When my son was 10 years old, I picked him up from a playdate. The father of the other boy told me, “It didn’t go well.” He said my son “browbeat” his son–that was the word he used. My son “browbeat” his son by giving him only three seconds to decide what game they’d play–X-Box, basketball, or Pokemon cards. My heart pounded and I couldn’t help but think, here we go again.
I sat in the car pulled over at the curb and tried to talk to my son, to explain–once again–that if he wanted friends, he had to be more patient, less reactive, more easy-going. He shoved the top of his t-shirt into his mouth and began to chew. I reached over, pulled it out, and demanded he look at me.
We’d been over this before, he and I. I wanted him to make eye contact with me so I knew he was listening. Even though the doctor told me kids with ADHD can listen while doing other things, even though I knew he heard every word; still, I wanted him to look at me. The funny thing was, when our eyes met, it was me who finally got it.
I stared at my son–dark eyes full and squinty behind glasses, lips pursed together and in need of chapstick, hands balled into fists at his side. He stared back at me and said between clenched teeth, “I was too tired to compromise.”
I can relate to that. Sometimes it’s hard, so hard, not to have the ease I crave–not to come home to a calm house, turn on Bruno Mars, have a glass of wine, eat some olives, and unwind. Sometimes raising a child with special needs seems like too much. And even though I’m “too tired to compromise,” compromise I must–“I’ll let you read for another 15 minutes if you bring up the garbage cans, do what I say the first time, don’t get out of bed after lights out.” I’m too tired to compromise but compromise I do every day–give up my time to work, to hike, to take a shower, to drive any one of my kids to soccer practice/music lessons/doctor’s appointments. It’s part of being a mom, and it’s what I signed up for when I had three children. But I wasn’t expecting the “advanced track”–the kind of parenting required when you have a child with special challenges.
Still, I refuse to disappear. Sometimes I center myself within myself and my refusal is elegant and loving. Sometimes I’m lost and my refusal is bitter like the bitter herbs dipped twice at the Passover table to remember the tears of the slaves. Sometimes my refusal is quiet–I won’t answer, I’ll hide in my laptop and never come out. I sit in my chair quiet as a fuse and think, I’m too damned tired to compromise. And then some days, I let go of how things should be and see the joy that’s right in front of me.
The next morning, I went to wake up my son. But instead of pulling off his covers, I got into his bed, wrapped my body around his, and nibbled his neck. He laughed out loud and I said, “I can’t believe how big you are. I once cuddled you in my elbow. One day, not too far off, you’ll be bigger than me.”
I smelled his smooth skin and ruffled his brown hair and it didn’t matter whether he compromised or I did or whether my husband had poured my coffee and it was getting cold on my countertop or whether school started at 8 and neither my son nor I were dressed or whether the dog had gone out or the alarm was turned off or whether either one of the girls had showered or even brushed their teeth. We were who we were and, at that moment, that was enough.
I laid beneath his plaid comforter with my baby in my arms, my treasured, longed-for, loved baby, and even though he had a bigger body–longer limbs, a head full of hair–that baby was still in there. And even though I was too tired to compromise, still, my arms longed to hold him, to know that he was safe and forget whether he had ADHD or ODD or OCD or PTSD or whatever other stupid letter combination. At that moment, I remembered that he was perfect.