Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Taking My Own Medicine

Look at that eye contact!
I have a friend who is a fellow blogger and we have a lot in common.  We're both the same age, both American and Israeli, both worked (at least for a time) in the field of law both had children relatively later in life, both are working mothers trying to have and balance it all and we both are experiencing children with developmental problems.  We used to work together in Israel for a short period of time and became friendly but it has not been until Facebook and our mutual blogging admiration society that our similarities have really come to light.

Recently we have been, through our blogs talking a lot about our kids and what their problems are and what they go through.  She has two kids, each with different types of issues and she is curious about Maya and I am curious about her kids.   I can't speak for her, but for me it has been so nice having someone else (even if it is only in cyberspace) who knows me and with whom I can share my experiences with.  In some way it keeps me grounded to be able to share my experiences and read about hers and I really do look forward to her blog posts and comments very much.

Lately, she has been kind of going through a lot with her daughter.  I am not going to go into specifics since it is not my story to tell, but she bravely is very open about it on her own blog called Zendette.   She is trying to understand exactly what is going on with her daughter, she is trying to help her, to find a diagnosis, to find therapists and is kind of going back and forth.  I know, because I have been there, at that stage that you realize something is wrong, not sure what it is and are in a pattern of thinking this is the answer, no that is the answer, no this is the answer.  It's hard.

Recently I mentioned to her that I thought she should slow down.  She will not solve everything overnight and I really do think that when your kids are having problems it is so important to just take each day as it comes, understand that you will have good days and bad days and show a lot of praise to your children when they make even the smallest  accomplishment.  For Maya our building her confidence by telling her that she makes us proud when she does something which is challenging her in a good way and by telling her so many times that she is a good girl, that she makes us feel proud of her and that we know she can do things has really done a lot for her.  For all that my Maya is or isn't, she is a child that has a good image of herself and I refuse to believe that this isn't helping her to move forward in her development.

I think as a parent you never stop questioning if what choices you make for their kids are the right ones.  How will those choices shape the people your children are going to be?  When your kids have problems you do that but even more so.  Everytime for instance that I am at a birthday party with other children, I see all the stuff that Maya cannot do, or cannot do yet and while I try to see things in perspective there is always some sadness there, the not knowing if Maya will or can.  Will she turn out like other children?  Even though she cannot do some of the other things that other children do now, will she eventually catch up?  Will she learn to read, to write, to play a board game without causing frustration, will she be able to get a job, support herself, raise children?  All those things swim through your head and as much as you try to focus on the here and now, that stuff creeps in.  I do think that while I love to see Maya with other children having a good time, that sometimes I avoid it just to keep those questions from coming in front of my mind.

So, today I spent the day first at my office's Sinterklaas party.  I won't go into Sinterklaas here, although it is a fascinating (in a totally weird way) holiday and is really worth a post in itself (to ready more about it click here).  It is our office's annual childrens' party and I always have mixed feelings about going.  The party is kind of divided in two parts, the first part is a kind of entertainment segment where they bring some sort of entertainment for the kids (two years ago a magician, last year some kind of dancer/Simon says kind of person) and the second part is when Sinterklaas arrives and the children can sing songs to him or tell him a story and then get a present from him.  We have gone to the party since Maya was 1 year old.  As you can imagine I am not so into the Dutch traditions and so I feel like Maya should partake in this one.  Actually until this year I don't think she has had any real understanding of it.  This is the first year where she has been into the whole Sinterklaas and the weeks of buildup until the actual holiday on 5 December.  This is the first year where I can see she believes it.  It's really sweet to see that.

So the activity was a sort of small fair, where there were different stations (fishing for ducks, knocking cans over, a merry go round, hitting rubber frogs with a hammer to make them jump, etc.  I must say this was much easier, as it was not one group activity but your child could go around with or without their parents to do each activity. It was really good fun and Maya had a great time.  

The second part of the party is when Sinterklaas makes his entrance.  By then the kids are usually overstimulated, hopped up on chocolate, chocolate milk, marshmallows and apple juice, so you can imagine what a good time it is when a selection of these kids go to Sinterklaas and sing a song or tell him a story (it is Holland, man, you have to work for your present, not like in America where you just sit on his lap and tell him what you want).  Anyway Maya never wants to go to him in front of everyone, and of course I never make her.

Anyway my mixed feelings from the party come from that it is always so clear to me at this party that Maya is well behind her peers.  The children's activity usually involves some kind of group singing or dancing or jumping around and Maya has such a hard time in those situations.  She is reluctant to be with the group of kids and has often not understood what she is supposed to do and while the other kids are playing the games, Maya is often sitting or standing frozen or kind of looking into space, not comprehending what is going on.  So at the party there is always at least a few moments where I am on the verge of tears, for all that Maya can't do and then comes the worry about what she might never do.  So,  although I feel these event are important for her to participate in, I dread them at the same time because they bring my deepest fears for Maya close to the surface.

