What Not to Say
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No one ever said “She just loves children” to describe me in my youth.
Santa brought me Baby Alive for Christmas when I was 7 years old. It cried, pooped, peed and ran a fever. It scared me to death. Within hours of opening the much-desired gift, I demanded my parents remove the batteries. Baby Alive ended up in the basement.
As a young adult I was never one to want to hold the baby. Hold the kitten: yes. Play with the puppy: absolutely. Pick up a squirming, noisy, and unpredictable infant: no way.
So it was a surprise to family and friends when my husband, Brian, and I announced we were pregnant with our first child. And it was a surprise to Brian and me when our daughter, Amanda, was born with Down syndrome and various health issues. We spent the next few years in and out of hospitals.
Once all seemed settled we decided to expand our family to four and had our second child, Jason.
Our family was complete, with various critters happily added and sadly subtracted here and there. We began the “married with children” lifestyle. We went to amusement parks. We took day trips to beaches. We enrolled in music classes, sports activities and play groups.
I finally started to feel like every other mom. Yes, my daughter had special needs. And yes, I had a crazy, active boy. But life finally seemed typical to me.
Thus I was unprepared when friends, family and strangers would approach with comments regarding my parenting ability. Some seemed genuine. A few felt like backhanded compliments. But mostly the words brought pressure to live up to this unrealistic notion of Super Mom.
The statement I hear most is, “I would never be able to do what you do.” If I had been granted the ability to look at my “parent life” ahead of time and been asked, “Can you handle this?” I am certain I would have said “Heck no!” But mothers move heaven and earth to make their life the best it can be, and so do I.
And there are other not-especially-welcome remarks.
“You have so much patience.” No, I don’t. Compassion maybe? Patience, definitely not. Matter of fact, I am ridiculously impatient. Ask anyone who knows me. I finish other people’s sentences. I walk fast, talk fast. I get really mad at my computer for being too slow. I constantly change checkout lines at the grocery store. I want to vaporize the cars in front of me at the McDonald’s drive-thru.
“You certainly have your hands full.” Every parent has her hands full. Children suck the life out of you. It is inconceivable how tired you can be after spending a day with a toddler. Doing homework with a sixth-grader. Negotiating with a teenager. I have never met a parent who said, “I have all this extra energy after spending the day with my family. I think tomorrow I will go next door and see if the neighbors need any help with their children.”
“God gives special children to special people.” This makes me cringe. Usually, the person who says this doesn’t even know me, so even if I were truly special, which I am not, he or she would have no way of knowing. And I ask you, why do a high percentage of these special people choose abortion if they have a diagnosis in-vitro? You have to wonder even more when you hear about children with special needs being abused.
“You are only given as much as you can handle.” If that’s true, then please explain people who have breakdowns, families that fall apart, and stress that leads to addiction.
“You are doing God’s work.” If “mom’s work” is “God’s work” then, yes, I am, but so is every other mom.
Yes, I am that mom who was at the park for hours climbing on the play structures with her children. I ran around the block holding the back of my daughter’s two-wheel bike every day for months until she could ride without training wheels. I have read Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate books with my son. I organize play dates and social gatherings. I attempt to harmonize songs to help with auditions.
But I have also dragged my screaming 13-year-old daughter out of Target because after over an hour of staring at the “new releases” display she still could not choose which movie she wanted to buy.
I have buried my head in the clean clothes on the shelf in the laundry room and yelled obscenities when my son again deliberately overfilled his milk, making my daughter knock her orange juice glass to the floor on purpose, because spills upset her.
I have hidden their iPads and thought seriously about not giving them back.
I have sent them to their rooms because I needed a “timeout.”
While there are moments I feel really good about being a mom, there are also those moments when I wish I could remove their batteries and put them in the basement. Maybe just for an hour or two.
My circumstances may make my parenthood atypical. But I think I am typical because I’m trying really hard to be the greatest mom I can be.
And maybe that is what I would like to hear the most: “You look like you are doing the best job you can do as a mom.” To that I could honestly look you in the eye and say, “Thank you.”
Deborah Cavanagh lives in Manlius with her husband and two children. She has written for local organizations supporting children and adults with special needs and publishes the blog www.momofmanyneeds.com.