Summer is supposed to be late nights, campfires, outdoor movies, s’mores and sleepovers, swimming until your hands are raisin-y, and vacations to the beach that you can’t wait to tell your friends about. Kids long for summer the entire school year. There are millions of memes created about how parents are so excited to spend time with their precious darlings but then countdown to the beginning of the school year’s return.
As both a mother and a teacher, I find myself caught in the middle of the two extremes. No child can identify with how much teachers long for summer. Oh, I remember being in high school and thinking the last days of the school year were torturous and how I couldn’t wait to spend my days poolside with friends. How ignorant and foolish was the 16 year old me. Now, a 35 year old teacher and mother of two, I swear the last weeks before summer last no less than 9 months. They are like pregnancy, only more painful!
However, as much as I live for those two short months off where I can pee on my own time schedule and eat lunch without hundreds of hormonal, gossiping teenagers surrounding me, I also dread it. We are talking 60 days of pure, unadulterated 24 hour periods with my son who promises no fewer than countless meltdowns daily.
As I write this, I am enjoying one of only two days this summer that I will be without my five year old son; you know, the one chronicled in my blog with a laundry list of diagnosis all revolving around the fact that he will say whatever he thinks with zero filter and he wants it his way now-er than any kid ever.
I woke up this morning and literally did not even know what to do with myself. I got our one year old dressed, fed, and dropped off at daycare (for which I felt completely guilty and almost cried in the parking lot). I got a pedicure and the employee smiled and said, “It’s been a long time since your last visit, huh?” Yes, lady trying to be nice about how atrocious my feet have become. I got a cup of coffee, read from one of the four books I am currently reading on how to better approach parenting strategies for extreme behaviors, and now here I sit.
As I scroll through Facebook and see all the Instagram posts of perfect family camping trips and clever summer crafts my friends are enjoying with their wee ones, I am reminded that our summertimes don’t look like everyone else’s. So, it seemed fitting that I addressed the elephant in the proverbial beach chair.
As a teacher, I long for summer so I have time to breathe and time to relax; but as my son’s mama, I dread summer because it is terrifying to live life everyday with a tiny version of yourself who is completely capable of destroying both your dream of the perfect summer day and your spirit as a mother, all in one fell swoop.
So, here it is, my list of the 5 Reasons Parents of Extreme Children Dread Summertime:
5. There Is No Such Thing As Relaxing With This Kid: Our son wakes up with the sun. He has likely spent most of the previous night having night terrors so we are already sleep-deprived. He wakes up on full tilt. There is no pause or volume control button on our child. He jumps from the top bunk, stomping and screeching into our room, waking up his baby sister along the way.
By the time we get him to the kitchen and get his morning meds to his mouth, he has already told us off about one thing or the next, and his energy is so through the roof that no amount of running laps or riding circles on the deck on his bike will suffice. He will have a morning meltdown. It is inevitable.
So, by 10:00am each morning it is likely that I have been yelled at, had things thrown at me, had to remain calm while talking him down through a meltdown, and taken multiple things of his away. Every. Single. Day. If he woke up and managed to get downstairs before us, you can add to that list that I have found food trash from snacks he snuck and tried to hide, and am now dealing with the aftermath of a sugar rush.
While most families sleep in, enjoy breakfast, have a cup of coffee on the deck, and play while talking about their upcoming beach trip, I am pulling my daughter’s dry Cheerios out of my hair while basket holding my thrashing five year old mid-Mach 5 Red Alert.
4. We Have to Schedule Trips Around Behaviors and Med Times: When we do attempt to take a trip, we have to consider what days we will be gone because certain medications can only be filled on certain days of the month. Additionally, some will not be filled out of state or while traveling. (Reserve your parent-shaming thoughts about why we do or do not medicate our child, and consider if this were medication for another illness such as diabetes. You can’t just run off to Disneyland without your child’s insulin.) These things have to be strategically planned out.
