Friday, August 29, 2008

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

Ah yes. Camp Mama is coming to a close. Bambina will start her last year of preschool next week, and I now look back on what I've learned this summer at camp.

Lesson One
I've learned that my kid is shy in large groups. Actually, I knew that. What I've learned is that shyness is simply a feature of my child's personhood, much like her eye color or height. It's neither positive nor negative, and it doesn't reflect on me, on her, or on anything. It just is.

It all came to head at a playdate with about 7 of her classmates from school. These are all kids she has known for a year and adores. All I can say is that I must have grown a velcro leg for 2 hours because my kid would not participate no matter what. I was so--I'm going to admit it--angry at her. I was saying to her, "Sweet girl. These are your friends. Go play with them. Why are you so afraid to go play?" I just could not figure out how my child was confidently laughing and playing with one of these kids at my house the day before--and today that same confident and fun-loving kid in small groups is completely unable to even approach a single friend in a larger group. I was so frustrated with her, like, I've seen you charm, boss, play, laugh, share. I know you have these social skills in spades. So why can't you have them with a few extra kids present?! Why do those skills not translate? Like, if she just didn't have them I'd almost understand more. But to see her have these tremendous social skills in one setting and to be so thoroughly defeated in another just breaks my heart--and, in all honesty, annoyed me.

We stayed even though she wanted to leave because I figured the precisely worst thing to do was to act like her fears were my fears too. I also tried to talk to her about being mean and rude, about how when someone invites you to their house and you show up and don't even talk to them, that it hurts their feelings. I might as well have been Charlie Brown's teacher: "wah wah wah wah. wah wah wah." It so got to me (or maybe more accurately, my annoyance at her got to me) so much that I was off-balance the rest of the day. I remember being just like Bambina, hiding behind my mom's legs and having serious terror when adults tried to get me to interact with them. I remember this all so well and yet now that I've grown into an extrovert, I somehow can't connect with my child who is essentially a carbon copy of me at the same age. The whole situation felt like an Epic Maternal Fail. Like, perhaps the biggest fail since I put her in daycare after 4 months home and it was such an error of disastrous proportions for her that I'll never quite forgive myself for having done it (even though I pulled her out after just 6 weeks). Those instances where you realize you have failed this child in this very real way, not because you did something bad or wrong but because you did something that, while not universally erroneous, was not right for THIS CHILD--and you as THIS CHILD'S mother failed to anticipate it, failed to know your kid well enough to have predicted it.

Well, In reading about shy children I learned the following:
1. Like I said above, shyness is not a venereal disease or a character flaw, and shouldn't be treated as such.
2. Even if you don't understand, you still have to show empathy to your child who at 4 has no idea why she's shy. She just is who she is and can't help it.
3. That my obligation is not to "make" her talk to or go play with people when she can't do it. It's to give her the preparation and tools (by role playing before seeing people or attending events), the space (by specifically NOT forcing her to interact when she is scared to, or arriving early to give her warm up time), and the first glimmers of understanding of social skills (people will think you don't like them if you don't acknowledge them, so you do have to at least wave hello even if you don't want to speak) that will eventually result in her being able to function in large groups. She may never like them, but she'll be able to work with them---as long as she doesn't feel like there is something wrong with her for not liking them.

Lesson Two

You can always find Mac and Cheese.

We were in Boston, doing the resident tourist thing. We did the Shaaahhks exhibit at the aquarium where Bambina took after her Auntie Carol in demonstrating what happens when she gets too hungry and the blood sugars drop. ;) So we mainlined some cheesy crackers and high-tailed it to Faneuil Hall (embracing our inner tourist loser) where Bambina insisted that she had to have mac and cheese. BBDD and I were trying to gently wrap her mind around the fact that food stalls in a market, even a touristy high-end one, do not generally serve mac and cheese to-go. And then. The BBDD was saying, "Sweet Girl, I'm thinking there is nowhere in here that we'll be able to get mac and cheese..." when I looked ahead and yelled, "...except for the stall called "MMMacAndCheese!"
Yep. It's a mac and cheese store. Heavy on the cheese. Made to order. Bambina ate it like it was ice cream. So don't tell me you can't get no stinkin' mac and cheese. You can ALWAYS get mac and cheese. You just have to want it bad enough to endure Quincy Market.

Lesson Three
Chinese is not so hard to learn if you only need your numbers and colors.

