A friend's almost two-year-old has been diagnosed with brain cancer. The school we both work at was conducting a fundraiser for the family before winter break started. One of my students, new to me as all of them are, due to my family bonding leave this fall, looked at the sign in my room and said, "My dad died of cancer."
"I'm so sorry. It is hard enough as an adult to lose a parent; it must be so hard as a kid."
"It was June 29th."
"Oh." Things falling into place. "That was the day my kids came home. Ms. H. did a whole bunch of freezer cooking for both our families that week, didn't she?" So that's the family another friend and colleague was supporting right when we got back, and part of that was stuffing both of our freezers with pre-cooked dinners. Tomorrow marks a very solemn half-year mark for that family. We just had our first Christmas playing Santa, while our friends counted themselves lucky that the holiday fell between their daughter's brain surgery and the start of her radiation treatments. My parenting concerns seem petty, my irrational rages exponentially more heinous, in light of these family's burdens.
How's it going? I ask myself. Huge progress in some areas. I see our notes from an early visit to our therapist, and on my to-do list, I'd written, "Make eye contact with Oak. Hug him." He falls readily into my hugs now, begging to be picked up, reminding me he needs a kiss when I head out the door. I stroke his face, pat his back absently. tickle him when he raises his arm to point at something. It's still new, to both of us, but it's no longer forced or mechanical.
There's been no random peeing in months, and both beds have stayed dry. I wake Linden up a few hours after she's fallen asleep and take her in for one last pee, leaning drowsily against my leg, confused about what to do with the toilet paper I hand her. Now that I'm on vacation, I'm experimenting with not doing this, to see if she can make it through the night for two weeks. (The covers remain on the mattresses.) So far it's worked, but I find I almost miss the nightly chance to baby her, to hover protectively over her sleepy confusion, to sneak one last kiss on her round, rosy cheek as I lay her back down. Tonight we got home so late and rushed them both to bed, so we didn't do a last call trip to the bathroom, so I'll take her in as soon as I finish this.
On the down side, they both suddenly stopped flushing the toilet, especially first thing in the morning. The Winemaker, now our SAHD, was the first to discover this, and assigned them a chore each time they "forgot." When I caught Oak trying to set Linden up to take the fall ("It wasn't me, it was Linden! I haven't even gotten up yet! And there was toilet paper in the bowl!" Really? How did you know that if you haven't gotten up yet?) I announced that the next person who didn't flush would be wearing pampers, since they obviously hadn't fully worked out how to use the toilet. Then on Christmas Day, at my sister's house, Linden didn't flush, so I put her in pull-ups overnight. This, in case you haven't read anything on attachment parenting, is Bad and Shaming. However, I believe that there are some circumstances in which, "It works" is sufficient justification. And yes,they both have flushed every single time since then, and rush out to announce it to me. I am sure that whatever issue inspired this bit of nonconformity will pop out somewhere else, but I am prepared to handle that more graciously as long as the toilets are flushed.
Our great triumph was on Christmas Eve. As we drove to my in-laws for our first serious bit of gift opening, we filled them in on expected behavior. Take turns. Read the tag first. After it's opened, look at the person it came from and thank them, even if you don't actually like it. When others thank you, say 'you're welcome.' Oh, and no running in the house. I wish it pained me to say this, but it is actually with great glee that I announce that their NON-ADOPTED COUSIN apparantly did not get this pep talk in the car, because SHE wound up looking like a brat compared to our polite and appropriately enthusiastic kids. Since I overheard her at Thanksgiving whining, "I wish I were still the only grandchild," I felt especially pleased with our kids' success. (Very mature of me, I realize.) We were successful too, in anticipating a new situation and spelling out the process for our kids. Straight out of the books, man. (The books that specifically ban shaming techniques...)
It's late. I have much to confess about what's not going so well, but I need to get to sleep. I guess "confess" says it all, really. The kids are doing as well as or better than I ever could have hoped. I am doing seriously crappy in some really weird and disturbing ways, and my husband's mellow kindness is begin to fray now that he's the main caregiver. Yay us. People respond to our family situation kind of like they respond to me being a middle school teacher, only more so. "Oh, you guys are wonderful! What a great thing you are doing! They are so lucky! You must be having so much fun! Bless your pointy little heads!" etc. It makes me queasy. I know the stock answer is, "No, WE are so lucky to have them!" but that makes me queasy in a different way. They're our kids. We're a family. They're not used to being our kids; we're not used to being a family. We're all trying, except for the times when we get f'ing sick of trying and lash out instead. We're all lucky to be together now, but our luck comes out of phenomenol bad luck and tragedy (theirs) and some unfortunate physical glitches (ours). So...ease up. Ask me when they're grown. And keep reminding me to find out if my doctor will give me a little something to ease my moods.