When I signed up to write a Valentine’s Day blog post on this blog, I truly intended it to be a list of all the ways I love my little bundle of joy. Seriously. There is a lot to love, but because of this morning I am not feeling it.
I’m not feeling love. At all. Just tolerance. And only because he’s my child. If he were not my child, if he were a boyfriend or a friend or even someone I was married to or another family member then this relationship would have ended a long time ago.
I know that sounds pretty shocking. I’m kind of shocked writing it. But it’s the truth. Because my child has brain damage due to in-utero alcohol abuse by his birth mother, and because he experience trauma before he came to me, he has some problems with attachment. Not full-blown Reactive Attachment Disorder. Maybe half-blown Reactive Attachment Disorder. Because most of the time he can be a part of our family to the best of his ability, given that he does have significant brain damage and social skills problems and impulsivity and a mood disorder. But sometimes he can’t. Most mornings he can’t. And this morning, oh, THIS MORNING, this VALENTINE’S DAY MORNING, he really, really, really couldn’t.
Here’s how it went down.
J woke up about 15 minutes after I did and announced himself by throwing his slippers at me, then stomping into the kitchen. “Good morning,” I said.
“I am going to be especially mean to you because it’s Valentine’s Day!” he replied.
Uh oh, I thought. Steel yourself. And then the games began.
“COOK ME EGGS!” J announced.
“There’s only one egg,” I said. “I can cook you that egg and some cheese grits.”
“I WANT YOGURT!”
“I DON’T WANT SHITTY YOGURT! I WANT EGGS! AND PUT CHEESE IN THEM.”
“We only have one egg. I can make you that egg and cheese grits.”
“I WANT YOGURT.”
“I WANT EGGS.”
“Look, here are your choices. An egg and grits, or yogurt.”
“AN EGG AND GRITS.”
I get out the egg carton and put water on to boil for the grits. He doesn’t say anything. I pull out last night’s mac and cheese and start packing it up for his lunch.
“I DON’T WANT MAC AND CHEESE. I WANT BEANS!”
“Nope. I’m not opening beans when we have these leftovers. You like mac and cheese.”
“MAC AND CHEESE SUCKS AND YOU’RE FAT. FATTY FATTY FAT ASS. “
I take some breaths. Ignore, ignore, I tell myself. The timer goes off on the stove. “Your grits are done.”
“I WANT YOGURT!”
Okay, let me interrupt this exchange, which actually was much longer than this, probably a good 20 minutes, during which he repeatedly screamed at me about not wanting eggs, then wanting eggs, and telling me how MEAN I was, and what a BITCH I am and how fat my ASS is, to explain that this is actually not something out of the ordinary in our house. It wasn’t just my Valentine’s Day present. This is kind of a typical morning exchange, except for the fact that he usually goes through this DEMAND/REJECTION/ABUSE/NEUTRALITY cycle 2 or 3 times, then settles down and eats whatever I cook him. Here, I made a little picture to illustrate:
The difference is that THIS morning he cycled through it probably 15 times, was 10 times more abusive than most, and followed it up with accusing me of not wanting him, not loving him, and wanting him to go live with another family.
Now, I know that those of you who don’t have a child who behaves like this thinks that the OBVIOUS solution is not to do anything when he talks to me like this. Oh well, if you can’t talk to my nicely then no breakfast for you! Please don’t think I haven’t tried it! I have. Many times. It generally results in hour-long tantrums, plus he doesn’t straighten up and talk to me nicely. No he doesn’t. He just screams and screams and doesn’t eat the only meal of the day that he actually eats (and no, if he’s hungry enough he won’t eat something later – the child does not get hungry any other time of day. It’s a combination of not recognizing hunger due to FASD and his stimulant medicine). I would LOVE it if the just-ignore-it or don’t-respond tactic would work with him. But one of the problems with kids with FASD is that they just don’t “get” cause and effect. When I’ve tried this tactic before I eventually started feeling that he could tantrum every morning for the next 3 years and it would never get better.
Still, it never gets better the way we’re doing it. Which means one of 2 things: we can do something better or we can live with it for the rest of our lives.
But back to this morning’s scene. We’d left off with my child accusing me of not wanting him, not loving him, and wanting him to live with someone else. In my head I knew at this point the best thing to do for his attachment insecurity would be to assure him he was wanted and loved and we wanted him to be in our family forever. Even after all this screaming and nonsense I still had my thoughts together enough to know that would be the very best thing to do. But I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.
Because you know what? I felt the absolute OPPOSITE of that. At that moment I did not want him, I did not love him, and I would have paid good money for someone to take him to live somewhere else for a couple of days. No one in my life has ever spoken to me this way. And if they did and I had a choice then bam – good-bye. End of that relationship. And meanwhile this child speaks to me that way every single morning, and has done so for about 4 years now.
And I put up with it. Clearly, I can’t end this relationship. He is my child. And he’s only 9, and his developmental age is around 4, and he needs my help even though he does a great deal to reject it. And this scares me to death when I think of the future because this is a person whose intellectual capacity and adaptive functioning behaviors are very, very low, and he will need to rely on other people’s help for the rest of his life. And if his pattern is to reject that help, especially once he gets close to a caregiver? It scares me.
Again, back to the scene. Here’s my parental mismanagement: instead of assuring him I loved him I told him to quit freaking out, that I wished it wasn’t Valentine’s day because it was making him act crazy, then I told him to leave the room. Which he did, but it was to go into my husband’s office where he screamed at my husband about breakfast while my husband was doing exercises to relieve back pain he probably has due to stress, at which point I marched in, grabbed him, smacked his rear, and tossed him outside.
Nice. I lost it. Really good calm, cool, and collected parenting behavior, I know. All I can say is thank goodness today is a school day because if we were still homeschooling I SHUDDER to think what the rest of the day would be like. At least today I have a couple hours to do some self-care, to try to recover, and to cry in peace.
So, what to do? I don’t know. I thought about it on my restorative walk (see – self care. Important!) and the only thing I can really think of to do is to take food choice and preparation completely out of our morning routine, which includes lunch preparation, and then remove myself from wherever he is in the morning. If I pack his lunch at night then he can’t boss me around about it in the morning, and if I make something I can just reheat and put in front of him for breakfast then I can’t be badgered and bossed while cooking.
But maybe I’m missing the forest for the trees? I know I’m focusing on the mechanics of our morning instead of the deep emotional whirlpool that my child is caught up in, but the FASD makes it so complicated. It is entirely possible that his (alcohol damaged) brain simply does not have the function to ever get beyond this emotional pit. I don’t feel that he is actually CHOOSING this behavior. And if he’s not choosing to do it, then he can’t choose NOT to do it.
Does that make any sense at all?
So, how about you? Have you been there? Done that? Have out-of-the-box solutions for me? Think I should be reported to DSS?