Saturday, October 11, 2008

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

W. B. Yeats once said, "Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy which sustained him through temporary periods of joy." And though I grew up in a family that was only a small part Irish, it was still a family where nothing good was allowed to happen. If something good might happen, it must be some mistake. And not to worry, God would correct the momentary injustice, and that something good would most certainly turn to something bad. Just give it a day or two. Good fortunes were for other people. My parents were both young during the depression and WWII, and I think they were raised with this point of view. And then there was the issue of what I'd call Catholic guilt. You were expected to be in a constant state of repentance. As a young girl, I remember being dragged off to the confessional booth every Saturday (so we would all be free of sin for Mass the next day), and saying "but, you guys, I didn't do anything wrong this week." That never seemed to matter. I had to have done something. So I'd make up things about calling my brother a name or forgetting to unload the dishwasher while doing my chores, so I could say my Hail Marys and go home.

With the help of my WASP of a husband, who is happy to accept any good fortune, from a primo parking space right outside a very popular restaurant to profitable stock sale, I have worked hard in my adult life to allow good things into my world. I remember about 10 years ago when my husband and I were getting a particularly large tax refund, my mother exclaimed, "you can't be; things like that don't happen to people!" "You mean people like us," I said. While I resented her words and tried to enjoy that tax refund, I continue to be haunted by her rhetoric. People who struggle with children burdened with bipolar, or ADHD, or other disabilities get used to bad things happening to them. And when the going is good, it's so hard to relax and enjoy it.

Since Tommy started fifth grade this year, he has been on an incredible upswing. But not so up that he is manic. Just up enough to be an above average, well behaved, motivated boy who gets a lot of learning done during the day and stays out of trouble. His teachers are thrilled, and there is never an unexpected "phone call" from them. It is a joy to pick him up at the end of the day. He'll say amazing and unheard of things to me like, "I had no challenges today," and "I liked all the work I did today; nothing made me mad." My heart melts and I tear up a bit. I try to suck in the joy and think, "wow, is this how other moms feel when they pick up their kids?" Then, that stern voice invades my thoughts "don't get used to it," it reminds me.

I am certain there are other mothers of special needs kids out there who cannot help but agree with me. Why can't we allow ourselves to revel in this sense of relief and lack of stress? We all must work harder at emerging ourselves in these moments of triumph. Soak in it like a hot bubble bath at the end of a long day. Breath it into your body like the smell of a familiar comfort food simmering on the stove. And then, just be with it. You know it's going to go away soon. But if you (I) could just accept that and not fear it, then maybe it will not invade the happiness. Yes, we are allowed to feel happy. And not only are parents of challenged kids allowed to feel happy, we deserve it. Let the shoe drop when it drops, and don't let it stomp on what you have today.

I know this all sounds a little trite, so you might be thinking, how do you actually do this? For me it is writing. The simple act of writing the article and opening up about the topic allows me to do this; it gives me permission. Perhaps for you it will be the act of reading the article and taking it to heart? Maybe talking about your fears to a friend or a therapist? Maybe just admitting or realizing you have these fears. And maybe when your child has a good day, do something extra for yourself (a manicure, some chocolate) to remind you that it is a day to enjoy; that days can be treats. But just find your way to let the good days actually be good days, so you have the strength to deal with the next bad one.

1 comment:

AngelConradie said...

oh am i with you on that, and you're so right!
i always see myself as living on a rollercoaster- and when we're gently coasting along uphill and everything is quiet and peaceful i am ALWAYS waiting for the drop downhill and the screaming and the noise. i brace myself for it constantly...