Showing understanding

I am the mother of a high needs child. You may have guessed that if you’ve read any other post in this blog with the name ‘Wildling’ in it. She is my high needs, super-demanding daughter.

I sometimes think we parents need some kind of secret signal. Not a handshake – if you’re parenting a high needs child, then your hands are probably pretty full already. We need some kind of wink pattern or something, just a signal to let others know we’re in the club too.

Why a signal? So that when Wildling is throwing a tantrum in public and I’m carrying her out of a store assuring people that despite her screams, I am her mother and I am not kidnapping her (seriously, who would kidnap a kid like that anyway?), and you are watching with a bemused expression, I can know that we share a secret connection. You aren’t mocking me or smirking at me, you’re thinking that you’ve been there, you’ve done that, and you understand.

Once, Wildling refused to get out of the car in the pouring rain, not because she didn’t want to be in the rain, but because she wanted to get out a different door. I was standing in a cold rainstorm (and, living in the desert as we do, I don’t own an umbrella), with three-month-old Mellow strapped to my chest, trying really hard to keep the baby dry, and Wildling would not budge. I found myself screaming at her and pointing at the ground “You get out of that car right now!” and she was screaming right back “No! I don’t want to! I don’t want to! I want to go out a different door!” Meanwhile, there was an old couple watching me and shaking their heads. I don’t know what they were thinking – they looked pretty annoyed and judgy. But maybe, just maybe, if we high-needs child parents had a secret signal, maybe they would have flashed it at me and I would have felt better. Maybe they weren’t being judgy. Maybe they were remembering a time when their own child did the same thing to them.

When Wildling was about six months old, I dared to take her to the grocery store by myself. I was wearing her in a carrier and pushing a cart and actually feeling pretty good – she was calm, I was accomplishing something, and for a brief moment I thought things were going to work out. And then she started crying. And screaming. And basically notifying the entire grocery store that she was unhappy and I was unable to fix it.

I tried. I tried nursing her in the carrier, which sometimes worked, but not that time. I tried jiggling her around. I tried speaking in a soothing tone. I tried begging her. Nothing worked. People were passing me in the aisle and giving me dirty looks. I heard (amazing I heard anything over the screams, but I did) people complaining about that girl who couldn’t shut up her damn baby. There was one woman who saved me. She was a grey haired older woman with a nice smile. She came up to me and started talking “How old is your baby, oh they’re so cute at that age, boy or girl, look at her tiny feet, etc etc.” In an instant, I felt better. I don’t know that woman, I don’t know if I would recognize her if I saw her again, but I appreciate her humanity. And I’m sure, if we had a signal to show other parents were part of that special sleepless high needs parenting club, I’m sure she would have flashed it at me.

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