getting there is love

Brooke must have been three years old. She wanted her ballet slippers. I don’t know why, perhaps she was playing dress up, perhaps the moon was in the seventh house. Whatever the reason, she had it in her little head that she needed her ballet slippers.
I looked around the house but I couldn’t find them. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I flippantly told her that the slippers were a no go. I knew so little. She began to perseverate on one sentence. “I want my ballet slippers!” Over and over and over and over again. “I want my ballet slippers!” It would almost have been funny. But it wasn’t. It got louder. She got more anxious. “I want my ballet slippers!”          
I explained that I couldn’t find the slippers. I’m sure I offered an alternative. She fell apart. Sobbing, shaking, yelling – you know the rest. All the while, stuck in automatic rewind. “I want my ballet slippers! I want my ballet slippers!”
I wasn’t going to stand for a tantrum. Oh hell no, not this mom. I don’t ‘do’ tantrums. Not in this house, child. I sent her to her room. I just didn’t know. I had to walk her up there because she didn’t understand what I was saying. Or she couldn’t hear me. Or both.
All the way up the stairs, “I want my ballet slippers!” Jagged sob after jagged sob. “I want my ballet slippers!” Her little body shook like a leaf in a hurricane. 
My dad’s words rattled around in the back of my head “You’re really quite lenient with those kids.” Oh yeah? Watch this, Pop. She will NOT get away with this kind of behavior.
“I want my ballet slippers!” She could barely catch her breath, but there was no stopping the broken record. “I want my ballet slippers!” 
For heaven’s sake, enough with the %$&*!@ ballet slippers! I put her in her room. I didn’t know. God, I just didn’t know. “I want my ballet slippers!” Gasp. Sob. “I want my ballet slippers!”  Over the screams, above the hoarse cry, I explained that she would stay in that room until she could calm herself down.
Calm herself down. I didn’t know. I walked away. She looked so small standing in the middle of her room. I choked back my own tears. I swallowed the sour taste in my mouth. I left her there screaming, overwhelmed, confused, lost. 
“I want my ballet slippers!” Gasp. Sob. “I want my ballet slippers!” 
I crouched against the wall at the bottom of the steps struggling to find the right thing to do. I can still feel that wall, cool, immovable against my back. I could barely breathe. Something wasn’t right. I didn’t know what.
I thought of Ferber’s sleep method – let your child know they are safe and loved but leave them to soothe themselves. I went up again. I stood in her doorway and I told her she would be free to come out of her room when she got it together. I raised my voice in an attempt to be heard over her screams. “I want my ballet slippers! I want my ballet slippers!” I told her I loved her. Then I told her that her behavior was unacceptable. I walked away again and left her screaming, her face streaked with mucus and tears.
“I want my ballet slippers!” Her voice was breaking, but she didn’t stop. “I want my ballet slippers!”  I was so frustrated. I was so angry. Why wouldn’t she just let it go? “I want my ballet slippers! I want my ballet slippers!” 
I went up again. I grabbed her by the shoulders, too hard. I squared her body to mine and chased her eyes. “Enough with the God damned ballet slippers!” God, I didn’t know. I am so sorry. I thought she wouldn’t stop. I didn’t know she couldn’t stop. I didn’t know there was a difference. I just didn’t know. She didn’t see me. She didn’t hear me. I am so sorry.
I told this story for the first time a couple of days ago. My dear cyber friend,   had posted this torturously illustrative post and I felt compelled to respond. ‘s writing does that. It starts you thinking. It forces self examination.
When I wrote the story I told M that I hate myself for that day – for not getting it. How could I not have known?  Understanding, I told M, is not automatic. Sometimes, I said, it can be particularly hard won.
And then  wrote this. Read it, please. I implore you. Yes, you. The parents out there who are like me, who try so hard to understand the way that your child experiences the world, and then who beat yourselves up over stories like this one. Old, dusty, heartbreaking stories that you write through tears. You do have them, don’t you? Maybe from the time before you knew?
Please read it. I printed it out. I may frame it. Because I need to hear words like the ones that follow. I’m guessing you do too.
“And good people get frustrated. That’s a part of getting there (making guilt completely unnecessary. Stop that.)”
And this:
“Being there is empathy. Getting there is love.”
You’ll see my comments on the post, but for me it boils down to this: We’re so much harder on ourselves than we are on others. We mete out forgiveness and support, validation and love so freely to each other, but somehow it’s so much harder to find the same compassion, the same gentleness for ourselves. And according to my dear friend and sage, as long as we’re trying, we deserve a little slack. An ‘A’ for effort, as it were. Because we’re getting there, aren’t we? And getting there is love. So says M.
Thank you, M. You rock.
ed note: Please note that any text in blue is what’s called a hot link to another website. So, when it says ‘M’ in blue, you can click on it and it will take you to M’s blog, Incipient Turvy. Where it says, ‘this’ in blue, one click will take you to the particular post that I am asking you to read. Luau says many of you might have missed this concept in the past. Now you have no excuses. And, of course, I fully expect that you will now go back and reread every post I’ve ever written so that you can click on the hot links. Or not.

