Your Kid Is “Special,” Deal With It

Sometimes I wonder if I’m cut out to be a mom. I thought that I’d be better at parenting than I am. I thought I’d be a super content mother. And I never thought I’d be thinking Are you fucking kidding me? so often.

Yesterday, when my two-year old managed to open a pencil sharpener and dump two years worth of pencil shavings all over himself and our kitten, I found myself (once again) questioning the sanity of having children.

The thought went through my head again this morning when that very same toddler dumped a Danimals sugar drink smoothie over his head and just sat there watching it drip down his face.

After I got that cleaned up, the little guy was still hungry, naturally, because none of the yogurt ever made it to his mouth.

So, I served him up some bacon and ketchup and asked my eight-year old daughter to watch him closely so I could go to the bathroom.

Clearly that didn’t work out so well. I ended up washing the ketchup out of his hair in the super dirty bathtub. Do you know how long it takes to get that vinegar smell out of hair? A long, long time.

To cap that off, in the time between drying the little guy off and finding clean clothes in the laundry room, he crapped on the living room floor. Again. As I said, he has no remorse. He is a repeat offender.

I keep telling myself: You signed up for this, so stop your whining. I mean, really, aside from being messy, my two-year old is an easy kid. He’s a sweet pea.

I think what shocks me at times is the fact that I skipped so optimistically into parenthood.

I had no inkling that I was rolling the dice in a genetic crap shoot. Never did I consider that my children could be anything other than “normal,” even though I am a total freak and I come from a long line of odd ducks.

(I was also blissfully ignorant of the fact that I would never sleep well again, poop by myself again, have unstained clothing again, take regular showers, have a day free of worry again…)

The fact that my daughter isn’t the typical kid took a while to really sink in. She was a super cute baby, but not cuddly. She didn’t make eye contact, she didn’t engage with the other toddlers. She bit my mother on the nose when my mother tried to go in for a hug.

I always wanted to have a daughter. My mom and I were tight, and I had fantasies of pedicures, lunches out, shopping, girl talk. I wanted a sweet mother-daughter relationship.

But my girl didn’t have the ability to relate in the way that I wanted her to. She was the child who toddled away from the other kids and sat examining the bark of a tree, a pile of leaves, or a wooden fence for as long as possible.

It seemed that my girl was in her own little world most the time. She wanted to taste everything with her tongue (walls, doorknobs, toys) and to feel everything with her chubby little fingers. She could stare at a leaf swaying in the breeze for an hour. But show interest in people? Not so much.

Now, eight years later, my daughter has come a long way. She has had lots of therapy. She has friends, and though they often confuse her, she really loves them.

Her little world often doesn’t include me unless she needs a snack or someone to yell at or needs to tell someone about a glitch in a computer game.

To her I am the über dork. I am embarrassing. I am a pain in the ass. The way I give her attention pisses her off.

Don’t ask me about my day! Why are you so interested in me?! The smallest comment can set her off on an hour-long screaming fit.

Every time my girl walks by me I want so badly to scoop her up and kiss her. When she sits beside me on the sofa I want to cuddle her up. But for the most part, affection is not her thing.

What I am finally learning is that I have to let my daughter define our relationship. I am looking for ways she shows affection, Ruby-style.

I am learning to redefine my idea of a mother-daughter relationship. It is hard some days. But I can see the amazing gifts my daughter brings to the world. And, I can see that I need to grow alongside her rather than just bitching and moaning as she continues to develop and change.

It might take many bottles of wine, and I will probably be thinking Are you fucking kidding me? every day, but I’m in for the long haul. Kvetching included.

A Jewish Case Of Christmaslust

I’m starting off this post with an email I sent to my brother regarding my kids’ behavior at a preschool event:

Subject: add one to the Ruby & Lucas files 
Today was the “All School Shabbat” program at Ruby & Lucas’ preschool. It’s really nice because parents, grandparents, friends, etc. are invited to come. All the kids gather in the auditorium & there’s special singing, candle lighting, snacks for Shabbat, and performances by the kids. Today was Ruby’s class! She got up on stage and sang her little heart out. It was really cute. Unfortunately she loved it so much that she wouldn’t get off the stage & after trying to negotiate with her calmly, I had to drag her off kicking & screaming (in front of about 100 people). And, God love him, Lucas saw Ruby get upset, ran onto the stage & started howling, too. So I had to get back on stage with screaming Ruby & drag them both off. OY VEY.