We start Chinese school in a couple of weeks, but we've been doing Chinese lessons in some form at home for 3 years now. The biggest help has been a series of easy reader kids' books called Mandy and Pandy by Chris Lin. They come with a CD so you can hear a native speaker read the story in English, English and Chinese, then just Chinese. And they even have songs, one of which has been in heavy rotation for weeks:
Yi ge, liang ge, san ge xiao peng you, si ge, wu ge, liu ge xiao peng you... (one, two three little friends, four, five six little friends...). I am so happy to be learning this language, and so happy that my daughter is learning--and embracing so eagerly--this language. I believe so strongly that her knowledge of Chinese will be an important aspect of her emotional development, beyond all the usual educational stuff. Even as I'm learning to speak and write it, I'm learning about culture and history and social mores (thank you!). It's the hardest and most rewarding thing I think I've ever done, and it is something I will never ever regret making the time to do. We bought those little fridge magnets that make sentences and phrases, and I almost cried when Bambina looked at one--the Chinese characters no less, not the English letters saying Zhong guo--and said, "this says 'China,'" and damn if she wasn't right. She's four and she's already way ahead of me. But isn't that what every parent hopes for anyway? I just didn't think it would happen so soon. ;)

Lesson Four

Sometimes even a bad situation can seem better with a little attitude adjustment.

It's not secret that I've had some troubles with GVHD since the transplant. It's also no secret (much to your chagrin, gentle readers) that I've had major issues with the side effects of the drugs that treat said GVHD. To wit, and I'll try to be delicate, the meds create a certain urgency in one's need for a restroom. And I mean a personal, dedicated restroom. So this past week I asked my doc if we could try to once again taper the offending drug, rather than the prednisone, just so I could perhaps sleep through the night without waking up at 2am to sprint to the loo--or having to drive like hell home from an evening out so I can not lose my last shred of dignity--or having to tell friends when I visit that I can't eat anything they're serving, might need to be antisocial at times for blocks of time, and--oh whatever, you get it. It's embarrassing, annoying and restrictive, and I've been really bummed about it and just so over it for a while now.

Well. I had to email my lovely doctor last night the following: "Well, that was a nice experiment. But a total disaster. Can I please go back up to my old dose?" My GVHD came roaring back in--I kid you not--the space of 5 reduced doses. That's 2 days. Two days and I was all the way back to March, in constant stomach and gut pain, unable to eat, and just scared as hell that these past 4 months' gains had just been erased and that I'll never get off these immunosuppressives.

You cannot believe how much I love my shitty old drug now. For real. Because as bad as it is to have to wake up at night to crap, and run home from a date to crap, and to constantly avoid social situations where I might have to eat--or crap, it's all waaay the hell better than having GVHD which damn near immobilized me. Two days of GVH hell and I was a sucker for cellcept. I was ready to write a freakin' testimonial about how lucky I am that I get to take this fantastic skin cancer-causing, diarrhea-producing insanely powerful and dangerous pharmaceutical. GVH will do that to you I guess.

So, attitude adjustment firmly in hand, I go forth into the fall. Secure in the knowledge that shy is okay, mac and cheese is the god-given right of every American, that you can achieve better(?) living through chemicals, and that no matter how bad it all gets, at least I can say it in Chinese: "I can't come to your house at 5pm because I might have a bout of la duzi." (La doodzeh)

1 comment:

Utah Savage said...

Ni hao ma! I think if pronounced correctly that's someplace close to Hello! Or Hello Chairman Mao. It was at the end of Mao's great failure the Cultural Revolution that I decided it would be smart to take Chinese. Only problem then was that my nearest university taught first semester Chinese and then fourth semester and then half a year and a repeat of first and then third and then none. I learned very little that I retained of that long ago attempt to master the most difficult and impenetrable of languages. Don't let me scare you. You are much farther along than I ever was. I wish I'd studied it the way you are and with your incentive to really learn it. I had just left my third husband and was looking to get as far away from him as possible and that would be China. I'd been a fashion model all my adult life and longed to live in faded brown pajamas. I thought the Chinese form of communism was far preferable to the Russian. You see what I mean about ancient history. Lost, wisps of drifting smoke. I always wanted to go to China.

As for the crapping, during one of my little bouts of atrial fibrillating I crapped my pants and didn't even know it. Imagine my surprise when I finally had to pee to discover... One would think I have noticed the eau de crap, but no, I smoke. I lost my sense of smell long ago. If I smell something bad, it's really really bad. Or due to something bizarre in or out of my diet my crap is odorless. Yeah. That's sounds plausible. Anyway, I'm recluse so it wasn't as bad as it could have been, but I share your pain.