12 thoughts on “getting there is love

  1. M does rock. I found his comments to your posts intriguing, and went to check out his blog myself. His insights are nothing short of astonishing to me. Reading his posts is like being given a gift. (Sorry, M, I should be posting these comments on your site!) The post about the haircut frightened me. I have done things that looked way too close to that. I’m sure we all have. I have often wondered why, if I was given the gift of these beautiful children, I was not give the grace they deserve in the parenting department. But I am trying, with the hope of someday getting there.

  2. Oh, Jess, you wrote it, and it’s beautiful.

    And M has given us such a lovely frame of reference: Getting there is love.

    We will get there. All of us who try, we’ll get there.

  3. I have had more moments like that than I care to admit. Even now, if particularly tired, or stressed, I sometimes slip. I try to force her to be different so that I can feel better. It sucks not being perfect.

    I appreciate M’s words so much.

  4. Thanks for referring us to M’s posts. Amazing. ‘Being there is empathy. Getting there is love.’ I’ll be holding on to that for… the rest of my life. Thanks also for telling your story. We’ve all been there, done that. I’ve even done it *after* I knew. But I’ll never stop working on “getting there.”
    Thanks so much!

  5. This hit so close to home. Yes, we’ve been there. And like Michelle O’Neil says, there are days I’m tired, stressed, overwhelmed and I’m there again–in the place I know I should never go back to.

    Before we knew what was going on? Well, I can’t even think about it without getting sick to my stomach.

  6. M has a new fan.

    And yes, I’m guilty of forcing my view point on my daughter, of snapping, of anger.

    We’re only human.

    Now that we know better, we’ll do better. Or at least pause.

  7. Excellent links. I will be adding M’s blog to my Google reader!

    Your post and M’s posts brought back some ugly memories from those early days and unfortunately some memories from not too long ago.

  8. Had a similar situation with my son. He’s petrified of hand dryers in bathrooms, and before his diagnosis I used to hold his hands under them to dry them off after washing them. Now I tell him he doesn’t have to wash his hands in those bathrooms and we wipe them off with a babywipe after we get out to the car. I stIll feel guilty for the way we used to handle his triggers.

  9. I have those bad memories. When my child first came to me a year ago, somehow dropped through the cracks and undiagnosed, I had no idea what I was dealing with. I thought she was being defiant. I had no understanding that she didn’t understand what I was saying much less why I was saying it. Even now, a year later, especially early in the mornings, getting it is just hard to hold on to. I beat myself up all the time. It is hard to be ok with it and it is hard not to beat myself up, but I totally get it in this post. I get it with my head, now if I could just get it with my hearr!

  10. I didn’t “know” for 13 yrs and now that I do “know” how do I forgive myself for all those times I punished him for his behavior when I just didn’t “know”?

    • You just do. Because beating yourself up doesn’t help him. It never will. Move on together — knowing better, doing better. I get it.


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