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My Breaking Point

Another week has started off with Miss Sunshine and I both home- her unwell and myself taking care of her. And I go through the same process I go through each time she’s unwell- panic, sadness, fear- and my life stops. I should be used to this by now. I should have learnt that a minor sickness is normal, that all children fall sick, I should, but I haven’t. This is the one thing I’m not able to be rational about, despite spending my days helping people to be rational and realistic. Yet, I’m unable to.

This is a result of her experiences in infancy, from her 1st week into this world she was in and out of hospital with many common childhood symptoms like fevers, vomiting, dehydration and abdominal issues, which on their own would have been nothing to worry about, but for her ended up in a number of hospital admissions without any confirmed diagnoses. And when at 7 weeks old, she was found to have a number of allergies that led to her symptoms, I thought the battle was over because we had found the root of the problems. But despite elimination of every allergen from my diet (as she was still breastfeeding), she still kept falling sick and needing hospital admission. Miss S has a great paediatrician who was determined to find out the cause of her symptoms and I remember during her last admission, he carried out so many tests, consulted with other doctors abroad and eventually told us that they could not find anything.  I remember that day, we went home with a still sick Sunshine because the hospital was traumatizing her so much and there was nothing they could do apart from manage the symptoms, which we could do at home. And that point is when my trauma began. I stopped working for a while, and spent my mornings and nights watching Miss S, making sure she was breathing, making sure she was ok. I couldn’t understand why she had to suffer so much, I couldn’t understand why we couldn’t get a solution and I knew what true helplessness was. S has been a blessing, such a joy and loving person and it didn’t make sense to me why she had to suffer so much.

So, thank God, even without a diagnosis, Miss S recovered and the incidences of her symptoms almost disappeared. I went back to working a few days a week but would still drop everything when she was unwell. This has always been important to me because she falls sick so suddenly and unexpectedly so it’s important to help her as soon as she does. But she grew up, allergies disappeared and she was able to tolerate dairy and eggs. And I was able to relax somewhat, to stop being on the watch and just let her be. But now what happens is that when she falls sick, I automatically go back to a year or two ago, and the fear returns. And of course no one understands why I’m so afraid. I’m a psychologist, so I do, I’m still traumatized and haven’t moved past that time.

This year, when I knew we were in a calmer period of her life, she was diagnosed with asthma. And I was so angry, I remember crying for days. Not because of asthma per se. But because since she was born, she’s been limited, it’s always been her food, what she can do and can’t do. She’s spent so much time in hospital, so many unpleasant experiences and then here was one other thing added. So once again, more limitation, more protection which would be impossible for her to understand. All I wanted was for her to finally have a normal experience of being a child without lists of dos and don’ts.

Eventually I accepted it, I had to, otherwise I would also unintentionally depress her. And she started school in May, went for 2 days and had her 1st major asthmatic attack on the 2nd night. She ended up being home till the next week recovering and by end of the next week was hesitant about going back to school. I wondered why as she’d enjoyed her two days there but did’t push her to go. A few days later when she was sick again I understood why she’d refused to go, she was already probably feeling irritable and under the weather as a result of the incubating infection. The next few weeks were like that, few days well, some more days sick and when she was well she didn’t want school to come up. And I understood why, most of that half term, she was already unwell, and it feels awful to be sick. Also, her only school experience was now associated with being sick.

Anyway, this September she was back in school and she’s such a fighter she’s been handling school even with numerous infections and asthma- related symptoms. Even when she misses days due to sickness, she’s been able to recover them as she only does 3 days a week. However, even though she’s a tough little fighter, I guess I’m not. I thought I was handing it well, taking it a day at a time- taking her to school when she’s well, taking her back to the hospital when she’s not, taking time out to take care of her when she’s sick. But the truth- I’m broken. Yes, children get sick, really sick and yes, parents handle it. But right now, watching her sleeping I know that I’m breaking inside for her and I cannot focus on anything else but her and having her well. I know that’s impossible as there will always be flu and infections but I hate the tight rope- the waiting for the next time, the worrying, the monitoring, the numerous medications she has to take. I hate that at 3 years old, she knows the names of medicines I had no idea of till she was born. I hate that simple small symptoms like these can take over and cloud everything at times like these. But mostly, I hate that when my little girl is the one suffering, I can’t be stronger and have more faith, and yet she acts and plays like nothing is wrong.

