Today I got to revisit a little bit of my bad mommy past. Normally I joke about my bad mommy-ness because it is so much more fun when I point it out than when someone else does it for me. But today I was reminded of one of my worst bad mommy moments.
Here we are on vacation in what is supposed to be one of the happiest places on Earth and yet I drove my sweet boy to tears all because I wanted him to go potty in our hotel room bathroom. I have shared, perhaps overshared the trials and tribulations of potty training this son of mine. It has been an arduous, uphill climb for the entire circus. Some of the struggle of course was related to his extreme premature birth and his developmental delays but there was much more to what is behind his fears and struggles in conquering the pooping and peeing in the potty.
Back when Daniel was just a very young preschooler, I finally had to take a gulp and swallow and put him into daycare so I could return to work full time. I managed to keep him out of any child care setting for the first 3 years of his life due to his fragile health but eventually I had to accept the fact that for this circus of mine to thrive I needed to give up the crazy commute to the Bay Area to what was my weekend part time job. The long commute was killing me and taking me away too long from my family and financially it just wasn’t providing what we needed. So I accepted a full time position only minutes from home and accepted that it was time to find daycare for my son. Just like with his sisters I searched, interviewed and investigated many options in order to find the right fit for my child. Not only did I want to find a loving, safe, professional, licensed environment, but I needed someone who would not shrink away from a feeding tube and even be willing to learn how to feed him using the g-tube. I needed someone to understand and accept that although he was 3 years old, he was in many ways so much younger. I needed someone who could respect him and take him as he was. A tall order to fill but as luck would have it I found the right caregiver for him.
I thought I did.
I trusted that I did.
I had no idea that I didn’t.
Daniel tried to tell me. True he was not too verbal at the time and could not articulate what was going on. But he did try to tell me. All I saw was what I believed to be the tantrums. Normal I thought. His sisters were pretty difficult at age three too. Why would he be any different?
His sister Holly tried to tell me too. She maintained she did not like his caregiver when she would sometimes pick him up or drop him off for me. But she complained about everything else in her life at that time. Her parents uproot her from the only place she knew as a child and teen and move miles away to a new town and a new school. What normal 17-18 year old high school student wouldn’t be angry and complaining.
No, I did not see it at all. Not even when it came to the point where she demanded that I potty train my soon to be 4 year old. He showed no signs of being ready and I tried to reason that with her. She countered with that if he wasn’t potty trained by his 4th birthday she would have to dismiss him from her daycare. No problem. I just began to look for another option for Daniel. As luck would have it my neighbor and dear friend decided to return to open up her own licensed daycare. Daniel LOVED Miss Kelly. Miss Kelly LOVED Daniel like one of her own preciouss children. She was the only non-family member he would reach out to hug. He was playmates with her son. This was the perfect solution. It really was. Miss Kelly was the best and remains so. Really, we all should have a Miss Kelly who loves us like Daniel’s Miss Kelly loves him.
Two years after leaving Miss Cathy’s, Daniel one day recalled his time at her daycare. It was a completely random, unexpected conversation where he recalled how Miss Cathy would make him sit on the potty and scream at him, scare him and make him cry until he would throw up. He told me this as matter of factly as he pointed out that his sister’s school was bigger than his as we were driving through the neighborhood. My grip on the steering wheel tightened until my fingers turned white. I could not believe what I had heard. I pulled the car over and crawled into the back of the car where I wrapped my arms around my beautiful son. I told him then how sorry I was that Miss Cathy yelled at him and scared him and made him cry. He smiled and hugged me back telling me that he knew that. He then added it was okay because he didn’t go there anymore, he went to Miss Kelly’s and Miss Kelly loved him. I hugged him back and agreed as I fought hard not to cry.
OH MY GOD!
I did this to my son! I put him there three days a week.
When I told my husband my girls overheard. Holly reminded me how uncomfortable she felt with that lady. Jodie told me how a classmate of hers who went there after school shared that what Daniel said was true.
I did this to my son. I put him there.
We looked into what legal recourse we had only to discover that we really didn’t have anything. If we tried to pursue it we might just stir up all that trauma for Daniel all over again. At that point it just was not worth it. Instead we chose to focus on healing our son with the hopes that the trauma inflicted was minor and that we could fade that memory for him. It seemed to work. He was safe and loved at home, at Miss Kelly’s, at his school. He was surrounded by good, loving people who loved and accepted him for who he was and is, a remarkable, amazing boy. But potty training remained a difficult challenge for us all. He tried and eventually accomplished it at home and at school. The challenge remained at other places and we have learned to cope and support him. We have been certain some of it is related to his experience at Miss Cathy’s but what was done was done. All we could do was support him, encourage him and love him.
Then came today where we spent the entire day on the road driving. Along the way he had consumed several juice boxes, a small cup of soda and nearly a liter of water and the last time he went potty was at 9 o’clock in the morning at home. I didn’t expect him to want to go during potty breaks on the drive to Anaheim but I still tried to encourage him. Not a problem, he could go once we settled in our hotel room, our home away from home for the next few days. But he wouldn’t. He refused. It was clear that he had to go but he would not. He could not. Fine, we countered, no swimming tonight until he went potty. He was okay with that. He didn’t want to go swimming he told us with teary eyes. Then we can’t go the Disneyland tom orrow until he goes potty. He didn’t want to go he countered as tears rolled down his face. We tried hugs and reasoning to no avail. He did NOT have to go potty he maintained. But his little body twisted up like a pretzel on his bed suggested otherwise. Fatigue and frustrations got the best of me when I snapped and raised my voice to him as I insisted that he had no choice but to go potty. The dam was unleashed as he cried and told me that I scared him like Miss Cathy did.
Once again, I did this to my son.
Yes, I cried. I cried the bitter tears of a mother who realizes the pain her child carries. Pain I allowed to happen to him. Pain that I did not see as it was being inflicted on him.
I did this to my son.
There was more tears spent by everyone in that tiny hotel room until eventually, with a little gentle help from his sister while his mama sat on the bed crying her guilty tears, Daniel went potty. His painful tears turned to tears of relief and joy. He came out of the bathroom and hugged me. Together we hugged, cried, apologized and reassured eachother that everything was okay.
It was. It is.
Still I have this enormous weight of guilt.
I did this to my son. I let that woman harm him. I let tthat woman hurt him in a way that he still carries.
I like to think that I don’t hate anyone. I don’t…except her. I hate her. I don’t think that I can ever forgive her. But then again, I don’t think that I can ever forgive me either.
She hurt him. But I put him there in a place where he could be hurt. I don’t think I can ever forgive that. Most days I can easily fold it up and tuck it way in the cedar chest of my mind but today, tonight, it is hanging out in the open for all to see, the ghost of my bad mommy past.
We always manage to lose or leave behind something when we juggle away from home. Please, dear Lord, let this be what we forget to pack.