Knowing My Limitations: 6-24-11

Spray ‘n Wash: I am chuckling now because I never knew how to spell Spray ‘n Wash until this post. I was prompted to check the spelling after I saw my daughter take the green bottle from the laundry room to the bathroom to spray her sweatshirt. Watching her spray the areas where paint from the Sphere art class last night became swept up in the cuffs, I thought, I could never have taught her that. I need to tell folks so they won’t think I am such a wonderful mother. At least not in that way. Wonderful mothers are the mothers who love their children sufficiently to make their happiness the primary focus of mom’s existence. In that I qualify with both our children. And most of us do. Whereas my son learned much by osmosis, my daughter would not have let me teach her to spray her stains. It took a village to do that.

Teaching The Special Needs Child: What could be difficult about teaching a child of sufficient years to aim a spray bottle at a stain, rub the material together and toss the item into the clothes washer? In our case, mucho. A special needs child, and this is a sweeping generalization but one I need to make the point, unless intensely interested in the challenge, may not be able to access sufficient focus to follow the steps and complete the task. A special needs child may not have the eye-hand coordination to ensure that the spray safely meets the fabric. A special needs child may feel anxious that they will fail, so instead, may throw a temper tantrum rather then follow you into the laundry room. A special needs child might find the activity so magnetic that for the next month that is all they want to do, repetitively and obsessively.

Blessed By Imperfection: Clearly saddled with some of my own learning challenges from a young age (I am so old that I was born even before the diagnosis of dyslexia), I have been more surprised by what I can do than what I cannot do. Though this awareness didn’t spare me from the agonizing sense of failure a parent often feels raising a special needs child, it did serve me in accepting my limitations faster perhaps than more well-rounded moms and dads, and to look outside myself for competent souls who could engage our daughter to learn the steps that lead to achievement.

Personal Forgiveness: Perhaps the greatest benefit of being acutely conscious of my limitations was being able to give myself some “slack,” and step back to let others more able take over a job. Though decently organized to conduct a good enough personal and professional life, I am not, nor was I ever, a methodical, detail-oriented person. Charts, calendars, all the painstaking work that teachers and others wanted me to do with our daughter, was out of my loop. Often flying by the seat of my pants and late for most things while trying to love (the easy part) and raise two children, some pets, keep the house neat and well-ordered, work and say hi to my hubby, without the natural inclination to order minute details of living, I was a failure at reviewing the calendar each morning or if I tried, our daughter had even less interest. We were quite a combo. Where we thrived together were in the arts, the love of musical theater, funny outrageous movies, nature, animals, cute boys and figuring out the stories depicted in early American paintings. But alas, what the schools wanted from me was more precise and concrete, and I was an abysmal failure at precise and concrete.

A Disciplinary Failure: Nor was I a particularly good disciplinarian. Raised by fairly indulgent and absent parents in the fifties, limit setting, boundaries, all that stuff was hard for me. Give me the gestalt and abstract and I thrive. Guilt, yes, beaten in my self-esteem, you bet. I recall an especially dismal moment when an art therapist, whom I called upon to work with our as yet not terribly verbal but art inclined child, informed me that our daughter and I were not a good match. I bristled, which has taught me gallons as a therapist, and felt deeply hurt. We were a good match. I just wasn’t perfect. But ultimately, I did reach some level of self-affirmation and forgiveness: hey, that stuff is just not my shtick.

Self-Esteem, Bruised But Ultimately Triumphant: “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” Kenny Rogers gave me permission to “fold ’em” finally. This is something that all parents must do, with all children. As I mention repeatedly to my therapy clients, we come to parenthood already loaded down with baggage, before we ever meet our kids. Not pure, not perfectly outfitted to be parents. Even for young parents, parenting follows years of being someone else and leaves tracks all over our person that influence who we are while we parent. I am blessed, in some ways, by my low personal expectations. I believed in love and when love was not enough with my children, then I turned to others to fill in the gaps that I could not fill. Sending our daughter to boarding school was one of those milestones. Here, you take her. They civilized her, brought out her great virtues and polished all the talents and skills that we knew were there but at times couldn’t access. But that wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last time, that my shortcomings, and imperfections released her to others who could do a better job. Now that she is home, with a binder full of charts and calendars, I am quite clear, that just ain’t me babe. No, someone else will have to make that work for her. Not I.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011

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