Last night, I was visiting Conor on the unit, standing in the corner before we sat down for dinner. His Clinical Assistant walked him down the long hall to help him wash his hands.
I watched Conor and his 1:1 walk back down the hall, holding hands. He looked happy.
The next thing I knew, another Clinical Assistant skipped up behind Conor, threw her arms around his neck, put her head down to his and gave him the biggest hug. He beamed when he looked up and saw the pretty girl who had given him the unexpected affection. (Oh, how he loves the ladies, my little Romeo.)
It always amazes me when the people working with Conor demonstrate how much they like my guy. I mean, I love him, I'm his mom after all. But the people who see Conor's behavior at its worst? Even his psychiatrist, after watching Conor tantrum endlessly on the unit at Sheppard Pratt, told me how lovable Conor is.
Lovable, you say? Did you not just see the tantrum?
Maybe it's because I focus more on the poor behavior, not the nice behavior. But the nice behavior is quiet, warm, and cuddly, it doesn't call attention to itself. The bad behavior is loud, chaotic, demands your attention and my shame.
I can hear my mother's voice now. "You focus too much on the negative, Alisa. You need to look at the positive."
Easy to say, not so easy to do when the negative is so huge and overwhelming. Difficult.
You know, I could make a list thirty deep about the wonderful things about my child. He’s funny. He’s affectionate. He likes to bounce balls and swims like a fish. His taste in music is awesome. He plays Trouble and Uno, and stands still when I put on the sunscreen. (His typical brother, not so quiet with the sunscreen application I have to say.)
I just can't help myself, though. Maybe it’s a character defect. Maybe it’s just stress or my anxiety. Maybe it's because Conor isn't my job... he's my son. It hurts me to see him act this way. There's no emotional distance.
And, at the end of the day, even with that list of thirty wonderful things about Conor, it’s the list of challenges that simply consume me. I’m not up all night worrying about all the wonderful things. I’m thinking about these tantrums.
Because when he’s grown, when he’s 160lbs and 5”8’, when he’s no longer guaranteed an educational setting because he’s 21, when Jim and I are old and feeble and infirm, it’s these behaviors (or the lack of them) that will determine if he’ll ever hold a job, if he can live in a less restrictive setting or even at home with us, if he can travel or go to the grocery store.
If we can't control these behaviors, his world will get smaller and smaller and smaller. That's not what I want for him.
So I hope that you can forgive me, my focus on the negative with my son.
Because if I can’t help him learn how to behave appropriately, I would feel as if I failed him. And all the affection, all the great taste in music, all the sunscreen application in the world might not help him in the end.
I’d like to think I’m not focusing on the negative. I tell myself that I’m trying to focus on his future.
But, then again, maybe I’m just making excuses for myself.