One Hour of One Day
I remind myself of the times since the birth of my second child that I have felt like a successful, competent parent. I have given both of my children what they need. I have kept them safe, happy, nourished, and we’ve all had some fun along the way. I mention these days because they are rare. Our norm is much different.
A typical day here unfolds more along the lines of the following hour of our lives:
Danny, age three, is playing alone in his room. Six-year-old Rose enters and casually takes a harmonica laying on the shelf. Danny sees it and screams bloody murder. This is a learned response, an imitation of the greeting he receives whenever he steps a foot inside of his sister’s room.
Danny tries to grab the harmonica back from Rose’s hand, but fails. The screaming continues. I say,
"Oh, Rose, he wasn't ready for you to take that. You know how you feel when he comes into your room? I think he would feel better if you ask him first before taking something."
"I'll give it back, I'll give it back..." she says while bolting from the room, hiding in her own room with his harmonica.
Danny is upset, but I can’t take the harmonica back, because it will trigger her panic response and she will start to fight or spit. Instead, I gather up Danny’s clothing for the day and carry him downstairs, reassuring him that I'll help him sort it out, but we'll take a little space for now.
I begin dressing him in the basement. Rose comes part way down the stairs and taunts,
"Ha ha! Oh yeah! I got you to come down stairs!!"
"We're not staying here, it's okay. You can have some space down here to yourself if you need it. We're getting ready to go outside."
She begins spitting down on me from the stairs above us. Trying to keep it light and silly, I say,
"Ohhh it's OK. Baby has some spit. It's OK. I can help. Do you need a bib?"
(Do I say it lovingly? Can she feel a needle-y edge to it? I’m hoping not).
Still trying to bring humor to diffuse the tension we’re all feeling, I grab an umbrella hanging on a hook nearby. I open it above my head and say,
“Spit away! it's okay!" and begin singing, "Raindrops on roses" ... trying to calm her nervous system response.
She laughs, but continues spitting, at first aiming for the umbrella. But then it quickly escalates, as she fixates on spitting on us.
"OK Rose," I say, as I walk up the stairs, "I'm going to close this stairway door just for a few minutes because I want to finish what I'm doing without being spit on. I'll be back to open it in just a second."
I go back to finish getting Danny into his snowsuit. I am desperately trying to get my younger child outdoors in the fresh air. Rose begins climbing on the butcher block in the kitchen, yelling,
“I’M GOING TO SPIT ON EVERYTHING IN THE HOUSE and NOT help you CLEAN IT UP!!!"
I get Danny safely outside, and I open the door to let Rose know she can join us if she feels like it.
There's fresh snow outside. Danny begins playing with his tractors in the snow and helping me shovel and sweep the path. A few minutes later, Rose comes out in her pajamas. I welcome her and we admire the snowflakes. She helps me sweep off the car a bit. Then she starts getting cold and wants help getting dressed. I go inside to help her.
Rose immediately changes her mind. She decides to jump on the trampoline, so I come back outside. I don't want to leave Danny by himself in our small fenced yard. I resume shoveling the driveway.
Rose comes back outside, this time barefoot. I make no big deal of it, and she goes back in. She returns with boots and after a few minutes of playing, begins insulting Danny on his shoveling skills.
"You're doing a terrible job, ya baby!"
I lightly toss snow at her. It becomes a fun game for a few minutes until she begins impulsively running towards Danny, trying to hit or kick him. I go to him, calmly pick him up and say,
"Rose is in a rough mood and I want to keep you safe. Let's go to the front yard for a bit."
Rose decides she wants to stay outside and needs more gear. She goes inside and yells,
"HELP ME GET DRESSED!!!"
So I come back inside to try to help her. This time, she's a bit apologetic and unexpectedly accepts my help. As I try to help her body into her snow gear, Danny enters and kicks off his boots and throws off his hat and mittens.
"No, no, no! We're going back out! Just hang on a second!"
He refuses. He says he doesn't want to be alone outside because Rose said the Gooners will get him.
I can't keep my son from taking off his snow gear, so I place him –- bootless -- in the driver's seat of the van where he likes to play “drive.” I believe this will keep him safe, while I finish getting Rose dressed to return outside, and to create a smidgen of space between him and his sister. As we arrive again in the backyard, I see Danny through the car window with a serious expression on his face.
"Momma!! I gotta go peeeee!!!"
I hurry to unzip him. The moment I pull his pants down and the cold air hits him, he pees all over the place; on the car door frame, all over my snow pants and boots, it fills his own snow suit and puddles in the folds.
I begin crying.
My soul is wounded writing these words. Yet, when I stop and read them again, I nearly want to burst out laughing. This one typical hour of my life with my PDA child would be almost comical, if the lived reality weren’t so relentless and agonizing for me as a mother.
This scene also illuminates an excruciating fact: I am not enough for my children. I cannot be enough. I do not say this out of insecurity or self-pity. I say it as a reflection of the fact that my daughter has a neurobiological difference that makes coping with the demands of our simple, little existence unmanageable for one adult to handle. In order to accommodate her and keep everyone safe, she needs one-on-one, undivided attention.
I need to be more than one human, but I am not.