One of my favorite things about having children is seeing the little sparks of my own personality glowing inside them as they grow older. However, along with the heartwarming moments of recognition come those terrible times when I see all my flaws and insecurities mirrored back at me in their sweet little faces. It seems so unfair that creatures so new and innocent should be saddled with my baggage, but that is the nature of genetics.
Some days it feels like I’ve passed down more than my fair share of eccentricities to my poor first born: the personality traits I don’t even like to admit that I have to myself. My deepest, darkest, nightmares. The days when I see those traits boil over into my sweet baby’s personality break my heart. They force me to face my own failings both as a human being and as a mother: the parts of myself that I’ve hidden deep beneath years of coping mechanisms and social pressures.
I’ve always had a hard time dealing with unexpected changes in routine or plans, but my son is absolutely paralyzed by them. When he was an infant, we had to adhere to a strict nap time and bedtime routine. Every day. No exceptions. Otherwise he wouldn’t sleep. At all. He would fight sleep until he threw up and eventually passed out in someone’s arms. Until he was two he NEVER fell asleep anywhere except his bed or very occasionally the car seat. It was our reality and we didn’t think much of it.
As he has gotten older I’ve seen his rigidity manifest in other ways. He will not try new foods. He doesn’t like new people or new environments. He frequently likes the idea of doing something new and then, right at the last minute, panics. These are feelings I know all too well.
The hardest part of my personality to see magnified in his is our over sensitivity to the world around us. I hate loud noises, especially when there are multiple sensory inputs all competing with each other. Motherhood is a great challenge for me in this respect. If the baby is crying, the dogs are barking, and the older kids are shouting, my brain ceases to function and I have to leave the room for a minute to regroup. My son is the same way.
When he was a baby he used to scream during music classes. If the other children picked up tambourines and shakers, he would head the other direction. He’s always hated my singing, which might just be a matter of taste, but he dislikes most music as well. He’s only ever shown an interest in two songs: Life is a Cabaret by Liza Minnelli (that’s another story!) and Baby by Justin Beiber. So yeah, its possible he just has atrocious taste.
He can frequently be seen with his hands over his ears, even when the sound doesn’t seem particularly loud to anyone else. He wont let me flush the toilets until he has left the room.
When he was younger he never seemed to fit in with the other children. It was so hard for me to watch from a distance as the other children huddled together during play time and my son sat alone about 5 feet away. It wasn’t their fault, but I’m sure he noticed. I know I did. I recognized the feeling immediately as I sat watching him, wondering what the other parents were thinking about him or whether his behavior is “normal”. I am no different; he inherited these feelings from me.
Why don’t I know how to help him?
Every day is a battle, for him and for me. We fight both of our instincts to shut down when things are hard or scary. For me, I find strength in my children. I can’t give up when parenting seems hard. They need me.
My son needs me to hold his hand while he finds his own strength. Sometimes he needs a little extra push, or a little more empathy, before he’s ready to face the world. I remind myself constantly that he’s not screaming “No” at an annoying loud volume just to irritate me. He isn’t ignoring me and reciting the planets in order from the sun over the sound of my voice because he hates me or doesn’t care what I have to say. He doesn’t insist that he is Thomas the Train and can’t possibly use a fork “because trains don’t have hands” because he wants to get a rise out of me.
He doesn’t know how else to be heard. He is scared and overwhelmed, and it’s my job to dig down deep, find my compassion for the little monkey, and help him learn how to express himself.
I’ve never loved and despaired for anything the way I do for my child. He is my life. He is part of me. I would do anything for him, but I can’t take away these tendencies I’ve passed down to him. Sometimes, they keep me from being able to help him as much as I should. Sometimes we are each other’s worst enemy as our collective neuroses bounce violently off one another and whip into a frenzy. We butt heads passionately, but always reconnect with a love and understanding that only we can share.