by Allison Langer
I sit staring at Lina, Sloan’s new therapist. “He’s seven and he’s killing me,” I say.
I tell Lina, “Sloan was always hungry. He drained both my breasts and screamed for more. He was the master of busting out of a swaddle. At four months, he got a respiratory infection and needed antibiotics nebulized twice a day for forty-five minutes. At eighteen months, he fell walking into the house and received six stitches just above his eyebrow. In preschool, he put a hotdog down a girl’s pants, kicked his teacher and spat on the director.
“This week in first grade, the talking and pushing got so bad that Sloan’s teacher took away his playground time then moved him to a desk in the corner. At home, anything can set him off on a screaming, throwing, cussing fit: a tag that touches his skin, a drawing gone wrong, or a frustrating math problem. Homework is a disaster. He chews his shirts and pencils and cannot sit for longer than ten seconds. Sloan loves to eat, but according to Sloan, nothing is ever cooked right, tastes right or is hot enough. He makes piles with the taco meat then drops the piles into a water glass to see if the meat will float or sink. The plate and the water end up on the floor, a mess he refuses to clean up. I scream at him. Send him to his room and follow behind, spitting my words with rage, ‘Clean up your fucking mess! You’re acting like an asshole.’ Why does he have to be so difficult? I know I get out of control.”
I wonder what Lina is writing down. This mother has lost her shit. This lady will be an annuity.
I tell Lina that Sloan is crazy. He’s erratic, has outbursts and a violent temper. He has zero control! I tell her about the trampoline. Sloan’s sister, Blake, was on the tramp with us. He was pissed because he wanted me to himself. So, when the game of trampoline chase didn’t go exactly as he thought it should, he began calling us cheaters. Blake and I left. He started screaming, “I hate you! I hate you, you fuckers. You fucking cheaters. I am going to kill you.”
Days later, he tells me that he doesn’t really hate me and that he doesn’t want to kill me anymore. I believe him. I tell him I know he said those things because he was mad. “Like when you called me an ungrateful little piece of shit?” he asks.
“Yeah, like that.”
I really want Lina to suggest some ADHD meds that will fix my son and our family. But she doesn’t.
Instead Lina tells me that kids like Sloan are really tough, that I am doing a great job, that I can tell her anything and she won’t judge me.
So, I tell her, “Sometimes I wish I’d never had him.”
Lina asks about my other kids. I tell her that Jackson was two years old when Blake and Maclain were born: identical twin girls. Cute and hellish. So much harder than I thought.
When the twins were sixteen months old, their pediatrician told me Maclain’s heavy breathing and difficulty swallowing food was because she had a ring around her esophagus. An operation to snip the ring was scheduled but a week prior to the surgery, Maclain choked on a French fry and died.
When I got pregnant with Sloan, I was forty-one years old and only eight months into the grief. A baby would fill the hole in my body and in our home. Lina says, “Wow, that’s a lot to put on a child.”
Lina looks into my eyes. I feel her trying to gauge how her words hit me.
My eyes well up. I stare at Lina.
I wonder if my mom ever sat in a therapist chair and complained about me. I was not a nice daughter. I didn’t like being told what to do. When asked to clean my room, I refused. I didn’t care if I lost my dessert or my TV time. I rationalized that dessert would only make me fat and that I’d rather read a book than watch TV, exactly what Sloan says to me.
Also, like Sloan, when I was asked to get ready for school, I dawdled. “You are going to miss the bus.” My mom would scream. “Your brother is ready and I only had to ask him one time. Why do you always have to be so difficult?” I imitated her mean look while repeating her words under my breath. Behind my bedroom door, I listened to her rant on and on about how if I would just listen.
As I got older, we continued to fight. She felt that I would be better off if I wore her clothes, studied more, hung out with her friends, and ate vegan. I didn’t. She told me that I was nothing like the little girl she’d wished for. Like the little girl she was to her mom: kind and adoring. Our arguments always ended with her screaming, “I hope you have a child just like you!”
I think, well mom, you got your wish. Lina hands me a tissue. She repeats, “That’s a lot to put on a child, especially one like Sloan.” Lina explains that Sloan might have sensory and executive functioning issues, proprioception dysfunction, or mild autism.
I barely know what any of those things mean, but still, I am relieved.
I’m not a bad mother, I have a child with special needs.
In the car on the way home, I calculate the cost of Lina every week, therapy for his proprioception dysfunction and sensory issues, karate for his self-control, run club for his energy and someone to help drive him around while I cook dinner and drive to golf and gymnastics. The total monthly cost is $1660. That’s $19,920 a year. How am I supposed to afford that? The next day, I found Kirk Martin’s website offering help to parents of children with ADHD for only $150 a download. That’s less than one visit to Lina. I downloaded.
Then, I power-listened for two days. Kirk described my son. He described me. He described the struggle: we react, lose our shit, and take away privileges. Children feel like they cannot do anything right, end up with low self-esteem, and become angry and violent. Most parent/child relationships never recover. Kirk, like Lina, recommends that parents start by controlling themselves, staying as calm as possible, not reacting.
So, last night, after asking Sloan to brush his teeth and get ready for bed, I let him dawdle. When I saw him slither to his room, on the floor, pretending to be a snake, I let him. I felt my heart rate speed up, but I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Then I calmly walked in and kissed him goodnight.
Allison Langer is a Miami native. She graduated from the University of Georgia and has an MBA from the University of Miami. She travelled the States taking pictures for fun before landing in Telluride where she worked for the brilliant ski photographer TR Youngstrom. Allison moved back to Miami in 2000 to launch her own photography business which she still actively runs today. She is a single mom to three children, ages 8, 10 and 12. She also teaches memoir writing in prison and has been published in Mutha Magazine, Scary Mommy, Ravishly, SHE’SAID’, 50GS and The Washington Post. Allison’s stories and her voice can be heard on Writing Class Radio, a podcast she co-produces.