Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Those Parents

Those parents. You know the ones. The ones with the kid who is red-in-the-face screaming and thrashing and flat-out refusing to do what the adults around him are telling him to do. You think to yourself, that child is out of control— he is making a scene— he's upsetting the playgroup or disrupting the class or tormenting everyone in the store with a high-pitched keen— why don't those parents of his do something about it?

As a parent yourself, hey, you understand that every kid has a bad day now and again. But these parents, they don't seem to be disciplining the kid at all. In fact, instead of telling him in a stern voice that this behavior is unacceptable, they're cajoling him. They're pleading with him. Some of your fellow witnesses to this scene are rolling their eyes or shooting disapproving glares or maybe offering scornful, unsolicited advice.

They look weak and ridiculous, not at all in charge, those parents, and you conclude instantly that the reason this kid is acting out like this today is because his parents must not ever take a proper stand against this kind of behavior. And maybe you pat yourself on the back, just a little, because you know you're far from perfect, but, hey, at least you're pretty certain that you're better at this kid-raising gig than them. Those parents.

I know I've done it before. Felt a little smug.

But among the lucky consequences of being the mother of a child with a developmental disorder, I must count the fact that perspective whacks me in the face quite regularly.

You see, at Isaac's first swim class a few weeks ago, my husband and I looked a heck of a lot like Those Parents.

Our child, who is the darling of his music class teacher for his eagerness to share instruments with other children, and is beloved by the librarians at our local library for his ability to sit quietly during storytime. Our child who knows how to stay seated at restaurants, remembers to refrain from talking in a movie theater, and has never once broken a single item in a retail store.

That child?

Was the screaming-kicking-clawing-not-listening-trying-to-run-away-
to-Australia-child-who-must-be-possessed-by-demons at his first week of swim class.

And we were the pleading parents on the receiving end of other parents' dirty looks.

You see, children with sensory disorders don't always do well in enormous, cold, chlorine-scented pools surrounded by thirty strange kids who are squealing, laughing, kicking and splashing each other with water.

And child who is two years behind his age group in gross motor skills because of the balance issues caused by his sensory disorder can become very confused and disoriented when he suddenly feels like he weighs much less than he ordinarily does on land.

So Isaac was terrified of swim class.

It's very important to me that my son learn to swim. Knowing how to swim could save his life someday.

It's also very important to me to instill in him the belief that his sensory disorder should not hold him back from doing what other kids do. I often say to him, "If something is hard for you, that just means you have to work harder."

But as his mother, I feel his fear like a knife in my chest. It pains me to see him struggle so much harder at something that comes so easily for so many other children. And my heart aches all the more as I catch glimpses, here and there, of a dawning awareness on his part that he is different.

So on that first day of class, when he clawed his way up my chest like a cat in a bath when first I put him in the pool, I put him right back in. When he cried, I said, "I'm sorry, but you have to keep trying for a little while longer. You're staying in." When he got angry and screamed at me like I was trying to kill him cold blood, I stood firm.

He was out of control. He was making a scene. And both of his parents were sitting there at the edge of the pool, holding his hand. Coddling him. I could feel the disapproving glares of other parents, strangers, on my back. They were waiting for me to shout at him, put him in time-out— do something, anything, to quiet him. To put him in his place.

But damned if I was going to make him feel like he was doing something wrong when I knew he was trying harder than any other kid there.


Since the first few classes, he calmed down a lot. It helped that after the second class, his indifferent first teacher was replaced by a calm, gentle girl I'll call Lexi, obviously sent to us by some pitying Angel of Swimmers. All of sixteen years old and yet somehow as patient as a glacier. He still won't dunk his head under the water. All the other kids in his class are jumping off the diving board into the lifeguards' arms now, and he's still learning to blow bubbles.

But he smiles when he gets in the pool now. And that's a start.


Anonymous said...

this is a huge step from first to second class .. big improvement ... and all just because you stayed your course ... or that Isaac knows that he has to work harder .. even if it involves kicking and screaming ...

Awesome Mom said...

