Sometimes I think of my current life as being “on the inside.”
I am so completely immersed in my own family culture that I often have a hard time relating to the world at large. Sure – I can navigate a shopping mall or the grocery store as a seemingly “normal” person, but it’s a very Through the Looking Glass experience.
My true reality resides within the walls of my home, with its own set of rules…politics…priorities… All of which are dictated by the four and six year old inmates. I bark orders and shuttle people around town like I’m running the operation – but at the end of the day, I feel a bit like Patty Hearst with a loaded gun.
As I type this, I wonder if they’re asleep yet. Because I can make them stay in their room and keep quiet, but I can’t make them fall asleep. For some reason, this maddens me. I dragged those people up and down the streets of Key West and monitored their splashing in the pool for hours, and STILL at 10:30 p.m. they have the last word. Which is apparently three words: “we’re not tired.”
This is vaguely reminiscent of the first few months after my oldest was born. When people said, “get your sleep now – because you won’t get any after the baby comes,” I wasn’t too worried. Always an early riser, I never seemed to require the eight hours that everyone goes on about. I burned the midnight oil for years at work and earlier in school. What difference would a few nighttime feedings make?
Then I was introduced to Oliver, the baby who woke up every two hours for MONTHS. I have never felt so frazzled – so out of control. It’s such basic thing to control in life – your sleep. Even if you don’t need that much sleep, you still need it. And to have someone else demand that you wake up every two hours will eventually destroy any sense of time that you once had. It wears you down. Makes you feel like you’re losing your mind.
And then you just get used to it.
So it’s all very full circle. First, you decide when you wake up. And then you have kids and they decide when you wake up. Not because they want to ruin your sleep patterns, give you wrinkles and make you think you are going crazy – but because they are controlling their own sleep. It’s nothing personal against the parents – children can’t help it if we are required to feed them as newborns and monitor them as toddlers. Our sleep patterns are just innocent bystanders who were stupid enough to wander into the line of fire.
It’s the first step in a non-hostile takeover. Sleep becomes a privilege as opposed to a right. And you don’t even notice the shift take place. You simply assimilate.
Having a special needs child escalates this process since you already have to adapt to their personal quirks and deviations from the norm. How often have I felt the judging eyes on me as I carry my huge six year old out of a public place, attempting to sooth his agitation with murmured shushing, typically reserved for much smaller children… Like most other mothers I mentally give them all the finger and blink away traitorous tears. In convincing myself that the rest of the world can go to hell, I further descend into our own brand of normal.
And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But it’s somewhat isolating.
Sometimes you find other people with similar families though. You may look across a restaurant and lock sympathetic eyes with another mother who can’t seem to keep her children in their seats. Or you could meet them through school functions. Either way, these friends are absolute gold.
They don’t judge, but provide a line to the outside world. They entertain their own element of crazy – but the small differences remind you that you didn’t always threaten to throw out the Wii to get people’s attention.
Suddenly, you are reminded that the pretend world you walk through each day is in fact, real enough to the other pedestrians you pass. And that you may be able to rejoin that existence on some level. But it’s hard. You’ve been programmed – indoctrinated. You have way too many coping mechanisms in play.
But I do believe it’s possible. And it it’s probably inevitable over time. Children get older. They change – require you less – leave you to your own devices. Security becomes a bit lax and there are many more opportunities for escape. No one else will ever be able to break you out. But with planning, timing a even a little luck, you can orchestrate your own early release.
Exactly how do you do this? I’m sorry – do I sound like I have any idea? At the moment, I am living at ground zero of Crazy Town. It’s going to take a while for me to find a path out.
Besides – every family is different. So even if I did have a plan, it wouldn’t be of any use to others. We all have to find our own way.
When I first sat down to write this, I was feeling rather defeated. Taking children on vacation throws a bright spotlight on bad behavior, ineffectual parenting and general dissembling. Taking children on vacation by yourself is pure madness. And the hubris of it all just begs for a spiraling descent into self doubt. Who did I think I was, anyway? It’s one thing to take care of three children by yourself in the comfort of your own home – but when you’re on vacation, everyone is supposed to have FUN.
As far as my own little band of freaks is concerned, the current ratio of parent to child is achieving only a basic level of survival. Fun has been sporadic – and taken in turns. BUT there has been some fun. And that’s something.
Writing about life on the inside has helped. It’s made it all seem so commonplace – so obvious. And temporary.
Apparently, the children haven’t done ALL of the whining this vacation… I needed to peek out the window and see the rest of the world for what it really is. A mass of crazy families. Uncounted people who feel like they’re just surviving the day. Feeling defeated. But also having some fun.
I don’t put pressure on myself to make everyone have fun when we’re just moseying through our daily life. Why bother doing that on vacation?
As my children get older, I will slowly break out of our survival compound. There will be more breaks – more contact with the outside world – more fun. But in the meantime, I have to break out of my funk and just appreciate the smiles, the laughter and the ten minutes here and there that I can read a book while the kids play in the pool. I have to lighten up. And remember that there is more to life than arguing with picky eaters.
So I’ll start with sleep. Now that everyone is FINALLY (I checked) out. I think I’ll join them. And the only thing on my agenda for tomorrow is to step outside, feel the warm sun on my back and maybe even have a little fun.