But this is my humanity.

By the time she gets up, I’ll be stronger once again, for her. And I just have to accept that not everyone can understand why I have to stop everything to take care of her when she’s sick. It looks minor, but to me it’s the most major thing as she’s my world.

I love you so much Sunshine. In a perfect world, I would give you a perfect, 100% healthy life with zero time spent in hospital and medication. But this is an imperfect world so I’ll give you my almost perfect love and attention instead.

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Taming of the Toddler (Credit to L.R. Knost)

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“So parents, here’s the scoop on tantrums:
They’re your fault.

Okay, okay, so maybe my toddlerhood contributes to them a teensy-weensy bit, but seriously…

You with the obsession with brushing teeth and bedtimes and matching clothes, enough already! Does it ever even occur to you that there’s another person (Yes, I am an actual separate person from you. Remember that whole cutting of the umbilical cord thing?) Who might have an opinion about what goes in my mouth or when I’m tired or not or what I want to wear? And you, the one who thinks carrots and kale are food. Really? You have all kinds of opinions about what tastes good and what doesn’t, but I’m not allowed to have any? And don’t even get me started on the rush-rush, hurry-up craziness that has me being snatched up in the middle of my most fantastic block tower ever and strapped into a torture device (Btw, where’s your car seat?!?) and dragged from one place to another right through snack time. I can’t have an agenda? Don’t my interests mean anything?

Okay, so maybe I don’t know everything yet, but how am I going to learn if you just force these issues instead of communicating with me about things? That whole learning by osmosis thing (a.k.a. passive learning) didn’t work for you in college, and it won’t work with me, either.

You keep going on and on and ooooon about wanting me to listen. “Why won’t you listen?” “If you’d listen for once!” “Would you just listen to me?!?” I’ve got three words for you…
Two. Way. Street. Maybe instead of that whole failed learning by osmosis experiment you keep trying (You do know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, right? Okay, okay, just checking!) You could read the research and find out that I learn by active engagement (two-way conversation!) and imitation. Yep, that’s right. I learn from what you do, not just what you say.

So here’s the deal… Want me to learn to listen? Then listen to me. Listen and respond to my cries when I’m a baby. Listen and reply to my babbling attempts at talking when I’m a toddler. Listen to my whining and respond patiently when I’m a preschooler. (I know it’s annoying, but whining is my last step, kind of like your ‘last nerve’ you complain I’m stomping on, before I have a meltdown. It’s my last-ditch effort to hold on to the tiny bit of self-control I’ve learned so far in my short life!) Listen and actually pay attention (a.k.a eye contact!) to my endless stories about snails when I’m in middle childhood and to my endless complaints and dramas when I’m in my teen years.

Want me to learn respect? Then show me respect. Show me that you respect my personal space by explaining the things you’re doing to me like changing my diaper or strapping me into a car seat. Show me that you respect others by not talking about them behind their backs (Yes, I can and do hear you!) or yelling at them on the road. Show me that you respect my opinions by asking for them and accommodating them when you can. (I know you won’t always be able to, but the times you do will help me to accept the times you can’t.)

Want me to learn compassion? Then show me compassion. Respond kindly and gently when I’m upset or angry or just out-of-sorts. Stay close when my emotions overwhelm me and I have a meltdown moment. (I need your presence and compassion the most when I seem to deserve it or even want it the least!) And model compassion by treating others kindly in front of me.

Want me to learn self-control? (This is a big one!) Then show me self-control. Take a parental time-out when you get tired or overwhelmed or angry so I learn how to handle those big emotions. Count to ten and take some deep breaths instead of yelling or hitting. And pace yourself in this big world. I need to learn that it’s okay to take care of myself and not feel like I have to fill every moment with plans and schedules and agendas. I’ll learn that from watching you choose wisely from the many opportunities and pressures life will offer.

Okay, so to wrap this up. My tantrums don’t just come out of nowhere. They are the result of tiredness, hunger, frustration, anger, etc. You can prevent them, or at least minimize them, by keeping me fed and rested, by paying attention to my preferences, interests, and attempts to communicate, and by communicating kindly and patiently with me about upcoming changes or things I might not like. And keep in mind, I’m always watching and absorbing everything that goes on around me, so make sure you’re living what you want me to learn! “

Excerpt (The Taming of the Toddler) from Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood by L. R. Knost