Wednesday, October 1

Me: Tree, You: Apple

by: Ajike Akande

We have all heard the expression “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  Have you noticed that the expression is rarely used in a positive way?  It’s never like “Wow, your kid is so funny and brilliant.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!”  It’s more like “Your child talks a lot (read: too much) and is super stubborn.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!”  What is “wrong” with the tree is sometimes “wrong” with the apple.  Nature, nurture or combo of the two - doesn’t matter, sometimes the apple just falls right next to the tree.  We often reap what we sew.  Sometimes we could stand to cut a new pattern before getting our stitch on.    

Our marvelous and “extra” G-dog was recently diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) (why be specific about anxiety, always go for a catch-all) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).  We could have a debate about the problems with diagnosing and labelling kids as well as the degree to which the people who do the diagnosing actually know our kiddos, but that’s a conversation, not a blog post.   Wife and I have chosen to let “the people” assess and diagnose our kiddos because the process and the information gathered may be helpful.  It may also be a waste of time, but hope springs eternal that it will help us, and most importantly, them. 

Assessment and diagnosis doesn’t change our kids or their behaviours except maybe
G-Dog’s. During a public tantrum (the best kind of tantrum), days after meeting with the psychiatrists at our local children’s hospital, when I asked her to speak kindly to me and not hit me, she yelled, with a familiar scrunched up, gritted teeth face, “Didn’t you hear the doctors?  I’m not like you!  I’m a different person!  I’m not like everyone else.  I hit and scream! I’m not like you!”  First of all, G-Dog you are sooooo like me!  Secondly, this scene serves as a reminder of what can happen when assessing, diagnosing and labelling kids – they start to believe their diagnosis is who they are not something that makes life, in many cases, harder and hopefully what provides them with some unique gifts.   

Fortunately, after we received the diagnosis or what I like to think of as the black and white documented reminder that G-Dog is not doing this - the tantrums, the hitting, the rigidity on purpose, she was offered a space in a therapy group for wee ones with anxiety & and difficult behaviour.  By the way, the reminder that she is not doing this on purpose is the most important part of the whole assessment and diagnosis process for me.  Anyway, for 10 weeks anxious kids get together and teach each other new things to be anxious about.  Could you imagine?  In reality the kiddos get together and learn how to manage their anxious thoughts and subsequent behaviour, while the parents learn how to support their kids who just feel things “extra”. 

At our parenting group last week, we were introduced to a temperament rating scale.  We looked at different areas such as sensitivity, adaptability, and approach to new things and had to plot ourselves, our partners and our kids on the scale.  Not surprisingly, we were asked to examine the scale after to see if we could notice any patterns.  You know where I’m going with this don’t you?  In front of me, was a temperament scale confirming that Grace’s behaviour was not her fault; it was mine!  Nurture is powerful but it seems to be that I, through nature, have passed on some of the special traits that make me totally “extra”!

Wife and Grace, are on opposite ends of the scale in every category.  They do not share genetics.  Based on the temperament scale, Grace and I share ALL the genetics!  Me: tree, Grace: apple.  She feels too deeply, I take 295mg of psychiatric drugs a day so I don’t feel too deeply!  She screams with such intensity and volume that it can be very scary.  I’ve worked hard (and succeeded) at not dealing with my anger in that way.  She is good at understanding how others feel and when she feels love, everybody hears about it.  Me too.  I “get” my baby G-Dog and maybe when she’s older she’ll get her mommy too.

Now that it has been brought to my attention that my little apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, I want to write something that one day I will share with her. 

To my G-Dog,

First we have to get something out of the way.  Do you know how much I love you?  You will probably never really know, it’s just so, so, SO much. 

I know you don’t always feel my love for you because you see my angry face, even when I’m not making one.   You don’t always feel my love because you hear my deep sigh, that is about how tired I am or overwhelmed I feel or annoyed I am with the driver in front of me, and think it’s about you.  You don’t feel my love because you listen carefully to every syllable of every word that comes out of my mouth seemingly listening for frustration or anger or flippancy directed towards you.  You do all of these things, so you may not always feel my love.  I used to do the same to my mommy, your nanny.  In fact I sometimes still listen and look for Nanny’s unspoken feelings about me but now I don’t mention it to her, I tell Mama instead!  Mama loves having to debrief my conversations with Nanny; it may be her most favourite thing about living with me! 

The point is, G-Dog, I understand the worry you feel about how much Mama and I love you.  My sweet, you are one of my five favourite imperfect people on this earth.  (The other four are your brothers and sisters.)  I know how much you hate to be wrong, but when it comes to you thinking that I don’t love you as much as I love all the Silverman-Akande small humans, you are wrong kiddo.  Really, really wrong.  I adore you girl.  That’s just the way it is.  Aaannnnd you are imperfect (so am I) so sometimes I gots to lay it down and let you know ‘cuz that’s my job as your mommy.  But I never stop loving you even when I’m angry.

And when you complain about having to leave the house to go anywhere new, especially a party, I know how you’re feeling. I have to fight my urge to just say, “Don’t worry baby, we can stay home and cuddle up on the couch and watch our favourite shows and eat the same things we always we eat, 'cuz we hate change.”  I never want to go to parties and meet new people and eat new food.  When Mama makes me go, or even better, when I make myself go, I often have a really good time. I’ve had to learn to push past the “I don’t want to leave the house” feelings.  I hope I do a good job at showing you that I understand your fear while encouraging you to do what’s hard because I want you to know that you can do hard things. 

Here’s the thing, you are a whole lot of “extra”.  You feel deep, deep, deep.  It’s so wonderful, it can also be hard and exhausting.  You come from a long line of deep feelers.  When feeling so much is hard, know that I am sorry to have given you this burden.  When feeling so much is wonderful, know that I am honoured to have given you this gift. 

We are so much alike, but we are not the same.  You will do with your “extra” self, what you wish to and what you need to.  I hope you do better than I have with all your big feelings because you are learning about them and how they work inside of you as a little one.  Mommy had to grow up and become a lesbian and subsequently go through years of therapy before I started understanding my big feelings. (Seriously G-Dog coming out as a lesbian and then enrolling in therapy was a “thing” in my day.)

G-Dog you are extra.  Extra sweet, extra intense, extra funny, extra stubborn, extra clever, extra curious, extra sensitive and extra, extra special.  As your little sister would say, “I love you twice.”  And as your little brother would say, “I love you this, big much!”

Carry on lil’ warrior.  You can do hard things. 
xo Mommy

* “Carry on warrior” the name of Glennon Melton’s book

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