From the outside in

Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Since becoming a mom, I've learned to be even less judgmental than before (I try, anyway...I am only human!) as I have found myself in many a situations where all I could do was hope that other moms were cutting me some slack. Recently, I was the mom at the park with a kid in fleecy footie pajamas...and it was blazing hot that day. But by golly, he wanted to wear them and by golly I was going to let him. I'm a big fan of natural consequences and every time we've let him learn a lesson on his own, it has stuck (the wasabi incident pops to mind. This kid will never. eat. wasabi. again.) And to tell you the truth, I was so proud of him in his pjs. Like a stubborn champ, he stuck it out till the end. He was sweating his tiny little ass off in those damn pjs, but he was not backing down. And I was swelling with pride. But I digress...

I've been taking E to swim class so that a) he gets comfortable in the water and eventually learns how to swim and b) so that I have an excuse to go float around a 92 degree swimming pool twice a week and call it educational. We're all in the pool at swim class and from the beginning, the teacher has made it clear that no kid is going to come out of these lessons swimming around like a dolphin. A manatee, maybe. But a dolphin, no way. This is supposed to be fun. This is supposed to be enjoyable. This is supposed to be time for you and your child to play and connect and be merry. So why is the woman next to me holding a hysterical child and threatening him with a litany of punishments if he doesn't do as he's told? This child is clearly under duress. He is screaming and crying and saying, "Please mommy, no. Please, I don't want to. Mommy, mommy, no." This child is clearly, terrified. He's got his mother in a kung-fu ninja death grip. Where's the fun? Where's the connection?

The other parents and I are clearly uncomfortable by this display. After that first class, everyone moves away from her and her son as soon as she gets in the pool, and we stay far away. I don't know if it's intentional on the part of the parents or if it's a subconscious reaction to this child's pain, but I've noticed the dynamics of the group and how they change when she arrives. I am mesmerized by the relationship between mother and child from a purely sociological perspective. At no point am I thinking, "Wow, I'm a better mom because my kid isn't screaming." No, I'm thinking, "What happened to this woman in her life that would cause her to sacrifice the trust of her child for something like this?" Who is she doing this for? What is her end goal? What does she expect to achieve? I mean we're at the rec center, for Pete's sake. There are no scouts on the sidelines searching for the next Michael Phelps (although a little weed would go a long way in this situation...I'm just sayin'.) I am pretty sure that I just walked through a cloud of piss-warm (literally, piss warm) water and there is a guy who weighs no less than 600 lbs doing some sort of calisthenics about 10 feet away from us humming "The Wheels on the Bus" because we got it stuck in his head. Why is this so important to her? What is driving her to behave this way?

I watch her and think that she is doing the best that she can with what she's got. And I wonder what kind of toolbox she has. What is it that she's got, and what is that she's working without? What fundamental instrument is she missing? Because as much as her child's tears and screams unsettle us, it's really her pain that cuts us to the quick.

I fight the urge to help her. To provide her with a list of books that she should read, books that have helped me tremendously to fill in the gaps, the deep dark voids of my life as a mother. As someone with a painful childhood and parental footsteps she'd rather avoid following, I feel her. I can relate! But what can I do? I don't think the books would even help her because she is clearly not at that place yet. I don't think she'd gleam much from anything I have to share with her because she's nowhere near where I am in the process. She is still all-consumed with her own pain and heartache. She's not ready to acknowledge that it is severely affecting her child. In her mind, her child is being difficult and ornery and if he would just listen! She doesn't see that all he is doing is serving as a mirror, reflecting her back to herself.

As we blow bubbles in the water and I try to keep E from slipping through my ever-slackening grasp (the water is 92 degrees, people! you try staying awake and alert!) I watch her and wonder. I hope for her sake that she will look back at this time from a better vantage point, from a happier and lighter place. I hope for her sake as much as for her son's that they'll somehow get through this together and that it'll be before he has his own children. That something will click inside her and that she will find the help she needs, whether $120/hr therapy sessions or a splurge on the book section of Amazon, or a combination of the two. That she will heal her hurt before it overcomes her and her family. Because we're all doing the best we can with what we've got, but it's really hard to function if you're missing a fundamental piece of equipment, and like E and his footed pajamas in July, this woman clearly needs to learn the lesson for herself. I just hope that it happens before it's too late.

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