Guest Blogger Post

Posted on July 18, 2016

I’m not one of those people. You know the people I’m talking about and you may even be one yourself. The, “Can I speak to your manager?” people; the “everything is not ok,” people; the—god help us—“no, I won’t lower my voice,” people. I’m not necessarily saying there’s something wrong with them, but there is a distinctly uneasy feeling I get when confronted by one of these people. [1] My fellow Type-B folks are also familiar with this feeling: the sweaty, kind of first-date, feeling without all the fun parts; the not-sure-where-to-look searching gaze, with which you find yourself marveling at a houseplant leaf, or the price tag for some strange cooking appliance that you’d have to attend culinary school in order to know how to use, or searching for shapes in the acned surface of a popcorn ceiling. Frankly it’s a terrible feeling and the whole world seems to breathe a sigh of relief when any such incident is over, and yet you’re still left with a compound of emotions, because while you always seem to empathize with the one getting berated, it’s always with a touch of jealousy for the one doing the berating. In the end, they generally get what they wanted, or are given something in return for their trouble, and deep down in your still somewhat quivering guts, you realize that even though that’s what it takes to get what you want, it is almost insurmountably difficult to act in such a way if you don’t have that particular gene tucked away within the folds of your DNA; in short: if you’ve got it, you’ve got it; if you don’t, you don’t.

I don’t have it. Landis, my son, does.

These things start off simply and innocently enough, and it always seems to begin with the word, “no.” Spoken with a multitude of pitches, volumes, and inflections, and accompanied by all manner of hand gestures and body language, this one word can become a defining characteristic not only of a child’s personality, but also a parent’s adopted style.[2] If one considers themselves an indulgent parent, the number of “no’s” per day can easily end up turning one to the more authoritarian side of things. While most parents, and grandparents, and non-parents, and, pretty much everyone, really, are quick to dismiss these constant and unvarying monosyllabic outbursts as “phases,” or “just being at that age”[3], I submit there is a point at which the “no,” becomes part of who that child is. Or, put better, the type of No, is what really defines a person.

When I say, “No,” most times[4] it comes wrapped in an apology, either spoken or not. The squinted eyes, upturned lips, wrinkled nose type of, “no,” that isn’t so much stated as allowed to eke through my teeth. When Landis says no, it’s firm and direct. There’s no mistaking what it is. As a parent this can be a difficult thing to come up against. The authoritarian parent in me demands obedience; the indulgent parent in me attempts to let him have his say. I grew up in a time when children were still popped in the mouth for speaking rudely or out of turn, and hauled off to bathrooms to come back bleary-eyed and sore in the backside for having perpetrated particularly grievous offenses. And while these are things I will simply never do to Landis, there is the still the knee-jerk reaction to lash out and demand that he conform to my rules for no better reason than I am the parent. This is a constant battle, waged pretty much daily between my ears, and fueled by the older generation’s constant and heirloom type possession of the mantra of “kids these days”, as well as my own very real observations of “kids these days.” The one part of me says that what made me what I am today— a respectful, polite, and generally responsible human being—is due to my strict military up-bringing. [5] The other part of me–after a few years of therapy, reflection, and self-study—has come up with the same thought, only from a different angle. What made me what I am today—an easily cowed, too quick to agree, people-pleaser—might just be due to my strict up-bringing.

What if my previous statement is incorrect and we’ve all got it? Or, at least, were all born with it in one way or another? What if that spark of rebellion, of defiance, that essential and Platonic, “No,” was right there all along, and the circumstances by which we were raised either kindled it or smothered it? What if, given the right environment growing up, I could be one of those people who send back their plate? Who demands a manager when a refund is denied by an associate? Who tells a school that the needs of my child will absolutely be met, because not only does he deserve it, but that it’s his right? And what if, by my choices as a parent, I am directly contributing to Landis’ ability to do that for himself?

Landis was born with Spina Bifida[6] and because of this requires care above and beyond the typical child. Unfortunately, because the world is not necessarily built with handicapped or disabled people at the forefront of thought, the population into which he’s been born is one that is largely marginalized[7]. This realization seems to become clearer the older he gets.  As he grows and his needs become more specific and complex, it will not only be up to me and my wife as his parents, but also up to him, to ensure that he gets everything he needs in order to survive and to thrive. He will need his “No,” in order to get that.

In the last year or so my wife and I have come to the understanding  that Landis may be considered by some to be a “difficult,” child. He’s outspoken about his opinions, will absolutely tell you when he’s dissatisfied, and is not easily talked into things. However, we have also come to the understanding that that type of ferocity, the indignation that drives a person to put their foot down and demand what they want is indispensable, and for Landis, I think, it should be considered an asset. And while the difficulties as he grows older of raising a stubborn and mutinous child are very real and will probably only get more intense, they are far outweighed by how those same traits can and may help him to become the best human being that he can possibly be. And while I’d prefer a few less “No’s” and a few more “I love you, Daddy, you’re the absolute best and Mommy is bringing home Chinese food, and can I just sit here and snuggle with you the rest of the night?”; for Landis to become his own person, a real person, is all I can truly ask for.

[1] Or, for that matter watching someone being confronted by one of these people. And really just generally being in the general vicinity of these people when they really get to going.

[2] With the advent of 21st century research and developmental psychology, the typology of parenting styles has becomes as much a part of pop culture as it has serious discourse (just google “Helicopter Parenting” for one example). Internet memes aside, however, it is a topic of important self-study and parents can find themselves losing hours taking quizzes and researching different types, which range from the rigidly scientific: “Propagative Parenting/Concerted Cultivation”; to the decidedly not, a la “Dolphin Parenting.” Have fun with that one.

[3] I’ve heard “that age” can go all the way to a child’s mid-20’s. Older parents are more than welcome to correct me if I’m wrong. Anyone? Please?

[4] “Most times” meaning when not in a direct parenting role.

[5] Both of my parents were not only military, but were also police within the military, engendering a kind doubly-pervasive paranoia that, to a growing boy, can pretty much squelch even the thought of rebellious action. “No,” was not word I got to say a lot. At least not out loud.

[6] Specifically “Lipomyelomeningocele,” where the spinal cord is open, but covered with a fatty mass that must be excised fairly soon after birth. The typical Spina Bifida issues are common with kids born with this type, (i.e., hydrocephalus, chiari formations, the need for bladder and bowel management, as well as orthopedic difficulties). Landis, while affected uro-and-gastrologically, and required to wear an AFO brace on his left leg, has not had any symptoms related to hydrocephalus.

[7] One of the most interesting things I have found in my experience being part of the Spina Bifida community is that, while huge leaps have been made in accessibility, they are only considered for the very smallest groups of users. If you’ve ever wondered how handicap-accessible the world is, get a group of two-dozen people in wheelchairs together, and see how long the bathroom line gets.

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