beasts! The tiles had become wet and we were all sort of sloshing around the room. The cat was not just panting. She was making noises I had never heard before. I was making the exact SAME sounds! By the time I was supposed to “rinse” there was nothing left to do but admit defeat. HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO RINSE A CAT!!!??? Madness.
I opened the door and freed the beasts (all three of them). Surrender.
I woke up the next morning to discover a trail of stinky white fluff balls littering the hallway. HiWay’s’ fur was now falling out in clumps. I felt sorry for her, and quite honestly for myself, but there was nothing to do. She was in hiding and I had two little hooligans to wrangle. It took a week for her fur to stop falling out. The entire week she kept bringing me “gifts” as if trying to apologise for her stench. Or maybe they were sacrifices. Pleas for mercy. Offered with a hope to stave off any further intervention. She brought me mouse intestines mostly, some kidneys I think. Once a head. Every day, every time she went out. Sometimes two in a day! I couldn’t understand how these various prey animals were getting caught! Couldn’t they smell her coming!? I was disgusted, but sympathetic. I couldn’t imagine walking around smelling like that for a week. Poor little cat.
Thankfully Hiway has never been skunked again since that event. I must say I have NO idea how I would handle it better or differently. I DO know that my first experience left me with NO useful insight. Only EXTREMELY white grout between my bathroom tiles, and a good story.
Parenting these days can be pretty intense. It’s rare to find anyone raising their own tiny human and not paying attention to the new theories, philosophies and debates on child rearing. It seems as though there is an unspoken plan to raise this generation as a fleet of super humans. We strive for perfection in every domain. We try to foster emotional development, intelligence and connection. We have high standards of nutrition, health care, discipline and hygiene. We question and debate constantly in effort to ensure we have made the very best decisions for our children. We have powerful and differing opinions on everything from vaccination to television and the pros and cons of hand sanitizer. Parenting has somehow evolved from a very natural, biological and evolutionary process where there was room for the occasional beer and a box of KD – to an emotional and intellectual extreme sport! EEeesh!
A few years ago I ran one of those mud races. You know, the ones where they set up a bunch of stations? Things like, greased monkey bars over pools of icy swamp water, and flaming hay bail pyramids you climb over with your feet tied together. Okay, I exaggerate, but honestly I think those are the kind of obstacles we pit ourselves against as parents! We set such high expectations and then ANGST over every little detail. Most especially when it comes to our children’s health.
When I ran that race I had a 4 year old and a 1 year old. I was TIRED. I had very little time to train. I had NEVER done anything like it before and I was so nervous that when the starting gun went off my legs immediately turned to jelly. The first 10 minutes were completely occupied with the goal of staying upright. (Hmmmm…..yup, this is the right analogy for this conversation). Despite my disadvantages I had some really good stuff going on too. I was running with friends. I had one in particular who stuck with me the entire time. We had loved ones rooting for us. Another friend travelled along the course gallery. She watched us the entire time despite the rain and cold. There were strangers cheering all along the route and wonderful marshals at every obstacle. At one point my friend and I were stuck trying to find a way over a 15 foot wall. The rest of our team had gone ahead which left us fairly disadvantaged. The marshals and spectators just kept encouraging us to try again, to try new strategies and never give up. When we finally made it over they cheered as if we had won the super bowl. All these things made the race a wonderful experience. I never doubted that we would finish. Despite being tired, muddy, cold and wet. Despite slipping and sloshing and getting banged up, I enjoyed every moment of it.
It’s interesting because if absolutely everything had been the same except the spectators were heckling, it would have been HELL. Forget heckling. Even if they had just stood on the sidelines talking about how THEY would run the race and what we SHOULD be doing, I would have fought a sickly, vulnerable feeling the entire way.
Back to parenting…
My son starting showing evidence of unique learning needs very young. He was super sensitive to noisy environments, emotionally hyper-reactive, and extremely resistant to change. He also had been a terrible sleeper since infancy. ( I am talking about real true sleep disordered lack of sleep.) By grade one we were recognising fine motor issues and I began to suspect dyslexia. By grade two he was having serious problems sustaining attention. I wondered if he had a spectrum disorder, or was struggling with mental health issues, or maybe just so chronically sleep deprived that he was starting to break down. In time we found ourselves with a clear understanding that our child was dealing with ADHD (Distracted type), dyslexia and dysgraphia. The insomnia, was (is) part of the package.
By now you may be asking “what are you driving at Kate? Connect the dots here, what’s your point?”
