...and then he pointed right to me.
That's how I feel about parenting Ben right now.
This has been brewing for awhile. I'm out of my element with Ben. He confuses me, he frustrates me, he makes my head ache.
I'm all for honesty. This is just how it is right now.
Actually, it's been this way since he turned one. I remember the early months of parenthood being remarkably - and surprisingly - easy. Even though my ex wasn't around much, I embraced the process of being Ben's primary caretaker and I became really, really good at it.
And then the years slid by and my confidence began to falter.
I told my sister today: "I don't know what I'm doing half the time. There's no one to bounce things off of; no one to tell me that I should have done this, could have done that."
And of course these issues become terribly underscored when you are on vacation. Alone. 400 miles from home. With a long agenda of things to do and short nights of sleep.
I was never under the illusion that Ben was (is) an easy child. At three, his pediatrician had him tested for autism. The psychologists concurred: no autism, but a highly sensitive and remarkably bright child.
During Ben's preschool years, it was rare that I could leave the school. For two years, we practiced effective separation tactics. I sat in the parking lot. His teacher gave me the thumbs-up through the window to leave. But not in my car. Oh no. I could only go for a walk. With my cell phone in hand. In case he melted. Which he did. Often.
My girlfriends dropped their preschoolers off for school and then met each other for coffee. That was so out of my element. Ben has always kept me on the shortest of leashes.
Then on to two years of Kindergarten. Issues with anxiety. More sensitivity. Suggestions from the teachers to keep things as routine as possible; to promote predictability at home. We did the two year plan for Kindergarten. It was the only possible choice.
Now I am dealing with the fact that Ben can tell time and will not leave the house (or the vacation rental) without his beloved watch. He can tell time to the minute, which is great, and he can also tell you when you are a minute late from coming out of the restroom, which is not great. He can time the trip - mile by mile - and he's a ticking bomb when traffic on I-5 in San Diego comes to a screeching halt and any idea of being anywhere at any time is out the window.
Tonight, when we finally arrived back at our rental condo, he yelled to me no less than forty times: "Mommmy! Where are you?"
We are not staying in a mansion. It's a small one bedroom condo. I could only be in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the bedroom or on the porch. But still, the panic: "MOMMY!"
Then when he does find me, it's usually with the force of physical exertion. A body slam, a punch to the arm, a death grip on my ankle to get me to fall.
I don't know why Ben pushes me as hard as he does. In the past, he knew that he could. But I've made it pretty clear in the last few months, that those days are long gone. We've introduced "consequences" and he has a firm grasp on the "bad choices" program (especially when the DS is involved).
While we were at the museum today, he again pushed. I got down on my knees, grabbed his face and said, "I just spent $40 for you to come here! Get ride of that attitude or the vacation is over." I meant it. He was being that difficult.
There were a million other six-year-olds running around the museum, captivated with the science exhibits, and mine was having his own personal soap opera - with pouting, sniveling and a complete sense of entitlement. My blood pressure was high. My patience was at an all time low. I swatted him - hard - in the back of the head as the uber-liberal San Diego moms looked on in surprise (disgust?).
My sister suggested that I go to the cafe and have a cup of coffee.
While I totally appreciated her offer, I also felt like I was once again failing at whatever it takes to be Ben's caretaker. I did get the cup of coffee. I came back. My sister had him engaged in an exhibit involving a spinning wheel and disks. We saw the new IMAX film. The day was salvaged.
Then, the death march up I-5 and the battle to get him into his pajamas. He snapped his t-shirt at me - hard - and I grabbed him and hit him as hard as I could. Knee-jerk reaction, I know. But still. He physically hurt me and my instinct was to hurt him back. Which I did. He talked about it today. We both talked about it. I doubt he'll do it again. I feel horrible, yet I don't regret doing it.
The fact of the matter is that I have to parent Ben alone for now. I don't have the benefit of having input, suggestions, validation. I also know that this is what I was meant to do. At this point in my life, I'm not supposed to be a stellar wife, I'm not intended to have a killer career. God picked me for this child and I have to rise up to the challenge. And he is a wicked challenge.
But today, we went to the beach. He skipped rocks in the tide for hours. He delighted in my reaction. We collected shells. And ate frozen yogurt. He sat through an entire Pilates class, while I participated. We watched two movies. I packed up our things for the next leg of our journey. We played a Lego pirate game. He didn't snap me with his t-shirt. He willingly allowed me to brush his teeth. I drank my Grey Goose. He ate all his carrots. I didn't yell. Not once. I can't begin to articulate how peaceful it was. Today, I realized how much I appreciate days like these.
So I was given a difficult child. So I'm a single mom. So vacations might feel like a death march, on some days. So this might be my most challenging task in life. So I may likely pray the same prayer every night: "God, grant me the wisdom to do this right."
So, yes. Always with eyes wide open - looking square at the face of reality - I know this all to be true.
But it still doesn't make it any less hard.