I Can’t Do It

I remember the doctor coming into my room to tell me they had to insert another chest tube into my son’s chest, desperately trying to clear his chest cavity and get his collapsed lungs to re-inflate. As I lay in the hospital, still weary from several hours of labor and little sleep in the past 32 hours, hooked up to bags of fluid and antibiotics trying to fight whatever germ was attacking my already tired body, I prayed. Alone in my room a tear slowly rolled down my cheek and I prayed, over and over. I closed my eyes tightly and whispered “if You are trying to show me that I am stronger than I think, find some other way – not this. It can’t be this way. I can’t do it.”

My son came home with healthy lungs just one week later. We were good again. We slowly adjusted to life together with all its changes. He nursed well the last couple days in the hospital and the first day and a half at home. Suddenly, he had no patience for nursing. So, we adjusted – I pumped, he took bottles. (It was months later that we realized the sedatives he received in the hospital allowed him to stay relaxed long enough to nurse well. When the drugs left his system, the anxiousness took over) It made for very long nights as I waited for him to ever-so-slowly finish his bottles and then would get out the big noisy milking machine. (Okay, it was an electric breast pump. But, when you grow up in farm country the similarity is inevitable). After 5 months of the exhausting schedule and a bad bout of mastitis (if you don’t know what this is or why it’s a big deal….ask a woman who’s had it), I sat on my bed and cried. With my infant son lying on my bed in front of me, I cried as I looked at him and said “I know breast milk is what is best for you. I know I should do it longer. I know you need every bit of goodness I can give you. But, I’m so tired, and I hurt, and you won’t take it from me. I can’t do it.”

My son transitioned well to formula, then on to whole milk, then grew to be a good eater.  We ate dinner together every night. Together, yet not as a whole family. After many years of being a family that was less than whole, my husband and I went our separate ways.  As I struggled to find the words to explain to my son that our family would be spread out and shared across two homes, I silently prayed.  I struggled not to cry.  That night I sat by his bed, watching him sleep.  I thought of all the things I had to change.  I imagined ways to keep things the same for him while figuring out how to be our new kind of family.  I lay silently on the floor by his bed until the pattern of my breathing matched his and I wrestled with my decisions.  As I thought about going back on what I had decided, I thought about all that would mean – for that day and for the many days to come. With one deep breath I thought “For him – I can’t do it.”

My son has grown into a charismatic boy of (almost) ten.  He’s been diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger’s and struggles with all the sensory overload, anxiety and uncertainty that comes with them.  Some days we take deep breaths and put one foot in front of the other and make progress.  Some days we are simply trying to recover from hyperventilation and spiraling aimlessly into an unknown void.  My son’s struggles have a voice – a voice that is heard often.  Since he was young, I’ve heard the same words from my son – “I can’t do it.”  Sometimes in an aching whisper, clinging for salvation. Sometimes in an angry rage pushing for space.

I have fought against this voice with all my strength for all his life.  I was never an accommodating mom.  When he struggled to reach a toy as an infant, I watched patiently until he figured out how to get to it.  When he got ‘stuck’ on playground equipment, I encouraged from the side until he discovered his own solution.  As he struggles with homework, I only intervene when he needs ‘permission’ to walk away for a few minutes to compose himself and try again.  And yet, the voice I hear from him – literally and figuratively – is “I can’t do it.”  I have always addressed those words when spoken – stopping him, telling him that’s not okay in our family.  I encourage him to tell me he’s struggling, he doesn’t understand, he needs assistance – but to never say “I can’t do it.”  “You can,” I tell him, “maybe you need to look at it a different way or try something new.”  Sometimes – often times – his whole body screams I CAN’T DO IT. With coiled posture and tears and yelling and words not heard, he’s telling me he can’t do it.

I want so much for him to believe in all the things I know he can do.  I want to silence the voice that says “I can’t” and shout “you can if you try!”  As parents we want better for our children. Better than we had, better than we are.  But, how can I expect anything other than what I have given him in my own words and actions.

I want to be more for him. And then I hear that voice that says “I can’t do it.”

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