Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Everything That Can't Be Said

The kids and all of their cousins, 2014

We sat around the table, sipping our coffee and nibbling muffins, attempting a craft while immersed in conversation. Someone was nursing a baby while another checked on a newborn blissfully sleeping in a stroller nearby. This was our moms group at church -- a combination social gathering, confessional, support group, and brief escape from the stresses of stay at home mom life. 

"I feel like Anna's NEVER going to be potty trained," I wailed in exasperation. We were debating the value of Pull-Ups and lamenting all of the things that left us frustrated and guilty. "I mean, someone told me it's not like she's going to graduate and still be in diapers, and I knew what they were saying, but in the moment, it's hard to keep that perspective." The other moms nodded in agreement. One confided that her house was a disaster because her youngest had constant colic and was driving them all out of their minds. A third confessed tearfully that she blamed herself that her kindergartener did not yet know all of her letters. 

I would walk away from those meetings in the early days of parenting and feel as if there was a calm, reassuring voice whispering, "It's okay. You're not a bad mom. Everyone struggles with this stuff."

Around that time a friend started a weekly group at her home with our babies and toddlers and lunch together. I had to force myself to go at first. You see, I was scared. I've never been great at making friends with other women. Too much comparing going on, too much sensitivity at every perceived slight. Doing these mom things, it took WORK, you see? But I went and we'd get down on the floor with our little ones and there was time to talk and laugh with and yes, even be irritated by the others around the room at times. But we kept at it. We were moms of little ones, craving connections. 

For a few years, I lived in a world of playgroups and library story times and church Bible studies with other moms. Then Ethan moved into the toddler years, and gradually some of his milestones weren't matching the other kids in the church nursery who were his age. Or he was the only one who wanted to lay on the floor and push the toy garage doors on the playhouse up and down, up and down. 

My friends wouldn't have judged my son; I was judging him against everyone else's. And so I started finding excuses not to get together with people. Comparison fed my anxiety about him, and my overall insecurity. The fact that there were suddenly all these new therapy appointments that came with his autism diagnosis at 22 months provided ample excuses to withdraw. Suddenly there were therapists in my home nearly every day or we were running off to occupational or speech therapy appointments. 

And so, looking for another outlet, I starting writing in this blog. For years it was a gift: a way to put into words my fears and insecurities and hopes and challenges with Ethan, and with Anna, and later, Chloe, too. I felt as if at least if I wasn't great at the relationship thing, I could put some of our experiences into words and maybe help or encourage someone else. That had to count for something. Although words on a screen isn't the ultimate substitute for real-life interaction. 

But here's the funny thing, the thing that everyone is always trying to tell you, but you don't really see it until you're there -- your kids start to grow up. And things get better and worse at the same time. Suddenly you can send them off to school and you have no idea what they're doing all day, and those parents you used to chat with on the floor at play groups are near-strangers once again that you say a quick hi to on Open House night. 

Beyond that, your kids aren't just these tiny creatures anymore, these little minions causing stress and frustration at times. They're, you know, actual people -- and maybe they don't want you talking about them and what they're struggling with to anyone who will listen. That's one reason I rarely write here anymore. It's not my job to tell Ethan's story to anyone and everyone. 

This is what I didn't think about, back at the table at the mom's group. This is what I didn't consider....that one day all of my kids would indeed be potty trained and would sleep through the night. but that I'd be up with other worries; ones that sometimes can't be shared around a table with coffee. That there would be a time that instead of stressing about a child not knowing letters, I'd be worried about how I prepared them for life, and replaying what I might have done differently. I didn't give much thought that my kids might turn into really cool people who were indeed, their own people, with their own strengths and opinions and yes, struggles. When they're little you are thinking about molding and shaping them; then the winds shift and it's more about letting go. 

Sometimes in school pick-up lines I look out at the silhouettes of other parents in the other cars and wonder who they really are. I wonder what's unspoken in their social media posts and what happens in the parts of their lives that aren't for public consumption. 

If only I knew back then that this was the time, maybe, that we'd most need connections. This was the time when we'd really love to hear the reassuring voice saying, "You're doing your best. Be kind to yourself." This was the time we'd most appreciate a reprieve from the loneliness you might feel even in a group of friends...the one that longs to connect with someone on the same road you're on, only you don't know who that might be, because of all the things that no one says, or can't be said.