When you raise a child with “challenges,” you can spend a lot of time measuring your life against a “normal” ruler – some imagined gauge to see just how abnormal your life is compared to other families. Some days, you look around and decide you’re not doing so bad. Other days, you feel like your family life is so off-the-charts insane that you may never find your way back.
Having kids with PANS (pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome) means our normal-o-meter goes up and down based on health. When illness blows through the house, Normal becomes a place on the other side of the globe.
It’s a rare event to have both kids healthy at the same time. But bucking tradition, both started this summer in a good place. After years of medical battles, I felt like I was finally getting a date with Normal. This is the story of how the date went.
For background, you should know that last summer, a bee was flying around our shed window and my daughter was terrified, convinced the bee had woken up that morning determined to hunt her down and sting her. My son, motivated by the desire to silence her eardrum piercing screams, tried to rescue her by bashing the bee – with a baseball bat.
Bee+bat+window = 1 unharmed bee + 1 broken window.
Stealing a lesson from Ward Cleaver, my husband and I talked about safety, taking responsibility for mistakes and how we expected them to split the repair cost of said window. Lesson learned, right?
Apparently, the only lesson learned was that mom gets really mad when windows get broken. So this summer, my daughter was again playing – inside the shed, being a robber. My son, playing the cop, stood guard outside. To thwart her attempted escape, he took a bat (you know what’s coming, don’t you?) and bashed the window – again! But since he learned his lesson from last year (which was that mom gets mad at the sight of broken glass), he made his sister swear she wouldn’t say a word. The two of them played dumb for two days.
When the weekend arrived, I headed into the shed for the lawn tractor. Opening the door, I stopped mid-stride. Glass covered the floor. I made a speechless gasp. When I found my words, it wasn’t pretty.
For lying to us, both kids were grounded (which also punished my husband and me). My son also had to pay the full $25 to repair the window, since he was the sole perpetrator and was lucky his sister didn’t get hurt by flying glass. Ok, now lesson learned?? Of course not.
Four days later, I was giving my daughter a bath when my son came to me and said “Mom, when you’re done, I need to show you something in the garage.” Stupid me didn’t get alarmed because he’d learned his lesson about bats, remember? He must’ve just wanted to show me how he could do one thousand hops on the pogo stick he’d just mastered. So after the tub drained, I nonchalantly walked out to the garage to find…glass…EVERYWHERE! It looked like a bomb went off. What I saw wasn’t regular glass reflecting the fading sunset. This was car glass. The entire back window of my husband’s car? Missing. Well, not missing, since it was actually covering half of the garage floor and some of the driveway and the back seat of the car. Holy #$@#!
I was beyond words. I tried to make a sound but nothing came out. My son had taken refuge, hiding in his room. Too stunned to move, I finally managed to call for my husband, who actually recovered before I did. I knew in the recess of my mind that this would make a really good story some day, but I was too apoplectic to find the humor just yet. My husband retrieved my son from his room, crying and terrified. When I asked what happened, he said… “I don’t know.”
Stunned silence fell between us. I repeated what I’d just heard, to make sure I’d heard it right. “You… don’t… know?!?! How can you not know what happened?” He had no words. Just tears. Lots of tears.
He finally re-enacted the crime, taking a golf club (because he learned that bats can be dangerous?), headed into the middle of the driveway and slowly swung it over his head as he spiraled his body around and around, like an Olympic discus thrower ready to let one fly. It eventually became clear that he let the club go, thinking it would hurl through the air into the grass. We were supposed to be comforted that he had the foresight to tell his friend to stand back 20 yards so he wouldn’t get hit by a flying golf club. While I was hugely relieved that I didn’t have to explain to my neighbor how his own son escaped a near death experience, this brought me small comfort in that moment.
Now the funny part – remember how my son came to me when this first happened, wanting me to “come see something” after the bath, instead of telling my husband who was in the kitchen, 20 feet from the crime scene? It seems I was chosen because I’m the “calm one.” I had to wonder what planet he lives on, because if you needed to place money on which parent is most likely to lose his/her temper at any given moment, I’m a sure bet.
Since tears were streaming down my son’s face, I used all my willpower to unclench my teeth and comfort him, reassuring him that he would indeed live to see another sunrise. He kept pushing to know his punishment – the not knowing was killing him. But I was too angry and needed to think. I told him he’d certainly be paying for the window but I was going to need a few hours to calm down before his father and I could mete out his remaining sentence.
To get my head around the scope of this Olympic moment gone bad, I went online to an auto glass website for a replacement quote – of $422! (apparently because this window had a rear defroster). I nearly had a coronary. I tried to recall my Lamaze breathing lessons. As angry as I was with my son, I could not make him spend the next two years handing over his allowance. This punishment was going to take some thought.
Thankfully, we learned that the replacement window would be covered by insurance. But since I was now doubtful of my son’s ability to learn lessons, we decided to tell him there was a $100 deductible that he had to pay (so this, plus the $25 for the shed window, left him with $9 in his wallet). Sounds cruel but this lesson needed to hurt. (I secretly put the $100 into his savings account and will tell him about it a few years from now). On top of that, because I didn’t want the kid to think he can always buy his way out of things, he had to help me do laundry for two weeks (something he needed to start learning anyway) and give the dog a bath (the smell of wet dog totally grosses him out). I felt like Ward Cleaver would’ve approved.
So…this is what normal looks like. After so many years of living with “issues,” I long ago forgot what Normal was. My brief visit there showed me that it’s apparently quite expensive and involves a lot of broken glass. Who knew?
In years past, I’d have blamed PANS behaviors (loss of impulse control, ADHD, anger, OCD, anxiety) for so much glass. But I guess sometimes, stuff happens to any boy whose access to club-like objects isn’t restricted by locks and keys.
Maybe Normal isn’t so much determined by the facts of an event but by the lens with which you view that event. Maybe Normal is more a matter of perspective than a destination. Maybe some of my diagnosis-colored glasses got shattered along with those windows. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.
(footnote: after repairing our windows, a mid-summer PANS flair reminded me that some behaviors are not normal and are indeed triggered by illness. Just not all of them.)