I shared that email because it highlights the fact that:
1. When you have a kid with Autism you never know how it’s going to go at social events  2. I have always felt like a fish out of water when it comes to religion.

I was the Jewish kid who begged for a Christmas tree. And Christmas lights. And I really wanted one of those tacky Christmas sweaters.

Every December I would torture my mother with requests for a blow-up lawn Santa for our house. I wanted the Christmas carols, the stockings on the mantel.

I even wanted to wear a crucifix like Madonna (during her Like a Virgin days). My poor mother.

The things I liked best about Hebrew school were the carpool rides that included a stop at the 7-Eleven for Slurpees and Dip-n-Sticks, and the cute boys. I didn’t get much in the way of spirituality in Hebrew school.

I become a Bat Mitzvah (complete with after party where we all wore leis and danced the YMCA) and later swore that I would never torture my children the way my parents tortured me.

And yet, here I am carting the kids to Hebrew school, Sunday school, tot Shabbat and family night services at the synagogue.

This feeling of Christmaslust still plagues me at times. Last week, for example, as I was driving my kids to the synagoge my older son asked why Target has so many Christmas decorations and barely any Hanukkah decorations. It’s a difficult question to answer.

Being a Jewish kid can have its challenges. It’s an orgy of Christmas in November and December. Have you ever looked at the selection of books for Jewish kids? The characters often look like they are straight out of a shtetl. The men have big black beards and are wearing yarmulkes, the women look like bubbameisters. Let’s get real. Most Jews these days have iPads, Nike kicks, and shop at Nordstrom like the rest of the world. But I digress…

It’s not that I don’t respect Judaism. I do, very much. I love Jews. I am proud to be a Jew. To be a Jew is to be in geek paradise. And I mean that in the very best possible way. Jews are smart, intellectual people who love to debate and kibbitz and create community. They are big on education, humor, reading, doing for others. And at our synagogue, kids with special needs are embraced and celebrated.

My problem is that I don’t know where to find myself in Judaism. I’m not sure how to make it a part of my life in a meaningful way that works for my family. I’m trying to figure it out.

I sent my first two kids to a Jewish preschool because we had just moved to Portland and I knew no one who had kids in school. The first friend I made was sending her little girl to Jewish preschool. It seemed like a good idea. I met the teachers and they were so sweet, and well, warm in that motherly way. My kids would get the foundation of Judaism.

That was all good, but I didn’t feel like I fit in with the other moms. In my freakish imagination they were lighting the candles every Friday night, making big Shabbat dinners, frying up latkes, and doing interesting craft projects with their adorable little Jewish prodigies.

My two-year-old was different than her peers. She was licking walls, melting down at the slightest change in routine, not making eye contact. I was just trying to make it through every day with a kid who appeared to be going off the developmental rails. Going through the rituals of Shabbat and other Jewish holidays seemed impossible to me given the challenges I was having with my daughter.

When it came time to decide on sending the kids to Hebrew school, I didn’t know what to do. So one afternoon I took my kids to synagogue to check it out. They hadn’t been there in a long time. We ended up in the main sanctuary. It was dark and quiet. We walked up and down the aisles silently observing the stained glass windows, Ark, and eternal flame. I don’t know why, but I started to feel something. It wasn’t a Jesus Has Healed You! fall on your knees moment. But it was significant.

I felt my mother’s presence there in the synagogue. I remembered playing thumb war with my dad during Saturday services. I remembered how the rabbi knew all the kids and would call us up by name to participate in services. I remembered helping my mom set up for the Oneg Shabbat (social time after services) and sneaking sips of Manischewitz. I remembered lighting candles with my grandmother.

I left the synagogue that day wanting my children to have these memories. Do I still want a Christmas tree? Yes. Yes, I do. Do I feel like I know what I’m doing in terms of religion? No, not really.  But as I light the Hanukkah candles with my husband and children I feel connected to something powerful, something meaningful and bigger than me, and for now that is enough.