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Fair Game

First of all, as Popeye would say, Well, blow me down! All a girl has to do is go a little nuts and lock her kid outside and wave her arms frantically in the air to make people come out of the wood work (and maybe secretly consider calling the Department of Human Services). I mean, wow! So many of you have contacted me privately or commented on my last post that I'm now convinced a big portion of parents and caregivers with maybe even only "slightly challenging" kids (which unfortunately mine are not, and I'll get into that in a minute) don't talk or write about it. Some of you don't bring it up because your coping mechanisms require that you push the issues under the surface to survive. Others of you don't talk about it because you really believe you're alone, and more tragically, that you're alone because of some drastic mistake you've made as parents - or maybe just as people. Still others of you want to avoid what we so lovingly refer to as "trolls" (Kara and Arwen, I think you know what I'm talking about) who will pounce on any weakness you highlight about yourself, especially parenting weakness, and so you vow not to publish anything questionable, like say, the fact that you locked your kid in the back yard to keep from exploding. When I published a post quite literally while looking over the cliffs of insanity and heard from many of you back on the steady ground of reality calling to me, I learned that, while quirky and more challenging than "average," my kids certainly aren't unique. Quinn's torture methods are effective and commendable, especially if you happen to be recruiting for Al Quaeda, but he's not alone; there are other kids like him, with parents whose eyes are bulged in fear, rage, and desperation more hours than they readily admit. If you're one of them, don't ever think you're in a boat by yourself again. I certainly won't.

As for us, we're all still alive and no one has been beaten to a bloody pulp or even threatened with such. In fact, we took the kids to the fair on Sunday. The fair, people! The event Quinn has spent the past year asking about every night at bedtime, the event I underhandedly bribed him with in one of my attempts to convince him that he didn't need his paci. That fair. THE fair.

Despite the fact that Quinn woke up at 5:30 a.m. as he's been doing since we confiscated all the pacis last week, John was determined for the day to go well. After all, he'd been the one at a photo shoot on the receiving end of my desperate call from the soccer field the day before, powerless to do anything but tell me something I already knew: that the only option I had was to physically retrieve Quinn and confine him for Bryce's entire game; I had no one else with me, and I couldn't leave either child unattended. He'd also witnessed the carnage when he'd arrived home and found me handing out snacks and stepping over toys and laundry piles like a zombie, stopping every few steps to rock myself back and forth in the corner, then going back to doing whatever the kids demanded in an attempt to stop the madness, stop the madness, stop the madness. Sunday was a new day, he thought, and what better way to establish some healthy family relationships than to immerse ourselves in the deep fried kitsch of a state fair? Why, there are long lines to stand in! There is sub-par, over-priced, unhealthy food to buy! There are uninspected ferris wheels operated by hungover, jaded people to ride!

The kids did enjoy it, even though Bryce filed a complaint with the Department of Decent Parents because we didn't buy him a blow-up alien. The cotton candy, ice cream, pizza, and carnival rides meant nothing: WHAT ABOUT THAT ALIEN, YOU SELFISH PRICKS? Quinn was tall enough to ride the rides with Bryce this year, and he proved to me once again that he has no concept of either balance or fear. (I'm thinking that combination is going to be pretty dangerous. Also, it somewhat explains his penchant for parental torture.) We stayed long enough that by the time we rolled the double stroller up to the car to head home, we looked down and saw that Quinn had fallen asleep. The last time that happened, he wasn't yet eating solid foods. They both slept in the car all the way home. The last time THAT happened, the world didn't exist.

Yesterday John tried something wacky with Quinn: he praised every remotely correct or decent thing he did.

"Great job walking down the stairs and breathing at the same time, Quinn!"

"Wow, I'm so impressed by your manners. When you said, 'I want milk,' you didn't whine or throw any power tools at me!"

"Thanks for not ripping my hair out of my head when you woke up this morning, Quinn. WOW!"

