I had to fill out many forms the other day, each one containing similar, if not the same, questions pertaining to different behaviors and mannerisms. The idea was to rate each question or statement on a scale from “not at all” to “very frequently”. I tried to do it during the day, but there were too many interruptions to really concentrate, too many kids to nurse, too many toddler fights and demands. I do love my evenings, when everyone is asleep because I mentally and physically need that quiet time where I can sort out my thoughts, lay some things to rest, and plan more work. Or sometimes just to put my feet up and watch some TV. I haven’t had enough of them recently.
I downplay a lot of things; I think this sometimes comes through in my writing: anxiety, inability to ask for help, raising a high needs child. I know I definitely downplay the latter a lot, first of all because she is my first and I had no one else to compare her behaviors to, and secondly because after a while of hearing things like “oh she will sleep soon don’t worry” or “it will pass, everyone goes through it”, I thought I was just probably over exaggerating. Looking back I think Cesar and I handled those first months of parenthood well despite the fact that he was working 80 hours a week (plus commute time), and I was literally sleeping in 20 minute increments. “She will sleep for longer soon enough” they said. “Appreciate these moments as they won’t be here for long”. Separation anxiety is supposed to be temporary, a developmental milestone so to speak, except sometimes it doesn’t pass. It’s ok, I don’t mind carrying my children everywhere, and we own enough carriers to go around. It’s easier that way. But they said it would pass, not get worse. The side eyes when I mention I am still nursing my 3.5 year old, as often as a 3 month old, if not more.
The guilt seeps through my pores, some day worse than others. Sometimes I just want to hold her so tight and never let her go, knowing that the world that already causes her so much anxiety is a lot bigger and scarier than she can imagine. Her little face looks at me, determined to be brave, but I see her hands clenched by her side, her mouth demanding to nurse, “now mama need dootie now, need dootie mama, need dootie now”, her little voice rising into high-pitched anger. Some nights she goes to sleep at 8pm, spent, and only wakes a couple of times. Other nights, quite frequently right now, it’s 10 or 11pm, just to wake up at 3am for an hour, two hours, more, demanding back rubs and foot rubs and fidgeting around, needing to nurse, then needing to watch a cartoon, needing to cuddle, then cries, a scream that often makes your brain melt, knowing that the other two will now wake, one after another, a crescendo of crying.
I’m not good with loud noises such as slamming doors, raised voices, screaming. Subconsciously I curl into a ball, closing my mind from what I seem to consider a brutal attack. It’s hard for me to not put my hands over my ears and hide under the covers when Luna has a tantrum; it’s hard for me not to yell “SHUT UP!!!!” Some days I have to dig as deep as I can to find some inner peace in order to make it through the 30, 40, 60 plus minutes of screaming. Ah tantrums. They warn you about them. Don’t give in they say. I would love these to be regular tantrums. I could deal with the occasional screaming fit in Target or stamping of feet because she wants to wear the red dress instead of the green one. No, our tantrums happen 4, 5 times a day, and are quite soul sucking, for all of us. A “meltdown” is a better description. Meltdowns.
I think a lot of the time I downplay things because I assume that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. Luna’s pediatrician provided a referral back in July, I procrastinated for ages, writing lists so that I was ready to mention everything, wondering if I was doing the right thing. When I finally spoke to the mental health team they immediately referred us to the children’s hospital and our assessment appointment was set for the following week. I noticed the signs of anxiety a long time ago, probably because I also suffer from it myself. I often ask myself how the sweetest, smartest, and kindest little being can have so much to fear, how she can be fine one day, and crippled by worries the next. Did I do something wrong? Was I over-anxious as a new mother, over nurturing? Should I have forced her to wean before it became a crutch? Should we have stopped at one child (but I don’t care to imagine my life without Aurora and Ludo). Could I have done something differently? Should we have sucked it up and paid the extortionate amount to put Luna in daycare at 3 months old?
Luna’s therapist is amazing. She’s kind and caring, observant without judging. We have a long road ahead of us where we will work together to make life easier for our Luna, so that hopefully she won’t have to hold that world on her shoulders for much longer. Where hopefully our home life will be a little more balanced and quieter. Where everyone will get the sleep they need, and where we can leave Luna at school without worrying how her anxiety will manifest when she comes home.
We don’t have a diagnosis yet, and probably won’t for a while as Luna is only three and it takes more than a few assessment sessions to really dig into the root cause of certain behaviors. It took me a long time for me to accept that it wasn’t our fault and that there was nothing wrong with asking for help. My main concern now is that we help our daughter develop healthy coping skills and confidence. I know what it’s like to develop unhealthy coping skills and I do not want that for our daughter. Is it silly to want my children to walk through life feeling light and confident, rather than waking up, shoulders heavy and mind full of mines? Am I projecting my own fears?
I am usually a very positive person despite my moments of darkness, but these last few weeks have been tough. My own anxieties have been playing up and I know that I need to remain strong for Cesar and for my children. I always wonder what our neighbors think when they hear the tantrums, most likely cursing us for having a million children in just a few years. I feel guilty, and then I remember that we are doing the right thing. We asked for help, which is hard, but in the end will make us into better parents. I understand why Luna chose us... She knew I would get it, would understand what goes on behind those beautiful eyes, that most of the time all she needs is a hug and for us to tell her it will all be OK. It’s hard enough for an adult to express emotions, for a child who has so many of them it must be excruciating. This path into child therapy has also opened up a lot of things I have buried, childhood traumas and pain, and it does make me realize that I could probably also benefit from having someone to talk to. Sometimes writing doesn’t always help, it can also be another source of anxiety at times. I don’t know, first things first.
I do have to say though... If you see a 3 or 4 year old who isn’t potty trained yet, or a child who is watching an iPad in their stroller, or a kid who is screaming to nurse in a restaurant when they are able to talk, eat, and drink without an issue, don’t just put it down to bad or lazy parenting. Some things just don’t happen as they are “supposed” to, no matter how hard we work, and how patient we are. I am keeping my fingers crossed that by January Luna will be potty trained and weaned, so that we can send her to preschool, which I think will be beneficial for her. In the mean time we are setting a plan in place with Luna’s therapist and we will go from there. And I will try to let go of some of the guilt that has been plaguing me recently.
We are lucky to have a pediatrician who really listens to her patients and their parents, and always remembers them. She has been following Luna since she was two years old (when we moved here), and has witnessed some of the symptoms of anxiety firsthand during visits. I’m glad that she pushed me to make the call because I don’t know if I would have done it otherwise. Parenting is as tough as hell, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.