Mommy Angst

June 12, 2007 at 1:53 pm (Uncategorized)

I have a confession to make. My son is behaving wretchedly. Not just to anyone, mind you – only to me.

Seemingly overnight, my tow-headed toddler has morphed into a full-fledged boy who acts perennially angry with me and confines his responses to the hostile variety. I’d say he’s a brat, but he’s ridiculously sweet to everyone else. Even the doctor at the emergency room that examined him for burns after our camping fiasco a couple of weeks ago told us he wanted to adopt our kid. “What a wonderful boy!” he said, just a few minutes before Andrew hissed at me that I was “nothing more than a bossy boiler” (a reference from one of the infinite number of Thomas the Tank Engine movies) in a tone that could freeze water on a summer day.

At least I had the sense to look things up in a book. (Whatever character flaws I might possess, I do not suffer from a fear of reference material. Present me with any problem, and I’ll look it up somewhere.) I’m partial to the child development series by Louise Bates Ames. Even reading the title was a relief – Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy. “Wait a minute,” I thought, in one of those moments when discovering others’ misery is as comforting as a cup of cocoa on a rainy day. “You mean other mothers are ready to add Junior to their list of mortal enemies? You mean other mothers look at what was once their sweet baby and wonder where this sassy, unfriendly, belligerent, monster came from?” Apparently, they do.

According to the book, three-and-a-half is a lot like thirteen in terms of human development. Kids desperately want to separate from the person who most represents their dependence: Mommy. The problem is that even though a three-and-a -half year old like Andrew has far more verbal and motor skills than he did a year ago, he’s a long way – a very long way – from independence. The world is still a scary place; he still falls down frequently; he can’t pour his own milk when he’s thirsty, or draw his own bath when he wants; he can’t drive (which especially chafes Andrew); he can’t make us play “Bear Necessities” over and over again on the iPod; and he can’t make me sit in his sandbox with him for seven hours at a stretch. In short, he still needs us – especially me. Sometimes, he’s okay with that, but, on other occasions, when I make him put on his shoes when he doesn’t want to, or I forbid him from throwing rocks at the cat, he turns into an unpleasant being. I half expect his head to start spinning around, a la The Exorcist.

But like so many other aspects of life in Chronic Town, the issue of my three-and-a-half year old becoming bratty has taken on resonances that drown out the situation itself. Mostly, I worry that Andrew is having an especially difficult time with me now because of my illness. Although my recent burn drama had nothing to do with my sarcoidosis, I don’t think Andrew could tell the difference. After all, I was ordered to stay in bed – just as I have been after liver biopsies, pneumonia, surgeries, doses of methotrexate, etc. And just like on those past occasions, he spent much of the day plotting to get into bed with me, and, once he was snuggled next to me, he was warned not to jostle me, not to touch my leg, to let me rest, and so forth. When I was finally able to be up and around this week, Andrew expressed his true feelings about the entire ordeal: “Stupid burns, keeping Mommy in the stupid, stupid bed.” I swear I heard something break inside my chest when he told me this.

I don’t want Andrew to hate me because I’m sick more often than his friends’ moms. I don’t want him to resent the time I need to spend resting or recuperating from my illness. I don’t want Andrew later to look back on his life, and draw from the hazy memories of his early childhood only the sense that his mother was in bed, kept away from him by illness and a concerned father. I know he doesn’t have the emotional or intellectual wherewithal to make many distinctions yet, but I continually try to help him understand that I love him and I want to be with him every second of the day, but sometimes, I just can’t. And that’s not his fault. And it’s not my fault. But who knows what sticks to and what slides away from the busy brain of a pre-schooler.

There’s really not much I can do except worry. I also remind myself daily not to treat Andrew with kid gloves because I assume that every bit of his bad behavior or sassiness stems from some unconscious fear of my illness. Sometimes kids are just rotten. So, I strive to swallow my anxiety, and send him to time-out when he needs it – and myself to bed when I need that. I just wish that not everything in my life was shadowed by sarcoidosis. The truly crummy thing about living with chronic illness is that the tentacles of fear, anger, suspicion, and anxiety touch everyone and everything. Maybe there’s a book to look that up in.

1 Comment

  1. Lori said,

    Absolutely no words of wisdom. I did just buy a new book, “Parenting with Love and Logic for Teenagers”. I have the same morphing issue….other adults are blessed. For a while I thot it was just me, but then 2 nights ago Dave got blasted………I’m so grateful. Four is a really wonderful year.

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