Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Control Issues-- We All Have Them

I am learning from motherhood that most of life is about managing the craziness that is taking place around you.  The rest of life is about ignoring the crap that is bothersome if  it is something you can't change.  I don't think realized this before I had kids.

Before kids, I just lived.  I liked organization and predictability to a certain degree, but I could haphazardly make decisions throughout the day, reacting to life as it came toward me.  I could do things on a whim and I never had to worry much about the repercussions of my actions, because they really only affected me.  I was never wild and crazy much, but I was freer-- quicker to let loose and change my mind.  I could handle surprises fairly well, and although I was never fond of them, I could roll with the punches.

Add kids to the equation.  Kids took my fondness for organization and predictability to a whole new level.  Now, I HATE surprises.  DO NOT MESS WITH MY PLAN!  My life is so full of drama and histrionics on a daily basis that I just don't like "avoidable surprises".  To me, avoidable surprises are those things that would have never happened if I (or my husband) had just planned better.  Or resisted the urge to be spontaneous.  For those out there with less than flexible kids, you know that spontaneous is the euphemistic word for "stupid stupid stupid".  A life with kids requires management skills.

Management skills are probably the most important tools in any parent's tool belt, but they are especially important if your kids are on the spectrum.  You can bet your bottom dollar that if you meet an autism mom that is cool, calm and collected (without the use of medications or excessive amounts of booze), she has exquisite organizational and management skills.  That mom has planned for every possible eventuality that could lead to a meltdown with her child and, therefore, she can feel confident she is prepared for the worst.  If the worst does happen and her child has come up with some wonderfully new, unprecedented way to set off a meltdown, that calm mama can think on her feet and put out fires like no one you have ever seen-- thanks to her management skills control issues preparedness.

Witnessing an autism mom successfully avert a meltdown is much like watching MacGyver save the world using only a stick of gum, a paper clip, and the lint in his pocket.  You just cannot believe what you are seeing!  For example, when Princess was a toddler, I could often avert her meltdowns simply by letting her carry my purse.  For Birdie emergencies, I had a tiny green stone that I carried in my pocket.  When she would begin to lose her goop, I would hand her the stone and she was instantly mesmerized by the pretty rock-- fit over.  These solutions made me look like a shaman or some other magic weaver (and probably made my kids seem even weirder to the general population).  Really, though, these solutions were the result of knowing what made my kids focus and having them on hand when meltdowns happened.  Control issues are a mom's best friend at times like these.

Even though my control issues are my best friends, Birdie and Princess's control issues are the things my nightmares are made of.  My kids try to control things in their environment to create known sources of certainty, since people can't be counted on for this consistency.  The result of this effort usually really sucks for me.

MY purse, dang it!
Birdie's control issues tend to be about ownership of things and space.  She is very concerned about her stuff and where she keeps it.  The rules of touching and using and looking at her things can be very strict with people she doesn't know or trust.  They are pretty darn stringent with those she does trust.  She is very big on defining things as "mine, not yours" and always wants to know if you "asked for permission to mess with" her stuff.  This is obviously a loaded question.  I think Birdie would literally pee on her stuff, like a dog, to prevent others from messing with what's hers.  (Fortunately, most of the things Birdie guards the closest is pretty gross and others don't want her to share anyway.)  As control issues go, though, this territorial attitude of Birdie's is fairly minor most of the time, and luckily, easy to address.  She may not like to admit it, but when you ask her if any harm is really being done by sharing, she knows she's being a little ridiculous.

If only Princess's control issues could be so simple to address...

Princess's control issues are about things being "perfect" and "even".  More than that, her issues are about controlling me.  When Princess was about three, she started getting me up in the middle of the night to escort her to the bathroom, mainly so I could tuck her in afterward.  After months of 2-3 nightly interruptions, I finally couldn't take it anymore.  I told P that I knew she could go to the bathroom without waking me up first to go with her.  That night, Princess went to the bathroom without me.  She then ran down the hall, woke me, and let me know that she "just went potty without waking Mommy first."  Damn semantics get me every time with these kids. 

Princess's after-potty tuck-ins morphed into a hideous obsession with having her covers "even".  OMG!  She wanted them to look even and feel even.  This meant the same amount of fabric needed to be draped over the edge of her mattress on all sides to make her happy.  If she awoke to the blankets out of kilter, she would wake me (and the entire house, if I didn't hurry) to fix them.  We tried tucking, strapping and pinning the blankets in place on the mattress, all of which worked only temporarily.  P was so obsessive about the covers being even that she wouldn't be able to fall asleep until they were "just right" and would then lay board-stiff to prevent the covers from moving.  I was roused from bed so frequently by Ms. Hospital Corners, that often I could autopilot my way down the hall, not waking up until I was nearly in her room.  I thought I would lose my mind with exhaustion and frustration.  My husband finally had the brilliant idea to take the blankets off Princess's bed each time she woke me to fix her covers.  In their place, we put a sleeping bag on the bed.  Thankfully, after two weeks of this craziness, Princess decided "uneven" is better than the alternative.  For the past month now, I have only had to get up a couple times a week to put the blankets back on Princess during the night.

Pirate Princess
The new battle for control between Princess and I is over her daily eyepatch.  (Princess wears an eyepatch over one eye for 2 hours every day in lieu of wearing glasses full time.  I can't even imagine the pain glasses would be!)  Now, instead of her bedcovers being even, I get to hear about how her eyepatch is "not in the perfect spot."  We reapply the patch to her eye several times before getting it right.  For nearly 2 years, P has been wearing the daily eyepatch, but it is only in the last 2 weeks that I have become incapable of getting it in the right spot.  Hmmm...

So, as you can see, we all have some control issues.  I have never met a single person in this world that wasn't a little obsessive about something.  Very few people, however, have made control issues an artform as we have here on the Crazy Train.  I personally don't see anything wrong with my management skills/ control issues-- they come in very handy when handling the control issues of my children.  My darling ladies-- now they are the ones with the problem.

Am I the only mommy having power struggles with my kids?  Please, say it ain't so.  Surely something about my little corner of the world is "normal"...

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