John had told me he was going to try this, but I'd been skeptical, since Quinn is much smarter than any parenting technique we've ever tried. But when I got home from work last night, the kids were upstairs cleaning up their toys. At dinner, they ate what was on their plates and actually didn't demand something different. Quinn talked about his friends at school and Bryce told us about Columbus and how he asked the King and Queen of Spain for money to sail to the new world to find gold and spices. (Aside: During this conversation, I may or may not have rolled my eyes and made reference to the fact that we all know the names of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, but what the history books don't highlight is the slaughter of the Native Americans and the disease and pestilence that killed off most of the ones that weren't murdered outright. Bryce was too busy talking about gold and spices to hear me, which is probably good for a five-year-old, I'm thinking.) After dinner, Quinn asked to be excused, then created a game called "all of the kisses" which he pronounced "Ahvvalakisses" which involved him pretending to leave the room and then John telling him to come back for one more kiss, Quinn giggling uncontrollably and running back. I gave him a bath and he didn't scream at me about shampoo or water or toys. I put him to bed and he didn't protest or get up and run under his bed after yelling to get my attention.

Wha...?? That worked?

The hardest part about the last year has been the resistance John and I have given with all our might to admitting that Quinn is not "the easy one". We don't HAVE an easy one. We have two challenging kids. And they're not challenging in the same ways; Bryce has very specific needs that we spent three years deciphering, and in that time we became accustomed to the fact that he actually helps us decipher them because he's extremely articulate. Quinn has spent the past three years confounding us with what at first appeared to be an easy-going, content nature, but turned out to be more like a sleeping tasmanian devil. Had we been expecting it, I think we would have reacted more appropriately, and more quickly. But because it woke up in a lightning blaze of fury and swirls, we misunderstood. We grabbed the flying papers and made a mad dash for something solid to hold onto, we thought it was a passing storm and waited for the return of the familiar. As the wind picked up and our muscles started to shake with weakness and fatigue, we saw the mounting chaos and the debris flying around, but we couldn't let go, because what would happen? We'd be giving in to the madness of this unpredictable being, accepting that this is the new reality, the new familiar, adapting to a life of swimming through the twirling unpredictabilities and searching always for the eye and the calm of the storm, this storm, Quinn.

What has happened now, and what was clinched for me in the astounding aftermath of my last post, when many of you told me that we weren't alone or insane or unfit parents, is that we've made the transition from Waiting For The Storm To Pass to Letting Go. What it translates to is finally starting to see the blurry outlines of Quinn's Needs. It translates to a recognition that Quinn's Needs are different from Bryce's Needs, and I don't mean he likes different foods or will take longer to potty train, even though both of those things are true. I mean he needs US in different ways than Bryce ever did. This slapped us both in the face yesterday, when we met our son, the one who thrives on lots of praise and physical touch and emotional reinforcement. Our other son responds to all of this too, of course, like any kid does to some extent - but this new guy, Quinn - he lives and breathes it.

This morning at the gym, the trainer held a bar behind my back while I did lunges. If my front knee went too far forward, my back wouldn't be straight and even with the bar, which would tell me, much to my dismay, that I was doing it wrong. It would also cause searing jolts of red hot pain to emanate from my back knee. "OW! My knee!" My trainer knows my left knee gives me trouble and I think I was hoping he'd release me from the lunge prison, but he didn't say anything other than to tell me to keep my back against the bar. When I finally came close to approximating the correct posture and movement, he removed the bar and I finished my lunges. "How's your knee?" he asked me as I finished. "Wow, you know? When I do the lunges THE RIGHT WAY, it doesn't hurt my knee." I could tell it took all his strength not to roll his eyes as he said, "Imagine that."

I wonder if that's how our tasmanian devil feels as John and I slap our foreheads and scream DUH! after one single day of not holding so staunchly to the furniture and screaming as the debris swirls around us, maybe smoothing his fur as he whirls by us, always getting closer: Yeah, see how things work when you do them the right way? Imagine that.

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