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On Acceptance and Optimism

When our daughter was born, she was born too fast. I know, most moms worry about the types that are born too slow! Our son was like that. He wasn’t quite sure he was ready to face the world yet, and so we waited, and waited…

Our daughter, on the other hand, hardly made it to the hospital. Our son was the one who made me think home birth was an impossibility. Our daughter made it clear how possible it is… she almost happened on the bathroom floor!

The problem with babies who come out too fast, like c-section babies, is that they don’t get squeezed for very long, and they arrive with lungs filled with fluid. Our daughter was beautiful and healthy and then spent two days in the neo-natal intensive care unit hitched up to machines.

After two days, our pediatrician sent us home with a warning: Don’t Get Sick. We found out that winter that washing hands actually does work.

The most memorable thing about this episode is its finale: I think it was at one of her early Well Child appointments. Our pediatrician is not only a doctor, but a student of human nature. And what he said to us was so important: “A lot of parents come out of an experience like this thinking of their child as “sick.” I want you to know that your child is healthy. She is very healthy and well, and that’s how you should think of her.”

That was the best advice we got. It was like a license to be happy.

Recently I was conversing with a mom of a child who is now in his double digits. I have only known him for a number of months, but to me he seemed like a happy, healthy, “normal” child. His mom revealed to me that his preschool years were terribly stressful, with occupational therapy for his sensory integration problems, and fear that he’d never be able to adjust to school. His mom (oh, this sounds so familiar!) was required to “shadow” him at school. He was difficult and uncontrollable by teachers.

I know that Dear Abby says that regifting is tacky, but I give this mom the gift that was given to me by our pediatrician: “A lot of parents come out of an experience like this thinking of their child as “abnormal.” I want you to know that your child is fine. He is happy and normal, and that’s how you should think of him.”

How many adults have I known who still carry the pains of childhood in them? I knew a woman whose father died when she was a child. She was still trying to win his approval, and somehow it was never possible. I knew a man who let down his coach for reasons that he had no control over. He still thought of himself as a failure. I knew of a man who couldn’t bring himself to accept his new girlfriend’s child because of what his ex-wife did to him. And on and on.

I pretty much reject most of what Freud came up with. Penis envy is something only a man would invent! But he did usher in a new age, an age of self-consciousness. As never before, humans started to wonder about their feelings, their relationships, where it came from, where it led to.

But I wonder how far we’ve come. Can we see outside of ourselves? I’m not sure if we will ever be able to.

But in raising our children, people I know seem to be able to make, at least partially, conscious choices. We consciously chose to view our daughter as healthy, and it worked. It was a lesson that’s had lasting meaning to me. I am a critic and a cynic by nature and training; I have had to retrain for parenting, a job that requires acceptance and optimism if it’s to be done well.

I’m trying to do it well; I think most of us are.

Hats off to you other parents who have made it out of the maze. When you tell someone about your child’s early years and they are surprised, congratulate yourself. You did it. You believed that your child could rise above the challenges, and he did.

And so did you.

Posted in Parenting.

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