There is a part of me that feels like my return to therapy has mostly been a few months of “Oh hey, we thought maybe my kid was dying, but apparently he’s not, so I guess I should be fine now” sprinkled in amongst random chatting and just… kind of… time-wasting. I mean, I’m happy to sit around and chitchat, but not when I’m paying for it. And not when I have other things I’d rather do, and actual issues I’d like to address.
So this week I went in and after about ten minutes of catch-up chitchat I said, “So, listen, I need a plan. And goals and stuff. Attainable objectives. I MADE A VISION BOARD, and that’s all the random woo-woo I need for this year. Now I want a schedule and to maybe deal with some stuff and change things.” Then we ended up having a long conversation about me and my habitual martyrdom. So, you know, progress.
One of the things I was asked was why I am utterly unable to compartmentalize (or, at the very least, not feel guilty) when it comes to my children suffering. Apparently “BECAUSE THEY ARE MY PRESHUSSSS BAYBEEEEEEEZ” is not considered an acceptable answer. I’m sure there’s a treasure trove of psychological angst to unravel there in the coming months. Maybe my therapist can buy a boat or a summer home when we’re done.
I feel guilty that Monkey’s life is hard because he has Asperger’s. I feel guilty that Chickadee’s life is impacted by having a brother who is autistic and therefore sometimes limited and/or unpredictable. I feel guilty for wishing he didn’t have Asperger’s, and I feel guilty for having two children who seem to live life by the rule of Whatever They Get I Need To Get Too Or The World Is Totally Unfair.
It’s become something of a joke (albeit a joke usually muttered through clenched teeth) in our house that, “Oh! Whatever he/she has takes away from you! YOUR LIFE IS MEASURABLY DECREASED BY HIS/HER HAPPINESS!” The first time I busted out with that was doubtless in response to a “What? Why does HE/SHE get that? I WANT ONE!” situation. Now it’s just my rote response. Both kids do it. Monkey does it because fairness is king in his mind, and his understanding of nuance in these situations is sort of like asking Mr. Magoo if he wouldn’t mind just performing a bit of life-or-death laparoscopic surgery. Chickadee does it because she has that special early-teen insight where That Which I Have Not is always central to her vision, in sharp focus, while All That I Have fades away in the periphery, not so much taken for granted as actually forgotten in favor of perpetual longing for more.
I offer all of this as preface so that you’ll understand when I say that I shouldn’t have been ONE BIT surprised that Chickadee was—in short—pretty much a little shit to Monkey all day yesterday. On his birthday.
There were a few mild comments made to her. Then a couple of warnings. And finally—at the end of the day—I pulled her aside and I just let her have it. “Really, Chickadee? You cannot let him have THIS ONE DAY? That’s too much, to just let him have HIS BIRTHDAY as a day for us to just make things nice for him?” She stared sullenly at the ground. Our day had been pretty unremarkable by normal standards; we had a special breakfast and Monkey had picked a restaurant for dinner. But she had complained that SHE didn’t get cinnamon rolls on HER birthday (“So ask for them, if you want them,” I’d said. “I’m happy to make them for you, too!”); she had made snarky comments while he opened presents. She hadn’t given him anything (“I’m still working on it,” she said, defensively), and she had refused his multiple requests that she play with him.
I looked at her, standing there, chin jutting, eyes downcast. I cupped my hands gently around her jaw, stroked her cheeks with my thumbs, and brought her face up to look at me. “Chickadee,” I said, trying to keep the anger and frustration out of my voice, now, “if you’re having a problem or an issue, I don’t believe for a second that you feel like you can’t come talk to me about it. If something’s going on, that’s fine, let’s deal with it. But the way you’ve chosen to deal with whatever’s bugging you, today, it’s not right. Don’t take it out on him. He doesn’t deserve it and IT’S HIS BIRTHDAY.”
Tears spilled over her lashes. “It just… feels like… he gets all the attention, lately,” she mumbled.
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I squelched it as quickly as I could; told her that I can see where, from her perspective, it might feel that way. I allowed as to how all of the doctors’ appointments and such lately might FEEL like everything was about him. “I need you to remember two things, please, if you can,” I told her. “First, having your blood drawn and your head scanned and all of this other stuff? Not fun. At all. It’s awful and he hates it. Trust me. It does take a lot of time, and I’m sorry about that, but you aren’t missing out. And the second thing is that I want you to think about the time we spend helping you with homework and projects, and going to your concerts and fairs and tournaments and activities, and shuttling you and your friends around. Monkey doesn’t have any of that. Won’t have any of that, most likely. So WHO is getting all of the fun and attention?” Her eyes fell again.
“I’m a little stressed out about not finishing his present in time, too,” she said.
“He doesn’t want a present, honey. He just wants his sister to be nice to him.” She nodded, and leaned into me for a hug, and I sent her off to get ready for bed.
Later she came back for another hug and said, “I’m sorry. I guess I really didn’t think about how much time you really do spend on me, and how much stuff I get to do that he doesn’t.”
I feel guilty because I have one kid who probably won’t get to do all of the cool stuff his sister does. He doesn’t have many friends. Doesn’t have birthday parties anymore, because parties are hard and who would he invite, anyway? That child won’t be going on the 5th grade class trip this year, the trip where his sister made so many memories years ago. He probably will never go to the middle school, which means he’ll never be in band, never wear a uniform, never run track like he used to talk about, never develop a solid circle of friends with which to head to the high school. He’ll never do academic team and yearbook and math club and all of the other stuff that is Chickadee’s life right now. I feel guilty because when I try to see his future, I see roads closing off to him rather than opening up.
I feel guilty because I have one kid who often appears to be selfish to the point of complete narcissism, who enjoys a life of comfort and privilege she takes for granted, who mostly seems to find her brother an embarrassment and an inconvenience. She thinks he gets more of me. Maybe he does. I tell myself he needs me more, but clearly she needs more of me than she’s getting. At the same time, I feel completely frustrated because when I think about “quality time” I think she gets the lion’s share, yet is sure she’s being shorted. I feel guilty because it’s a lot to deal with; and I know it’s easier to feel angry and jealous than to admit that you were scared, too.
I feel guilty because we’re all—even me—guilty of the BUT IT’S NOT FAIR THAT SOMEONE ELSE HAS WHAT I DON’T mentality, sometimes.
And also because they’re my babies and and I wish I could fix everything for them.