Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Opening myself to Yes

"No, no, no, no!" is a favorite remark of Oliver's. And sometimes it really gets on my nerves. Like when I know he has to pee and I give him the count-down until the potty and still he tries to get out of going. First he tries to slip from my grasp as I reach out to direct him to the bathroom and then it's all: "No, no, no, no!" So I find myself saying: "Oliver, just say 'YES'! Say 'YES' to life!!" I feel very Norman Vincent Peale when I say it but sometimes I really do think 'yes' is the key to life. And what I wouldn't give to hear that little word from my little man.

Saying "YES" to life is something I thought I had learned throughout my twenties. This was absolutely necessary, by the way, because there was a time when I was a real mess: a complete bundle of stress and anxiety. Luckily though I learned a thing or two and now I also have Nik who is my best role-model. His natural ability to accept new challenges, changes and to just generally go with the flow and have fun was one of the things that attacted me to him most. So I'm well into my thirties now and thought I had a pretty good handle on this business of life. But lately I'm wondering if I have closed myself off too much from 'YES' and have retreated to a place where fear of the unknown rules the roost.

I'm afraid of a lot of things these days. I'm afraid that I'm not doing right by Oliver. That I'm not doing enough or the right things or enough of the right things. I'm afraid that I'm not doing everything I can to help Oliver have a happy rest of his life. I'm afraid of how the rest of the world will treat him when he is eventually thrust from our protective arms. And it is too much of looking questioningly, fearfully, into the future that gets in the way of being fully in the now, in this moment and saying 'YES' to what it has to offer. Of letting be, of going with the flow, of having fun.

Here is a real concrete example. Oliver has a few, shall we say, favorite activities that bug the heck out of me. He likes to walk backwards with his eyes closed over the same path in the back yard. He also likes to run while vigorously shaking his head from side to side. And then there is this loud buddhist-monk-like chanting thing that he does frequently throughout the day (and night -- but that is another story). Well, I know that each of these things is useful somehow to Oliver. They provide comfort or help to ground him somehow. Or maybe he just enjoys the way they make him feel. But these are also the very things that cause other children and adults to stop what they are doing and stare. For people to take a second, reappraising, diminishing look at my Oliver. They are things that will serve to isolate him further in the future. And so I find myself shushing and interrupting and redirecting -- so much so that now the "No, no, no, no!" is coming from me.

Acceptance and patience are two parts to saying "Yes!" to the here and now, neither one of which are particular talents of mine. I think this each night when I sit looking at Oliver's sleeping self and tell myself that I have to do better. Because I'm fairly certain that accepting things about Oliver that I find annoying or that I don't understand and instead patiently helping him to acquire the tools he needs to feel secure and to succeed is the right way ahead. But it is hard hard hard for me to remember this sometimes when all I want him to do is stop making that noise because I said so and I'm his mother and I already gently distracted him from it a million times over the past four hours.

Acceptance and patience are two things that Oliver needs from me -- from his family, from all of us. But giving these things to him demands that I stretch and push against myself constantly, all day long. It is hard work this business of changing, of bending, of flexing. But why shouldn't I have some of the hard work? Flexing, bending, changing: isn't this what we demand from Oliver all day every day? We're a team, Oliver and I and Nik and Sam and R.T. And all I can hope for is that each of us rises to these challenges that we never expected to face. That we each say "YES!" and embrace fully what is before us today without undue regard for the unknowable future.

And that, my friends, is my challenge to each of you. May you say "Yes" to the challenges before you today, accept what might be hard or scary or uncomfortable, and go forth with your own little team into the bright future.


  1. Well, I wish I would have read this this morning- before my long day at the science museum. I had some patient moments with Henry, but also some impatient ones...

    You're right- I want my children to be accepting of and patient with me (i.e. understand that I might need a few moments alone in the bathroom...) so I need to give them the same respect.

  2. Lots of Littleman's behaviors over the past five years have bugged me.
    A very wise behavioral therapist told me not to sweat them too much because they suddenly stop and are replaced with often more annoying quirky behaviors. He was right. We have watched Littleman move from not walking over any lines or cracks of any kind on the floor to a high pitched humming when he is intensely involved in a game and is afraid of losing. Its just part of the package I guess and I agree with you that on some level these kids need to engage in these behaviors to stay centered or feel more comfortable.