If I’m right, you’re probably thinking, that my child with additional needs would be the hardest work. I’m also thinking, you’re thinking, that the child with Down Syndrome living in our house, is more than likely to be the child to have the most behavioural problems and frustrations in communicating. Am I right? Well up until a few months ago, I might have agreed with you, but right now, I’m… well I’m not agreeing.
You see, at the moment, my “problem” child is my Alfie. My number two. I should have known from the start that he was the one who potentially might have caused me the most “problems” as from the get go, although he smiled, he’s always had this look about him, like he was trying to solve the problems of the world. I am told he is a typical “middle child”. That’s a thing apparently – middle child syndrome. But I’ll come back to that.
There are some definite comparisons that can be made about my two boys at the moment and it really couldn’t be more obvious how very different they are.
If Oscar doesn’t like the programme on TV, he’ll go looking for the remote. I’ve usually hidden it behind a cushion on the sofa, thinking I’m being cunning, because in an ideal world, I don’t want either Oscar or Alfie to find it. Nine times out of ten, they obviously do find it. Looking at me as if to say: “Mummy, how completely ridiculous, hiding it behind a cushion? As if we’re that stupid. We know exactly what you’re playing at.” So, when he’s fed up with a particular programme, Oscar goes looking for the remote, points it at the TV (as if he’s trying to change the channel) and when he can’t do it, he brings it to me, says “Mum” (e.g. help me, Mum) and then because Alfie is watching his favourite programme, I say to Oscar “Alfie’s turn, then Oscar’s” and most of the time, he’ll smile, accept what I’m saying and either watch the programme with Alfie or busy himself with something else. Then there is the same scenario but the other way round. Alfie’s reaction when Oscar’s watching HIS programme. In contrast, means Alfie will have the mother of all meltdowns. And I’m talking crying, pointing at the remote control, pointing at the TV, screaming, stamping feet, going redder and redder in the face. If this wasn’t such a regular occurrence, I might even laugh at how funny he looks but of course I can’t do that. I’ve tried all tactics – gently explaining that it’s Oscar’s turn, telling him ‘No’ sternly, ignoring his dramatics, turning the TV off completely… You name it, I’ve tried it. And sometimes, this tantrum can go on for the duration of the rest of programme. Until of course, I change the channel and explain, “Now it’s Alfie’s turn”, where he stops almost immediately, sighs with relief and then sits down to watch it. Of course I could save myself the upset and let’s face it, give myself a much easier life by simply putting what he wants on when he asks because Oscar obviously isn’t as passionate about programme choices… but no way. I’m simply not giving in to him. He’s about to turn 2 in a couple of weeks and I’m not giving in to an almost two year old, for goodness sakes. I’m always going to win, buster.
If Oscar wants something to eat, he’ll walk over to me, sign (using makaton) that he’d like something to eat and if it’s too close to dinnertime for example, I explain that soon it’s time for dinner and we must wait and he accepts it and off he goes. Alfie, on the other hand, leads me to the kitchen (usually pointing as he runs), jumps up and down next to the cupboard with the biscuits in and continues shouting/pointing (I should explain that he has a few words but “Please, mummy, I want a biscuit” doesn’t feature in any of his repertoire just yet). When I explain to him that we’re just about to have dinner and that he can’t have a biscuit, again he goes into major meltdown mode. I’m talking mass hysteria. It’s ridiculous. No amount of reasoning can stop it and it can go on and on and on and on…. You get my drift.
So my point here is if Oscar gets upset, usually he will stop crying within a matter of seconds. If he gets annoyed that someone has taken a toy off him for example, he might protest for a minute but then he’ll get over it. Alfie, as I’ve concluded, will not let it go. God forbid someone takes a toy from him, for if they do, we can have a good 10-20 minutes of waterworks.
A few months ago, Alfie and I attended a local music class. Oscar was at nursery for the day and I thought it’d be something nice we could do together as I’m very aware that a lot of my time is taken up with Oscar. We’d been going to this music class for some time and so after the summer break returned to the class. While every other child sat beautifully in a circle next to their mummy, Alfie would keep running for the door and crying. Again no amount of coaxing, encouragement, or bribery worked (please, come and sit down… If you do, mummy will give you a chocolate biscuit afterwards). No. Nothing. When he did join in, after every song, when the teacher took away the instrument/prop he’d have yet another meltdown (keeping in mind that he’s almost two now and it appeared we’d got through that phase ages ago). In short, he made the whole experience hell on earth for him, me, the teacher and probably all the other mums and kids attending the class. I persisted for 4 classes and every week I made my apologies to the teacher and other mums for his behaviour. After 4 classes I decided enough was enough and I was going to speak to the teacher and perhaps suggest we didn’t come anymore as it seemed too distressing for everyone involved. I wrote her an email and explained my feelings… And do you know what? She didn’t even try to dissuade me, she told me I was very perceptive (I said Alfie’s getting distressed and it’s not fair on him and others) and so she said she’d refund my money. It was then I realised, my almost two year old had indirectly been barred from his first ever music class. Mortification.
