Monday, January 23, 2012

Full Spectrum Mama - II

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, neurologist or psychiatrist. I am a Ph.D., but in sociology. This is all from my own speculation and observation. So let me explain a bit more about how I think this Full Spectrum makes sense.

One lens through which to observe this spectrum is that of relationships. Those in the “normal” area of this spectrum want to connect and are able to do so, more or less, on a “normal” level and in a more or less “normal” fashion. Those closer to the ends of this spectrum I have devised can seem less interested in connecting, while those somewhat closer to the “normal” center, such as those with mild attachment disorders or Asperger’s syndrome (please note: such labels are only acceptable and useful insofar they serve as tools for us, NEVER weapons) may connect in less-effective ways. Both of my children want very much to connect, but face major challenges in doing so in a healthy and successful fashion.

Z sees and knows everything. Within an instant. She is the ultimate skilled observer. She can read people better than anyone I know and determine pretty quickly what she can get out of them and how far she can push them. She is compelling, convincing...profoundly, brilliantly manipulative. She is always, always up to something or making a plan. One of my best friends calls this her “continual boundary-testing.” Being as she is – have I mentioned this? – incredibly cute, her acolytes are legion.

Figure 1: Z’s Art (at age 6)
Observe the precision and focus of this piece: Is there any doubt that this child will one day be the ruler of the known universe? Or at least that in +/- 6 years she will be demanding to know why I dragged her away from China to this third-world, second-rate country?

She connects, for sure– relentlessly! What she wants includes total attention at all times and possession of all potentially desirable, valuable or edible items in her vicinity. She will do whatever it takes to obtain these items. Why? I think partly because she didn’t get to make the connections she needed in the first year of her life. She self-soothes through control. My job is to set firm boundaries for her so that she feels safe – and can spend her energy on other things!

Figure 2: G’s Art (at age 6)
This is entitled, “The Evil Robot.” Note the friendly smile.

G, having had the luxury of having all his needs met from birth, and being of a naturally unacquisitive nature, is deeply uncalculating. He would give someone he just met his most precious possession. And it is surprising how many people (to be fair, more children than adults) are willing to take a precious possession, when offered with a smile and very detailed description (“This is my dual-deck-super-nature-power-booster-deck! I made it for you with grass- and steel-type Pokemon! The top card has multiple moves to take down all opponents! Especially evolved water-types!”). Eager to make friends, he throws himself into every interaction at the top of his voice and with all conversational options – emphasis on Pokemon and Legos -- on the table. He is almost entirely unable to read social cues that are more subtle than a sledgehammer. So boundaries are equally important for G so that he can act within the bounds of “acceptable” human interaction and actually Be safe.

As I have mentioned, these two, being so different, need two completely different parents in one: a Full Spectrum of parenting. At the same time, and parents of all sorts I know you feel me, it often also seems that each needs the entire parenting capacity of at least one parent just to get through the average day. Luckily, Full Spectrum Mama is occasionally up to this mighty task! Though not always.

For example, picture us at the grocery store. If Full Spectrum Mama’s attention lags from her children a little too long, say, while in the produce aisle dreaming of gourmet meals that are probably not going to happen, the scenario might look like this: here is G, extending his hand and introducing himself to some eye-rolling fellow ten-year old, “Hi! My name is [full name]! I like Pokemon and Legos!” And here is dear little Z, stuffing those gross, orange-flavored Tums into her pocket. See, it looks like candy and Z doesn’t yet read, despite being a total genius. Her considerable mental prowess is mostly devoted to her adorable kindergarten domination project.

I keep a vigilant eye on these two…except when I don’t. Then I see the eye-rolling ten-year old turning around and sneering and mimicking G’s slightly-off cadence to his smirking ten-year old companions. Then Full Spectrum Mama marches over, using incredibly good judgment, and tells those kids they are “Cruel and I hope some day someone treats you like that so you can see how it feels!” Meanwhile G – who, thankfully and let’s admit, characteristically, has not noticed any part of this sordid exchange – has gotten lost an aisle away and is calling, very loudly, “Mamaaaaa!!!!!”

Later, at home, I catch Z with the Tums and, after a lengthy exchange (in which the victor is unclear), get her to fess up. I try to handle it in what seems to be the best way by returning to the store and offering to pay for the Tums with Z in hand. Z, with the most sullen, flat expression imaginable, refuses to speak to the clerk – who, of course, thinks she is just the most adorable girl child ever, which she is -- and throws a marathon tantrum that lasts well into the night.

Well, I needed those Tums anyway!

Full Spectrum Mama

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