Our son has meltdowns most days. Some days he has many and some of those days are back-to-back. When he is having a series of difficult days, we have found that the best approach is simplicity. The fewer options, choices, and decisions he has, the less overwhelmed, overstimulated, and overly frustrated he gets. This often means canceling previously made plans and replacing them with a more calm activity at home where he feels safe and where his meltdowns won’t be so public. While we have become accustomed to the obvious stares and passive aggressive judgement of perfect strangers, our son shouldn’t have to be subjected to that at his age. His disabilities are real and he is not in control of his emotions at times so his actions can cause him great embarrassment after the fact.
Scheduling large trips or extended vacations takes a lot of time and effort from any family, but when you add in a child with special needs, it becomes that much more stress and planning.
3. Planning Outings Can Be Terrifying: Admittedly, I am the mom who loves Pinterest and wishes I could have successful playdates with healthy character-themed snacks and preplanned, educational trips to children’s museums and botanical gardens with my kids. However, these types of outings have become a nightmare as we learn more and more about parenting a child with needs such as Sensory Processing Disorder.
Our kids have never been to a carnival or fair. Never. “Gasp! And she calls herself a mother!?” I know, I know. Mom Fail #2,678,942. For our son, the lights, sounds, kiddie rides, games, prizes, possibility of losing…in front of people, sugary food truck delectables–it is all a recipe for disaster. I would LOVE to post a picture of all four of us riding our first merry go round but it would likely be filled less with four smiling faces and look more like an outtake from The Problem Child. Our daughter would be smiling her goofy grin while I unknowingly hold her as the horse that holds our son is half unhinged and my husband holds on for dear life while our boy cracks himself up.
Our son is hysterical and loving and kind, but if you are blessed enough to be in a “normal” family, our outings probably don’t look like yours.
2. Our Summers are Appointment-Filled: We get invited to things like most families with kids over the summer; pool parties and sleepovers, camp outs and lock-ins. However, we have to schedule these things around counseling visits, doctor check ups, medication alterations, prescription refills, and behavioral specialist follow-ups. It is draining and sometimes embarrassing to have to constantly alter people’s originally scheduled plans because you have “an appointment”. People begin to think you are terminally ill.
To get our child the proper medication balance and treatment to allow his differently functioning brain to regulate his impulses and behaviors in any kind of successful way, it takes maintaining anywhere from two to six appointments a month with various doctors, counselors, and specialists, This is no joke. While some fail to believe that mental illness is a real thing, mamas like me attribute our children’s need for medication to regulate their extreme behavior to the parent of an insulin-dependent diabetic. We are in the trenches and it is survival mode, even on meds.
1.You Feel Guilty…A Lot: We feel guilty if we cancel plans, and guilty-er if we take our child to the outing and he has a meltdown thus causing the ever-popular super tense moment where everyone else feels awkward, avoids eye-contact, and you dread your child’s post-tantrum embarrassment when he realizes what took place in front of all of his friends.
We feel guilty that our kid is the only almost six year old we know who hasn’t taken formal swimming lessons because a meltdown in that arena could be deadly.
We feel guilty because we send our one year old daughter to daycare 2-3 days a week (partially to “save her spot” for next year, but also) to have a couple of one-on-one days where both our boy can have our full attention without feeling the need to tear the walls down to get it, and to save our daughter from spending every single day surrounded by that level of instability.
We feel guilty for not taking our son to classmates’ birthday parties, co-worker summer bashes, or neighborhood cookouts. We feel guilty for dreading family vacations, or long car rides, or weekend trips that could all be ruined in a moment.
What I think all parents of children like our son wish other people knew is that we are normal, but our family dynamic can’t be the stereotypical expectation of a successful, American nuclear family because that just flat-out won’t work for us. We’re sorry. Trust us. We probably spend 33% of our time feeling sorry or guilty. But it just is. Forgive us, be gentle, ask questions, or judge away…whatever your flavor. Other mamas, unite! Support the lady whose kid is screaming and running away from her at the community pool. Buy the hot dogs of the mom in front of you in the baseball park concession line whose child just threw himself at her feet kicking. We are all in this together.
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