My point is, ADHD has become a particularly popular aspect of the sport of parenting, and the spectators on the side lines are RUTHLESS!! You can not research the topic without coming across endless opinion pieces about how this is a made up condition. A product of a system trying to fit indigo children into pale grey uniforms. You can not make an inquiry about medications without getting pelted with horror stories and buried in well meaning nutritional advice. There are countless posts on social media accusing schools and parents of medicating as opposed to teaching or parenting. Parents of typical learners, and the childless fancy themselves experts in the field of ADHD parenting. There is always a friend of a friend who cured their child by eliminating red food dye and gluten (ADHD parents united in knowing laughter here 🙂 )
Honestly, I kind of get it. It is easy to form opinions and to underestimate the struggles when you are not living the situation. I think most people are speaking out of concern for the children and that is GOOD. Most of the time the intent is in some way supportive. But it doesn’t feel supportive. To the parents of the ADHD child, as we scale the walls and throw ourselves over the hurdles, it makes us feel lonely, misunderstood and judged.
What I’m saying is, just like during that rainy, cold, muddy race. What we need are cheerleaders, motivators and genuine encouragement. No sideline coaching and most definitely not hecklers. We need help to build a core belief of success, and we need to find our child’s path to success without the added strain of misinformation, fear mongering and judgement.
Medication is a particularly tense topic. We fought against the notion for years. In the sleep department I honestly think I have researched and tried everything on the planet thrice over. We are experts in sleep hygiene, and sleep routines. We have tried yoga, meditation, guided meditation, audio books and classical music. We have done white noise and blackout curtains, essential oils, massage, high protein snacks, herbal teas. I could go on! I have sung songs and told stories until my voice was rough and my throat was raw. Never any progress.
For the distraction issue we embarked on a similar journey. Motivators, sensory tools, rewards. Strict routines and repetition. We went gluten free, dairy free, dye free, sugar free. We used magnesium, omega 3’s, and herbal supplements. If someone had told me to hold him by the ankles and swing him over my head I would have done it. These were not his solutions.
We finally found ourselves faced with the decision of taking medication, because we had tried everything else. There are a lot of factors people do not consider when they stand at the sidelines. Like the social experience of the child who cannot work independently in class because they are too distracted. The equal if not harder impact of being taken out of class for special attention. Or the emotional impact for the child who can not read the page in front of them because “the letters dance on the page”. People assume that it is the parents and the teachers deciding the child must “conform”. We couldn’t have cared less. We felt that as long as our child was happy and enjoyed school the rest would come. The teachers were completely supportive. They were prepared to put the time, supports and resources in place regardless of medication. But when we asked our son what he wanted, he didn’t skip a beat. “I want to be able to finish my work, and I would like to be able to listen to my teacher”. A very modest ask from anyone. An impressive, insightful and revealing one from a 7 year old. He wants to learn, he wants to show his knowledge and he wants to focus.
I think the biggest fear with regard to meds is that your child will become sedated, or changed in some way. That was most certainly top of the list for us. There was also the fear of side effects. That was a doozy for me. Our son has a very bright light. He is cheerful and silly and loving. He thinks everyone in the world is his friend. I was terrified that the medications would make him depressed or withdrawn. We were so worried that the first trial was short lived. We were hyper alert to side effects and didn’t really give him a chance to adjust. But as time went on we had the good fortune of building trusted relationships with his teachers and our paediatrician. They helped us become more confident that we would catch any ill effects quickly and that anything problematic would be temporary or resolved. When we started feeling as though there was a solid tribe around our child, a tribe who knew him, saw him and valued him as he was – our fears eased a little, and we tried some more.
My son is the same child he was all along. He is quirky and confident and deeply loves people. My fears about him being sedated and changed have utterly dissolved. Medication was the right decision for him and I feel that making this decision was far from a parenting cop out. It was agonising and terrifying. Making the decision was not defeat – it was bravery. I am proud of us as parents for being willing to tackle the thing that not only frightened us, but was unpopular and polarising. We set our own comfort aside and did what was right for our child.
Medications come with their own tricks and challenges. Adding stimulants came as a package deal with adding sleep aids. We ran the same emotional gauntlet and have had the same experience. I can not tell you how much I have come to appreciate and value my son’s nightly meds. Finally, after 9 years I have the simple joy of watching my child drift off to sleep. Such a critically important element of health and well-being that I was unable to give him without help. I completely admit it sucks to give your child sleep aids. It is even suckier though, to lay with your child in the middle of the night as he cries and begs “ Mommy I’m so tired but my mind won’t let me sleep”. To pack your 7 year old off to school knowing he has probably only slept 10 of the last 48 hours. To keep him home for a sick day because he is just too tired to function. Aweful.