This year was no different.  Although imperceptible to others perhaps, I see my daughter struggling to focus on what is going on and to make sense of it all.  At one point all the kids got up to sing a song which was repetitive and you were supposed to do a simple hand routine with the song, changing the motions from patting your knees to waving your hands and making a circle above your heads at different intervals of the song.  Maya so badly wanted to go with the other kids and I encouraged her to go but then she was near tears when she couldn't do the hand routine and keep up with the song.  I quickly joined her and tried to encourage her to try it, but she was kind of frozen but told me "mommy, I really want to do it", so I squatted down and took her hands and made the motions for her.  I tried to see after a couple of times if she could pick it up herself but she couldn't, so I continued to make the motions for her.  These moments are always so difficult for me, because they are so much more than a silly song for me, they are a reality check.  It's supposed to be a party, not a reality check dammit!

These parties always leave me feeling sad and worried and scared for where Maya is and where she will be able to get in her life.  In the evening after we arrived home (we went to another party straight after this one), I wanted nothing more than to get into my pajamas, get into bed and flake out with a movie.  Of course my thoughts kept coming back to Maya and the party.  But then I started to think about this friend of mine in Israel.  She is also worried for her kids and trying to find out everything she can about their situation and how she can help them.  I recently commented on one of her blog posts which was about consequences for her daughter, I went off into a discussion about praise and how with Maya often praising her made more inroads with her than punishing her.  Praising what Maya does well I believe has built her confidence and is largely responsible for how far she has come.  In thinking about my friend and her blog post, I also thought that that there is a lesson in there for me too.    I started reflecting back on the party and started, instead of focusing on what she was not able to do and my sadness over it, I started thinking about all the things she did well during the party and how far she has come since last year.  For instance:

  • Maya waited her turn at the fair to play the different games without tears, whining tantrums or drama.
  • Maya was willing to go outside and listen to the band my office hired, even though she doesn't like loud noises.  I told her she didn't have to, but she said, "I want to try mommy, and if it is too loud, I will tell you and we can come back inside."
  • Maya listened to us and didn't run away from us even one time.
  • Maya stood in the lobby of my office and waited for Sinterklaas to come inside with the other kids.
  • Maya sang the Sinterklaas songs, albeit very quietly, but I could see the words coming from her lips.  In previous years she would bury her head in my or Leo's shoulder.
  • Maya stood with the other kids to do the song and the hand routine I described and she really wanted to do it, even though she wasn't able to keep up with the others, she didn't give up, she just asked for help.
  • Maya waited patiently for her name to be called to get her gift, and went up and got it herself.  In previous years she would cry or whine or run around and not even hear her name and I would pick up her gift.
  • Maya waited for Sinterklaas when she was leaving and when he came to her, she shook his hand and looked him in the eye.
  • At the end of the party after Sinterklaas left, the band stayed and played songs and everyone was dancing with their kids.  Maya stayed there in the front of the group, without flinching and sang and danced.  
These may not seem like much, but for her these are huge steps forward.  This is a good lesson for me too,  I should also focus more on what she can do and when I feel sad and worried remember how she is really making progress every single day.  


  1. Loved the post, so proud of Maya. Hope you have a wonderful Sinter klaas.

  2. Congrats to you and Maya for making it through the party. Sounds like she enjoyed it more than you did.
    Thank you for the nice thoughts and words about my blog. Interesting how the Internet has changed relationships. I became very close with several women I met on an IVF online group. I've been in contact with some of them for more than 7 years. I've met several IRL.
    Maybe women just bond better verbally, and from a distance, LOL.

    Interesting that all of the challenges you listed that Maya succeeded in overcoming at the party are so similar to K's own list....seems like they both have the same difficulty in managing frustration. For all that I write about K, it's actually the little guy who I think may end up with more serious delays.
    How do you and Maya do on eye contact? I think it's a very underrated issue, but for us, eye contact tricks and games help us bond on a deeper level, or so it seems.

  3. @Commuter, thanks for your loyal readership and your kind words. @Lita, we always seem to discover a lot of similarities between Karen and Maya, it would be great if one day, they could actually meet. Maya has gotten better with eye contact over the past couple of years but it is not something which comes all that naturally to her. She doesn't have that autistic 'look'that some kids have, with her eyes fixated on some spot, so sometimes people don't notice her (lack of) eye contact. Most of the time she aims her eyes at the cheek or chin of the person she is talking to and if it is someone new than she tends to look at the floor. That is why it was so remarkable that she just looked Sinterklaas in the eye, a year ago that NEVER would have happened!