As a mother you wonder what you’ve done wrong along the way. Have I smothered him and made him extra clingy or have I not shown him enough love and attention?
My fear is that sadly and ashamedly, it’s the latter. I’m guessing that he probably feels a bit pushed out now that Flo’s come along (who for the record, he REALLY doesn’t seem to like)…
I guess he feels he’s no longer my baby – which makes me sad because ultimately they’re all going to be my babies forever more. I’m guessing too that he’s noticed all the attention I give Oscar on a day to day basis, with everything. I’m constantly wanting Oscar to expand his learning and perhaps as life passes us by, I’m not showing as much attention towards little Alfie because let’s face it and no excuse, but things seem to come a lot easier and quicker to Alfie than they do Oscar. There have been a lot of changes recently. A new baby and moving house and perhaps all this is playing a huge part in why he’s acting the way he is.
The other day we collected Oscar from nursery. I had all three kids in the back. On the way home we played the game “Can you say…”. It’s my made up game and it’s really not that fun but Oscar seems to like it. Driving along I say: “Can you say…”, and then it can be any object, person, thing etc. For example “Can you say daddy”. Usually Oscar replies with the sign for it or very occasionally vocalises with the word or as close to it as he can muster. I’m looking for his response in my rear view mirror and if he gets it right, I give him a cheer, which tends to go down well (I know, it’s a rubbish game now that I say it out loud but hey, this kid loves positive reinforcement). Anyway, this particular day we’re tootaling along in the car and I’m asking my “Can you say” questions and as I look in my rear view mirror I see Alfie, signing and saying (he’s big fan of the words duck, daddy and nanny at the moment) every single thing I ask of him. And I mean every single sign… Consistently and a lot quicker than Oscar. I give him cheers as we go along, which is met by a lot of clapping from the two of them, pleased they’re impressing mummy. But as the game comes to an end and I continue driving, I feel a lump in my throat and a tear starts to fall. I had no idea Alfie knew all that. How had I missed this? I had no idea he was able to do all of the things I was asking of him. I felt bad. In that moment I felt like a bad mum. And I know how I’d missed it… I’d been too busy concentrating on Oscar, that’s why. And if I wasn’t concentrating on Oscar, I was concentrating on Flo because at four months old, she REALLY needs me.
For so long I was of the mind-set that having more children after Oscar was the right thing to do. I’m still of the same train of thought but sometimes you wonder if it is fair. Is Alfie’s behaviour just typical of a “normal” two year old who’s getting frustrated because there’s so much he wants to say but just can’t quite get all his words out or is he trying to tell me that I’m not giving him enough attention and that sometimes he needs me more than the other two? Is it me doing this to him?
I’m pretty sure it’s a phase and like all the other phases, it will pass. But I guess as a parent you always feel like you could do more. Spend more time with your kids, focus on them more instead of doing the day to day mundane jobs that need doing. I’ve said it before now but prior to having kids I’d look at other people with children or watch that Supernanny programme and think to myself, when I have kids, I’m totally going to have it all sussed. I’m not going to do this or do that. I’m not going to let them get away with this or that… but the reality is, sometimes this parenting role is a lot harder than I first thought. It’s probably one of the hardest jobs to get right. I figure everyone makes mistakes. I’m learning every day and just trying desperately to figure all this out as I go along.
And maybe it comes back to the middle child thing. Chris, my husband, is a middle child and his family all openly admit that he was (and probably still is) a bit odd. And I’m one of three girls and Clare, the middle child, well yeah, she’s a little nuts too (Love you Clogs). Maybe it IS the whole middle child syndrome just as I was told. Who knows?!
So yeah, my kid with additional needs? A walk in the park compared to my defiant, strong willed 2 year old. Oscar obviously has his moments too (we know he’s no stranger to being a monkey) But who’d have thought Alfie would actually be harder work??? And don’t get me wrong, he does have good bits too. He’s a bright, funny, happy, affectionate little boy that we all love very much, so it’s not all bad. Oh and I’m acutely aware, as people keep reminding me, that my beautiful angel faced, baby girl, who at the moment is the least work out of all of them put together, one day WILL grow up. Then I’m in for a whole heap of trouble of the other variety. Hormones, mood swings, obsessing over boys and the latest trends. In short, I’m in for a rocky ride.
And my message this Monday morning to all those out there dealing with any of these “phases” any one of their kids are going through, repeat after me: “It’s just a phase, It’s just a phase, It’s JUST a phase”. It too shall pass… and if in doubt? Pour yourself a wine and grab a bag of Galaxy Minstrels, we’ll figure it out eventually.