Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day 20: Testing, Testing

I will choose to find a positive perspective under even the most negative circumstances.
I will choose acceptance over resistance.
I will choose to focus on the things I value about my children, not the things that drive me nuts.
I will choose to extend the same grace, love and forgiveness to myself that I try to lavish on my husband and children each day.

Tests have always been my thing. Multiple choice, fill in the blank, short answer, name it, I'll ace it because I love answers. A test has a perfectly defined beginning and end, and with the end comes a sense of accomplishment and completion. Just talking about it makes me nostalgic for my college days.

Well, school's over and testing has taken on a whole new meaning. In fact, I don't think it's even fair to call any part of life or parenting a "test" because there is no end and there are certainly no answers. My favorite thing about school has become my least favorite thing about parenting. I'd like to say I've been acing the tests coming my way recently, but I'm not sure what a passing grade looks like.

In the past few days, Jackson has been experiencing tantrums. This is new and so out of character for him that it's really quite traumatic for all of us. It's very clear that they're coming as a result of his body's detox process, but that doesn't make them any easier to deal with in the moment. It's obvious he's feeling out of control, confused and conflicted when it happens, and don't I know none of those feel good. He'll ask me to leave, then scream louder when I move toward the door and beg me to stay. He'll say he wants to be held, then when he gets into my arms, he'll fight his way out, screaming. His body and brain are just saying "no" to everything and all he wants to do is say "yes" and feel calm. If the test is helping him find a way to calm down, I'm failing

This has led us to his first public outbursts. For the first time, I'm the mom with the kid lying on the floor of the store. It feels worse than I imagined. When it happens, the whirlwind of thought going on in my head is dizzying. It's hard to focus and get a grip on myself or him. If the test is avoiding a public scene, I'm failing.

 I'm acutely aware of each person walking by and watching, and I even find myself saying things to him that I'm hoping they hear: "Jackson this isn't appropriate behavior in the store. I want you to be respectful of the other shoppers. Do you see all these people? Your yelling hurts their ears and your body is in the way." If the test is tuning out the world to focus on him and the need he's expressing, I'm failing.

As the stress builds and the desire to avoid external judgment squeezes down on me, I find it harder to be patient. I start to physically remove him, which only makes matters worse because a lack of control over his world is what caused the ruckus to begin with. If the test is helping him feel powerful and in control of himself, I'm failing.

Eventually I'm able to talk him down. Maybe we identify something he wants or wants to do, then draw the connection between leaving the store and getting there. Maybe I identify what he wanted in the first place and can accommodate that need or find a suitable substitute. If the test is stopping the tantrum, I fail because time was up before I could finish filling in the little circles.

But If the test is surviving and even loving him through the storm, I think I'll give myself a passing grade. If it's acknowledging and allowing him to express the extreme unrest and discomfort that are accompanying his body's healing process, I'm pretty sure I'd get the credits. And if it's standing strong against the temptation to use fear, shame, bribery or punishment to manipulate him, I think I am acing it.

I'm teaching him that I really do love him unconditionally. He's seeing first hand that he is secure, that nothing could ever make me abandon him. And, although his little brain might not process it to the full extent, I'm showing him that he matters to me more than the shopping, more than the passersby, more than our schedule, and more than my own feelings. Because let's face it, it's embarrassing. And it would be easy to prioritize that feeling over your child's need for acceptance and support through a tantrum.

I may not like this new kind of test, especially since no one has the answer key, but I'm doing my best to rise to the challenge of living in the answer-less world of parenting. In the end, it'll probably be my kids who get to hand down the grades, and I can only hope that the work I'm doing to build a healthy relationship with them now will pay off when that day comes.

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