It’s also true that we don’t know exactly what the long term effects of some medications could be. We do however know the long term effects of sleep deprivation, which can include depression, learning disability and loss of concentration (Lord have mercy NO!). I refuse to let fear of what could happen later get in the way of what my child needs now.
As I write this article I am aware that it is significantly longer than I would typically produce. I feel a little spark of insecurity. I wonder, if it’s too long and worry no one will want to read it. Then I remind myself why I sat down and started in the first place. I know how deeply relieved I would have been if I had found a story like ours when I first went searching. I know that there is an infinite number of families struggling with the same set of questions and worries we had. There are parents feeling the same sympathy for their child, the same grief of seeing him or her struggle, and the guilt of thinking it is somehow their own fault as parents. I don’t want to stand by quietly at the sidelines watching others struggle. I want to be the cheering friend jumping up and down yelling “you’ve got this!”. I want the journey of ADHD to feel like a victory waiting to be claimed, not a cold, grey, uphill trek through the mud. I want to help displace fear and drown out judgement so that every family can consider all the options and decide for themselves what is best!
Our ADHD children are amazing. They are built to see the world through a new lens. To interact, observe and contribute in new and significant ways. Given the right tools and support ADHD can be like a super power! For now though, they are still our wee babes, and straddling the space between the world they will build and the one we live in is tough. Every parent should feel safe and able to use every tool available in order to help their child move forward with confidence. What that will look like is difficult to decipher and deeply personal. There is no right, no wrong. There is only a series of cautious experiments, loads of careful observation, hundreds of hours of conversation and the most loving of hearts full of courage and hope.
Keep going, keep trying, don’t give up, YOU’VE GOT THIS!!
Special thanks for this image to my dear and talented friend Toni
Last night I lay in bed with my boys waiting for them to fall asleep. At first I was disappointed. My carefully planned evening drive home was supposed to have lulled them off. I was looking forward to an easy, early night for all our sake. I lay there, slightly impatient as they went through their typical antics. “I need a toy”, “can I have some water?”, “One more story?” etc. But when Trystan asked for a pile up I melted. A pile up is from his favourite movie. The entire family climbs one on top of the other to fall asleep. Priceless. So now rather than slipping quietly into my own bed at 8:30pm as planned I am the foundation of a three story human stack! Ah well….it could be worse.
As my children snuggle me I am able to sense the change in their breathing and the subtle softening of their limbs as sleep takes them. Tonight it happens to both at the exact same time. Suddenly I’m in no rush to go anywhere. I lay there listening to their breathing, feeling the warmth of their tiny bodies. I notice how they have curved and contorted themselves to make to most possible bodily contact with me. A smile crosses my face and I close my eyes. There is no where I’d rather be.
I have thought about my night time routine with the boys at length. I am aware of the “mistakes” we made with Trystan as a baby that have made it very difficult to build his independence at night. He still relies on a “snuggle down” most of the time. As I see some similar patterns emerging with Loukah I struggle with all the opinions I hear and read in parenting columns. At times I worry that I’ve done them an injustice. Have I permanently robbed them of some developmental milestone that will later affect their success in life!? OH my God what have I done!?
More realistically I have struggled keeping balance. Those hours spent in the bed could have been mine to do chores, take a shower or read a book. There are so many things I long for and need to do. But lying in the embrace of my sleeping children puts everything into perspective. The dishes can wait. Dr.Seuss can be my pleasure reading for now. My children want me near. My presence comforts them and theirs comforts me. I highly doubt that when my children are adolescents they will need me to snuggle them down. I suspect they will go to sleep overs and summer camps and they will do just fine. I can only HOPE that on occasion they will allow me to sit on the side of their bed, stroke their hair and tell them stories about when they were tiny babies (as we so often do now). I PRAY that on occasion I can lie beside them and hear their whimsical imaginary stories or talk about their school day. If I can forever trace the outline of their faces with my finger and gently kiss the tips of their noses while they sleep….I will consider myself a good night guru!
Maybe I lack balance in my life right now. I know I do. But I will never look back and regret the lost moments, because I’m not loosing them. I’m cherishing them. One pile up at a time.