Good for you for sticking with it and encouraging you son too also. It can be so hard for us to do things we know are right but look bad to others.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I have sooooooooooo beentheredonethat. I sympathize greatly. It reminds me of a book they were discussing on Rachael Ray today: I was a Perfect Mom Before I Had Kids. So true, huh?

Farrell said...

I think you two are doing an excellent job with him to say the least. Let this be a reminder not to snap to jugement (yes I need reminded too; I am human after all).
BTW, Sophie is almost 4 and won't put her head under water. She is just a cautious child. That's her personality. Also, stubborn as all hell and will not do anything until she's damn good and ready.

Michelle said...

From a parent and someone who taught swim class.
Baby steps. And the fact that he even gets in the water is a BIG deal. Because lets face it - in door pools are COLD, STINKY and a bit overwhelming.

I have been one of those parents with my son. I can take the glares, the stares. But I know when my son is acting out, and acting scared. Keep us posted on his swim progress.

Kim said...

Oh, god love him, and you too. Sometimes I don't want to get in the pool either!

Lisa said...

Seth had ALOT of water/swim issues too. Temperature was a big deal. The water had to be really warm so his lessons were scheduled in late July and at night, when there were less kids/noise around. We'd get there about 15 minutes early so he could get used to the surroundings, kids, noise, and then have him ease into the water. And then we'd go out for ice cream afterward so he'd start to associate swimming with something happy.

But yes, lots of screaming in the early lessons.

We brought him to the pool ALOT that summer - to try to desensitize him. Now he LOVES the water. And when we take him alot, you can see those skinny little arms have muscles! (Which is good cause kids with SID typically have poor muscle tone.)

So Kudos to you for taking him swimming, having patience and compassion, and sticking with it! You are an amazing mom.

Lori at Spinning Yellow said...

Oh, how I can relate to this!! Being the mom who doesn't seem to control her child and also the swimming. Scott is 7 now and I can honestly say that sticking it out with swimming has finally paid off. The kid can swim and it makes me cry every time I see it.

The back story is that he spent years afraid of the water, complaining of the temperature in and out of the water; the way the sunscreen felt on his skin; the loud, splashing, disorienting environment; the instructions to move his arms a way he couldn't; fear of getting swimmer's ear again which required the torture of ear drops to cure; all of it. But I also knew that for him the sensory input would be great and I felt strongly that he must know how to swim (at least in the basic sense).

Going to the pool every day helped and letting him do it on his own time. Sounds like you already understand this.

Maeve's Mom said...

I hate being that parent that everyone is staring at. I just tell myself they are thinking what a great job I'm doing and how tough parenting is, and how they totally sympathize with my situation. I'm sure that's not what they're all thinking, but, hey, self-delusion can't hurt, right? Good for Isaac for sticking with it and trying his best. It's a skill that will serve him well forever.

Anonymous said...

Aw, sweet little boy. It hurt my heart to read about his struggles during the first class. I'm glad to know he's doing better.

I used to be one of those parents who would shoot the dirty looks. No more. I remind myself that I don't know the whole story and can't possibly understand the entirety of what's going on. Blogging and reading blogs of parents with children in unique situations like SID or Tourette's has made me much more sensitive and less judgy. I understand now that there are probably things I don't know about under the surface that I couldn't know while watching a child have a Very Bad Moment in public. Long live blogging for curbing my judgmental attitude!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the progress! I just read this post and was going to offer my services (via web, as I live in Vancouver), as I teach people how to be swimming instructors and lifeguards, but I think you've got a lot of support anyways.

I want you to know that that behaviour is perfectly normal in a swimming environment and I'm glad that you got a really good instructor. Some kids take awhile to warm up to both the idea and the instructor. I'm sure I don't have to remind you of this but: all kids develop differently and are ready for different things at different times.

The program I teach to future instructors doesn't really talk about pass or fail (or rather complete and incomplete) - but progress. And the progress he's making is fantastic.

Jaelithe said...

Hey thanks Nicole. I keep hearing Dory the fish from Finding Nemo in my head lately-- "Just keep swimming . . ."