Yesterday I wrote a horribly depressed blog post but if you blinked, you missed it. I took it down. I am terrified of showing the ugly despair I feel sometimes. I think it is human nature to want to hide that from the world, like a cat in a litter box. I do show more of my honest and grotesque thought processes than many people, and I do that because after a while I can’t keep it shut inside my own skull. But I need a Medieval barber, someone who can apply a leech or bleed me and let out the toxic spirits. That’s what this blog is for at times.
The poison comes from self-loathing, or perhaps self-knowledge — meaning that I’ve come to realize that something I do is not the best course of action and yet I do it anyway. Unstoppable habits: this is the stuff that nightmares are made of. We know we shouldn’t — and yet we do it anyway.
I know I should engage Nat. I know I should organize Nat. I know I should have more expectations of him when he’s home. No, no, don’t tell me that he needs his downtime, the dignity of orchestrating his own weekend day. I know that. I believe that. And yet, as his mother, I am supposed to guide him towards self-improvement and growth. It is my job, just as it is any parent’s job to teach their children the right way of doing things, to show them how to be self-preserving rather self-destructive: to push them to grow. The child’s softness and underdeveloped social and mental muscles have to be exercised regularly. We are the ones who are supposed to oversee that.
But I’ve let things go for too long here. All three of my sons spin off into their own worlds, deeply invested in their projects, their habits, that for me to step in now would be an enormous effort. When do you decide that your child is fully formed and not in need of your intervention?
Somehow we can all pretty much say that Max is “done,” and can take care of himself, with minimal oversight. He’s in a committed relationship, he has a good job, he can prepare meals, and he can be left alone overnight. Ben, on the other hand, is not yet “done,” because he doesn’t take care of himself as well. If left to his own devices, he’d stay in front of his art forum and his game design and he’d only eat ice cream when he came up for air. But I figure he will be done pretty soon, once he internalizes constructive habits, once I see him going for an apple on his own, once I see him close the screen and sit down with a book or a pad and pencil. I already see signs of that, so I’m not afraid for him. I see that he can arrange his own social life, he can get his schoolwork done, though it takes hours and hours. I’ve seen him advocate for himself in so many little ways that are actually huge.
So how about Nat? When will Nat be “done?” The overall assumption is that he won’t ever be done. His disability label takes that away from him. His limitations seal the deal. I am eternally on the hook for teaching him more and more and more, for overseeing his development. Parents of people with disabilities understand and feel that hook and that is why there is so much more anxiety in their lives: the knife of ultimate responsibility sits poised at our throats.
This is the danger of seeing our children as a long checklist. Having the developmental tasks stretch out before me makes me feel tired and hopeless. It reduces all that we do to effort and mental calculation. How many constructive activities did I manage with Nat this weekend? Okay, well, I brought him to a densely packed Christmas party, where there was even a dog, and he paced from room to room, avoiding the dog and looking for new things to eat. Occasionally I would grab him and introduce him to someone, or give him a kiss, and try to make him respond to people when they addressed him. It’s funny how the others would try to get me not to force Nat to do anything, to let him be. They were anxious about Nat being unhappy. They felt that he was “doing great.” I felt that there was so much more he could be doing. I’m supposed to think that way, to always have expectations of him. But those around me were trying to get me to see that what he was doing was actually very good; he was there, he was happy.
So which is it? Am I to put more demands on him, to try to bring him more “up to speed?” Am I still working under the model that I have to push him Closer to Normal? Or is the goal Closer to Fine?