Driving home from school on Friday, Vinnie said, “It must be hard being my mom. I mean, it must take a lot of patience. How do you do it?”
My heart broke a little, hearing him say that, and I found myself scrambling for an answer. I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying, “Of course it’s not hard, buddy!” I really wanted to reassure him, but both of my kids have a 6th sense for when I'm not being sincere, and I know Vin would pick up on my hesitation. Because, let's face it, it is hard being his mom sometimes.
(Side note: I don’t know if I’m supposed to be bullshitting my kids on things like this, but I tend not to. I've tried a few times and either because I'm a bad bullshitter or because they're crazy perceptive, it doesn't go well. Instead, I try to validate their feelings. But that's probably its own separate post.)
In this case, I knew where the comment was coming from. Vin had had a challenging week in school and we were in the middle of a conversation about his school day. Things hadn’t gone well with teachers or friends, and he was feeling badly about it.
Vinnie has a great team behind him. In addition to well-intentioned teachers and parents, he also has a special education liaison, special education team chair, BCBA, speech and language pathologist, school psychologist, outside psychiatrist, outside therapist, school district consultants, and school principal. And none of us know what the fuck to do.
It’s hard to describe Vinnie and his challenges to other parents. I can’t make global statements like the one above without sounding overly dramatic. If I give examples of his behaviors, they’re likely to respond with suggestions that feel insulting and dismissive. Yes, of course I’ve taken away his ipad when he’s disrespectful. Yes, of course I make chore charts and expect homework before video games. Yes, I read with him. Yes, there have been school meetings. Yes, he’s in therapy. Yes, he’s on meds. Yes, I’ve tried that and that and that. You know what, just forget it. Let’s talk about your kid.
I can’t summarize the complexities of this kid who is the kindest, most generous, most sensitive kid I know who is at the same time the angriest, most anxious and volatile child on his 6th grade cluster.
For a long time I was hung up on diagnosing, but that quickly began to feel like some kind of horrible psychiatric carnival game: pin-the-diagnosis-on-the-child. He has difficulty separating from me and can become irrationally angry: is that borderline personality disorder? He was fine just a second ago, now he’s a disaster: is he bipolar? Did you HEAR that tone of voice? He’s got to be oppositional-defiant. His social skills are all over the map. Am I crazy to think he’s on the spectrum? He’s picking at his skin again and refuses to write in case he makes a mistake: maybe it’s OCD. He can’t stop obsessing over what could go wrong: so obviously that’s anxiety. He doesn’t want to do anything and has lost interest in things he used to love: depression. He can’t get any schoolwork done: maybe it’s just plain ol’ ADHD. Maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe. It’s fucking exhausting, that’s what it is.
I don’t know any other parents who are living this. Maybe they are but they aren’t talking about it. I have one friend whose son is 18, and after years of ups and downs, finally has a diagnosis that is giving the family some hope. I cling to her stories and pray that someday we’ll get there, too. But for now, I’m trying to think beyond a diagnosis because in the midst of all of this questioning and googling, I lose sight of the wonderful boy that is Vinnie. The one who asks me to pack extra snacks because the boy he sits next to in math doesn’t have one. The boy who regularly brings me coffee in bed. The one who gets genuinely upset when he sees the cat sitting with his tail wrapped around his feet because “he looks sad.” The boy who just could not handle Anna describing dissecting a turtle. He is so sweet, and so kind. He has just the biggest heart. So I’ve decided to try very very hard to stop asking "why" and start accepting him for who he is moment by moment, day by day.
That’s hard, too.
Because literally moments after being sweet and kind and lovely, he can be truly awful. If it’s a good day or a good moment, I take a deep breath and think before I respond. If it’s not a good moment, I yell. And no matter which kind of day it is, my inner monologue is always, “I swear to god, I don’t know if I have the patience for this.” And I’m the most patient person I know.
So what do we do? He falls apart and I try to put him back together. We go to therapy every week. I talk to the school and schedule more tests. I give him opportunities to feel good about himself and try to focus on the positive.
And when he asks me how I find the patience to be his mom, I respond with the truth, “I love you, buddy. I will always love you.”