Monday, August 31, 2015

Missed milestones

By Katharine Harrison

When my son Max was a baby and a toddler I cringed and flinched and recoiled when the topic of milestones came up.

Milestones like crawling, walking, jumping, running, drawing, printing. You get the picture.

Contortionist I was—my heart and mind got sore. What did I do? How did I cope? Well I confess that I wept alone (my childhood taught me not to cry out loud). I also did not talk to friends about it as their kids were “typically” developing.

Why spoil their parade, rain on their day? I was taught better manners and not to be selfish. I just pretended to all that “I do not care.” I faked a lot. I faked that I didn’t care. I faked that I was interested in their kids as they learned to walk.

Then one day while sitting on a friend's stoop she said to me “Do you know how hard it is to be your friend? I can’t tell you about xxxxxx’s milestones because Max doesn’t make them.” I went quiet. She kept talking. I kept not listening. I wasn’t in the mood to fake it, but it was a natural thing now. 

I got up and walked away down the street to my home, to my “nest.” When she tried to call me in tears I refused to talk. I just didn’t pick up the phone. When my husband picked it up I wouldn’t take the call. I was numb, hurt and awake. If she had been faking and not sharing her child's milestones—then we were two fakers. An organic friendship based on “fakiness.” I made up that word but hey, it sounds just about right. 

Then after a few days I did pick up the phone when she called and I had a very carefully crafted message for her. Not the “F right off” one I had thought about days before. I simply said “If you feel the need to talk about xxxxxx’s milestones call your mum or one of your sisters.” The unsaid was “Don’t call me as I don’t want to be hurt” and “this milestone business is now officially an off-limits topic for us (don’t worry—we are still friends today and our kids are hitting legal age to drink next spring).

I have buried so much agony regarding missed milestones and patted myself on the back re the great job I did at accepting those losses. I was a hero. SuperMUM! Accepting all things in a single bound. Adjusting my expectations in a single bound. Leading other mums to accept too—in a single bound! Leading by example. Do as I say, not as I do.

But then one day it caught up with me and I realized that I was depressed and somewhat immobilized. It only took 18 years. Yep, you did read that right. So what, you may ask what, brought me to my knees?

It’s like this. Lean in and listen closely. I am a very involved mum with Max—medically, academically and socially—and I am also a very sensitive woman. Damn zodiac calendar (and my parents) had me born a Cancer.

This spring my son seemed down, unusually low as he is typically a very happy lad and very optimistic. You need to know also that Max doesn’t fill dead air. He talks to me about the important things. Okay, well sometimes it is Star Wars, but mostly he does talk about how he feels when he needs reassurance or advice or clarity.

Max said to me that he felt sad that his friends were all going off to college and university. He called himself a “loser.” You see Max is staying back a year to mature. He needs this time to continue his growing up at home in our nest. And he “gets” that he needs it. He will work on his grades and perhaps get a part-time job. He will learn more chores around the house and get out on his own more. Boring stuff but indispensable, too.

When he told me how he was feeling my brain rationalized it and I spoke rationally. Then when I played it over and over again in my mind I GOT it. He was feeling sad and unhappy as he was missing a “milestone.” BINGO. That’s it.

His friends were graduating and leaving home. He was just graduating. My stomach did somersaults. How could I not anticipate that one day the missed milestones “curse” would be passed down to Max? Well I was ill-prepared. I stumbled about in a fog of pain that crept back 18 years. It was like a Pandora’s box had been opened and I thought I had nailed that dreadful thing shut.

So, you may ask, what am I doing about it? I am accepting it as a natural passage in our lives. I am accepting that it’s a real feeling and I am offering the salve to myself and to Max that we need. I am now prepared to say “sorry that you feel blue” when he is down and to say “I am sorry that this has happened to you.”

I know who he is now—he is a confident, absolutely beautiful 18-year-old human being that I am overly proud of. And admitting that he is feeling sad and embracing it will not weaken him or us. It will make us a stronger unit. We understand each other now more fully.

As a mum I didn’t want to think that he ever hurt. Not like I did way back then! Now we have reached that “hurt” milestone and I did survive. He did too. I didn’t tell it to “F off.” I’m patting myself on the back.

Signed superMUM