A Pekingese Named Malachy: Our daughter and I had a grand time in New York City last Monday and Tuesday. The Westminster Dog Show was a “hoot” including the “best in show” Pekingese” Malachy, who we were lucky to view in the toy group Monday evening. Our daughter compared him to a “walking mop” and to me he resembled a mop on wheels or a very short Cousin It (from The Adams Family). Cute little duster.
Amazing Growth: Our daughter and I are great city walkers and talkers – being able to multi-task the chatter and the matter along Fifth Avenue and Central Park. Though I never for a moment lose sight of her or relax about crosswalks or crowded sidewalks, there is a kind of repartee that touches on the sophisticated as we stroll along. She was in great spirits and the day after the show we visited her brother in his office near Park Avenue and, at her suggestion, toured Central Park on foot. Twice a man holding a clipboard asked us if we lived in the city, obviously looking for signatures in support of one cause or another. And twice our daughter answered, “I wish I did.” She mused aloud, “When I am single I want to live in the city.” Really? Single? But you are single. I love how she absorbs the pop culture. This sounded like something extrapolated from an episode of “Sex in the City.” Single here means something other than “not married” to her. I am not sure what it might be and she couldn’t explain it; perhaps “all grown up.”
Sharing So Much: Our drive back was spent listening to Tony Bennett’s new duet album and sharing views on the voices of Josh Groban (mutual admiration for his vocals) and Lady Ga Ga, Amy Winehouse, Carrie Underwood, Andrea Bocelli: she knows them all. We share so many interests, some I inspired, others she inspired. In a safe and secure environment, we are great friends. When that environment shifts and I become “the mothering one” the ease and friendship takes a back seat. Normal, I know.
The Moments I Regret: Something of that nature had occurred upon our return to my niece’s apartment after the dog show. It was very late at night and we were both spent. Yet our daughter, who apparently got some toothpaste on her pajamas, decided to wash them in the clothes washer. I only learned of this plan after she had placed the PJ’s in the machine and started it up. She learned how to do her laundry at boarding school and often does it in our home when she visits, as well as in her apartment. I know that she takes pride in having achieved this skill. But this was a different machine and it was almost midnight. So I reacted impatiently, which upset and agitated her, when I opened up the machine where sat the clothes and some liquid soap minus the water. I was not eager to work a strange machine in a NYC apartment with many floors below that could suffer from leakage, though I did try at first to do so. But rather than push it, I gave up. We had some words but ultimately she slept in my PJ’s and I managed in a tee shirt, with the plan for her to wash the toothpaste-spattered top when she returned to her apartment.
I Believe In Apologies: Most of the time I apologize for my tone and impatience. I was so tired that night that I can’t recall if I did so. By the morning, we were fine together and had that great day walking in the park, talking Tony Bennett, visiting her brother, and lunching at the former Rumplemeyer’s on Central Park South, a tender childhood memory of sundaes and stuffed animals with my mom, which is now, sadly, a sports bar and restaurant. But I believe in apologies. And forgiveness. We all do in our little family. Our daughter often apologizes for moody moments and is forgiving though she will forgive only when she is ready. Her often-used refrain is, “I am not ready to forgive him/her yet.” But she gets there. We are a family that tends to own our mistakes without paralyzing shame or blame. That is the upside of the downside of being imperfect: knowing how to take responsibility for it.
The Advantage of Distance: I don’t like being the impatient, irritable mother who forgets to use problem solving skills or empathy. These types of encounters, where our daughter’s cognitive issues clearly play a significant role, and I react badly (I don’t even recall now what I said but it was obvious I was annoyed), make me feel guilty and disappointed in myself. I need my own red flag to signal, “Take a deep breath before you speak.” Living together full-time, until our daughter was almost seventeen, constantly set up such challenges for years and years, causing a lot of self-recrimination and puncturing big holes in my self-esteem as a person and a parent, along with ample bucketfuls of guilt. Which says that for me, the hardest part of parenting special needs was feeling that something I was failing at was causing our daughter harm, to her self-image and her self-esteem. When she went off to boarding school, and now living one town over, we are still close but with some distance, I can monitor my frustrations better and am less challenged as a parent.
Responsibility Is In The Details: Is there any difference in what I have described between a special needs parenting situation and a typical one? Well, if there is, it rests in the details and the level of responsibility. A special needs young adult is a more dependent individual. Why else the designation? Therefore the parent or guardian has more levels of responsibility. When I walk down the streets of Manhattan with our twenty-five year old son, I do not need to monitor him at the crosswalks. When he comes home and does his laundry, I am not double-checking anything. When he makes a new friend on Facebook, I don’t have to be concerned as to who this friend is. There are so many differences. Therein lies the rub. More responsibility, more concern, more likely to feel anxious, more potential “moments.” It is just that way.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012