Thursday, June 18, 2015

To Those Who Stare

To Those Who Stare,

I know you saw us today.

White mama, black boy.

In some parts of the country, that's no big deal, but in Wisconsin? Well, let's just say I don't see a lot of us out and about.

I know you saw us. We are conspicuous on our best days.

But on our worst days? Like today?

Like when I was trying to walk along at the zoo and encourage my son to come see the bears and he was pulling on my backpack and screaming at me because he desperately wanted the bottle he assumed I had inside, even though he had just finished one?

Or when he dropped down in the middle of the path, blocking your way to get to the giraffes and threw his head back in sheer rage on the concrete to see if I'd react because I offered him a snack?

Or how about on the zoo playground when he wanted to go play and I let him, which for some reason today, precipitated yet another loud meltdown.

Because let's be honest. He is loud. Impossible to ignore. The angry tears running down his face. The screeching and flailing about. The complete disruption of all conversations in a 15 foot vicinity.

I know he looks 3. I know he was drinking a bottle. He's actually only 18 months and did you know that adopted kids often have major attachment issues with their bottles and our pediatrician has said it's fine for him to drink it? Probably not. I didn't know that and beat myself up for months when I couldn't get him to give it up. I have to battle every day to NOT feel guilty that he still needs it so much, like it's some mark of failed parenting.

Maybe you are already a parent and your kid has never behaved like that - my firstborn never did, especially in public. So you stared in pity or amazement. This is a whole new ballgame for me, you know. I used to stare at people who behaved this way, too.

Or maybe you don't have kids yet and you have lofty ideas of how you will parent and figure I am one of those moms who never disciplines or gives in to everything or doesn't care that her child is disrupting the world. I assure you I cared more that he was screaming than you did. I'm reading the books, I'm seeking wisdom from those who have been there. Some days none of the strategies work and you just have to soldier on.

Maybe you are having a good day with your own spirited child or are past this stage and looked on with well-worn knowledge of what I was going through. A few of you said something softly of the sort as you passed by us. Thanks for that. Most of the time, this feels really lonely. And embarrassing. Today, yes, it felt embarrassing to cause a spectacle everywhere we went.

Every day it is a sheer act of hope to even leave the house and risk this kind of spectacle. Believe me. We already don't go to restaurants or enclosed spaces and probably won't for a long time. I thought the zoo was a safe gamble and today I was wrong.

Whoever you are, I know you saw us. I know you saw our horrible day. I know you saw me on the verge of tears, at the end of my rope- we made it out of the parking lot before my own were pouring down my face in that kind of ugly, choking cry that I probably have only ever experienced a few times in my life, my child laughing maniacally in the back because he thought I was laughing really hard. Or, at least I choose to believe that's why he was laughing. I have to.

Because this wasn't our only day like this.

It has been months. The good days are few and far between right now.

And to those who stared at us, it's exhausting. His behavior and your stares.


Possibly for us it's just the perfect storm- he has a new baby brother, he's getting teeth, he's been going through his terrible twos about a year and a half early and this mama only got 4 interrupted hours of sleep taking care of his little brother last night.

I have to hold onto hope that maybe tomorrow will be a better day. And sometimes it is. That maybe next month will be the month he has some new developmental milestone that ushers us into an occasional age of reason. I see glimpses of how it will be some day. I have to remind myself that the things that make parenting this toddler so difficult - his perseverance, his exuberance, his sheer will to accomplish what he wants - some day those will hopefully be strengths of his when he faces a world that will try to mold him into its own broken image.

So, please. If you want to stare, go ahead. I get it, it's like trying to look away from a car crash. But maybe offer a smile. Maybe offer a small word of encouragement. Or just take your look and then look away and let us be.

This whole parenting thing can be hard enough without us shaming one another with our eyes.

Thanks for listening.

From an exhausted parent who deeply loves her spirited boy,

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