Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.
Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!
Gil: What a great story.
Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.
This quote springs to mind almost daily right now. Parenting Daniel has been, for a while, like the start of a roller coaster.
Daniel is my oldest, but my husband has an older son, Austin – now 16 and a daughter, Hannah – nearly 13. They were 9 and 5 respectively when I met them. I remember being shocked at how quickly they changed from cute, happy and outgoing kids to emotional and self-conscious teenagers. I am now watching them navigate and even start to find their way in their new stage of life. It has been fun, exciting and often more than a little aggravating.
I grew up around a lot of kids. My family’s friends had large families. I got to watch a lot of women go through the experience of pregnancy, childbirth, and the new mom stage, up close and personal. When I became pregnant with Daniel, I naively thought I had a pretty good idea what to expect. I was very wrong.
Watching Austin and Hannah alerted me to how early the rushing hormones and corresponding mood swings and emotional ups and downs begin. However, experience with Daniel over the last 12 years has taught me how very atypical every stage of life is with him. As the body odor became evident, the acne started and his sleeping patterns changed, I could almost hear the “Chunk-chunk-chunk” as I ascend to the first drop.
The downs are often gut-wrenching. Daniel’s anger can flash and bring with it cruel and incredibly hurtful language. A simple request for Daniel to remember to close the door behind him can elicit a tearful breakdown.
“Why do you have to judge me all the time? You can’t judge a book by its cover!! Geez!!” This is a muted response by comparison to a bad day. However, my frustration is leavened by my memory just how intense everything felt at that age.
Some days I feel like I am a pillar on a pier during a storm, pounded by endless waves of Daniel’s emotional outbursts. It is often exhausting. A marathon of trying to keep my own emotions in check and calmly direct Daniel back to center – or at least my best guess of where center might be. I try to keep in mind the bigger life lesson I am hoping he will learn; the tools I am praying he is learning to use, even through the conflict.
It has been odd too. Daniel is developmentally delayed in his social skills. There are moments that his responses to things are like those of a 7 or 8 year old. Other times, he seems very much at the same stage developmentally as his nine year old brother. However, his physical awkwardness and interest in more highly developed social conflicts are definitely that of a 12 year old boy.
The ups are hilarious. I watched Austin, in particular, physically grow so quickly that it was obvious there were moments he wasn’t quite sure what to do with his newly elongated limbs. As Daniel lopes through my living room, I see the same thing happening to him. He has a goofy sense of humor about it and often exits the room with an exaggerated goofy walk. Daniel can be surprisingly mature and kind. When it comes to looking out for his littlest sister, Sofie, he slows way down, gets down to her level, listens closely and carefully explains everything to her as he makes sure she is comfortable and cared for.
I am fortunate to have a husband who helps me look at the big picture. Daniel is lucky to have an extended family always looking out for him and loving him unconditionally. There are many days I would love to be anywhere but here! Other days I can look back at how far we have come and feel hopeful for the future. Up, down, up, down. In real life I love roller coasters, but some days I hate this roller coaster and would be happy with slow ride on the merry-go-round.
“…make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.“