Wednesday, October 10, 2018

I don't care what you think about my parenting. Mostly.

We took the kids on a five-day Disney Cruise last week and had a whole lot of fun (more on that another time). There were about 2000 passengers on the ship. The funny thing about cruises is, there are inevitably a couple of people you keep bumping into again and again. Julie was one of them.

Julie and her family were standing on line in front of us at the terminal, waiting to board. Max was having an epic meltdown because he was over-stimulated. We'd been trying our best to keep him calm, but it wasn't working.

Before our trip, Max had watched a whole lot of "We surprised our kids with a Disney trip!" videos on YouTube. He knew full well where we were going, but as we Ubered to the port he made us stage a "surprise, Max, you're going on a Disney Cruise!" video. Once we arrived, he was determined to videotape every single moment. Then the iPad dropped out of his hands a couple times, which made him grumpy. Then we had to check-in, which didn't take long at all except Max had to put the iPad down to get his picture taken, and that set him off.  

So Max stood on the long line of guests waiting to board, screeching and screaming. This one man ahead of us was full-on gawking. "Stop staring!" I snapped. That's when Julie leaned over and said to Max, "You must be so excited!" And she kept talking to him. Was it his first Disney Cruise, which characters did he want to see, was he going to dress up for Halloween, her family was going as the Alice in Wonderland crew. Max soon calmed down, and I felt so grateful to her. 

The next day, Dave said he'd seen Julie at the breakfast buffet. He mentioned that she ended up keeping an eye on Max while he took bathroom break. They talked about Max's behavior getting onto the ship. "Your wife told him he was going to go home if he didn't stop!" Julie said, wondrously. Yep, I had, because: I am not beyond empty threats.

Next up I saw Julie as I was walking around the boat by myself, book in hand. "Where are the kids?" she asked. Well, Dave was with Ben in the kiddie Splash Zone, Sabrina was...somewhere and Max was at the teen club, Vibe. "He refuses to leave!" I said, not joking. Really. Max only wanted to be there. "He doesn't want to go swimming or do any of the activities?" she asked. "Nope, he's doing what he likes," I answered. She looked a bit dubious.

Then I saw Julie right before we were going to have a little birthday celebration for Ben at dinner. She wished Ben a happy third birthday. "Where's Max?" she asked. "At Vibe," I said. "He didn't want to come to dinner." Julie looked at me. "I couldn't force him!" I said, cheerfully. 

Then I saw Julie at the movie theater. "Did Dave tell you about breakfast the other day?" she said. I got the full story: Dave had left Max standing at entrance to buffet when he went off to the bathroom. Max wandered in, grabbed a box of Rice Krispies and stood there, waiting for Dave. Julie noticed staffers were eyeing Max with concern, and one of them started leading him to another family's table. So Julie hung with Max until Dave came back. "I was glad to be there for him!" she said.

Meanwhile, Max was at the movie theater to see Incredibles 2 for the seventh time, and I was about to leave. "I saw it once, loved it, and that's my limit!" I chirped. "He'll be fine here alone." 

Once again, she looked at me dubiously.

"Oh, we've let him go to movie theaters on his own!" I said. "He's pretty independent. He likes to do things himself, like any teen."

Then I made my escape.

At our subsequent Julie encounter, Dave saw her in the lobby and she said "High-five, Max!" and didn't acknowledge Dave's presence. "She thinks I'm the worst Dad!" he noted.

Then I saw Julie at a show on the last night, seated a couple rows behind us. "Where's Max?" she asked. "At Vibe," I said with a half-grin. Julie: "Oh!"

Did I mention that Max wore the same exact outfit two days in a row? Or that Ben basically had chocolate smudges on his face at all times due to his newfound addiction to Mickey ice-cream pops? Or that we supplemented his diet with bowls of chocolate ice-cream from the free soft serve machine? Or that when we stopped in Bermuda Ben walked out of a store with a keychain before a store employee collared him? Or that as I lay on a lounge chair and Sabrina came by and said "MOMMY! Let's do something!" I said, "I need to finish this book first!"

Sometimes, I have these out-of-body moments in which I see me the way strangers do, i.e., a rather suck-y parent—unable to control meltdowns, abandoning our boy at the teen club, not insisting he attend his little bro's birthday celebration, leaving him alone in a movie theater. But then, I snap out of it.

When Max gets into a mood, sometimes nothing can get him out of it although Julie broke the meltdown spell. When Max goes on these cruises, he never wants much do to with us. He enjoys the independence of being in the youth clubs, doing his own thing (mostly, playing Wii bowling, watching movies and making an occasional picture). Max does not much enjoy the hustle and bustle of dinners on the ship; he'd rather down mac 'n cheese in the teen club. And so, we didn't force him to be part of Ben's birthday celebration—there will be other opps for that this weekend. As for the movies, well, Max is obsessed with Incredibles 2 and proud of himself for having seen it alone several times know.

I think people also don't fully understand, without better knowing Max, just how important it is to encourage his independence. They see a boy with disabilities and think that, like a young child, he cannot be left to his own devices. And to be sure, at times Max needs assistance. But he also needs to be learn how to be independent.

I have been a parent for close to sixteen years now, and although raising Max has taught me not to judge other parents, I am still vulnerable to feeling judged. This is because I am a mother of the human variety raising children of the human variety who might act out in public or otherwise not behave according to societal standards. And this is OK. I can deal with the occasional pangs of "Am I doing this parenting thing right?" because overall, I am doing the best that I can

I suspect Julie might still be wondering whether we're going to lose one of our children, away from her watchful eye. I am glad she didn't see us walking off the ship yesterday morning. Max was wailing nonstop because he didn't want to leave. At one point, he stood there looking mournfully at the Disney Dream, refusing to move. And so, I said the only thing I knew would calm him down: "Tonight you and Daddy can google about going on another cruise!" 

Max: "For my birthday?!" (That's in two months.)

Me: "Er, um, er hey wait Dave, here are our passports!"

Max did calm down, placated by the fantasy of another cruise. And once again, I win Mom of the Year. Damn straight.


  1. This post is so relatable! As you mentioned, sometimes the opportunity for independence may appear like bad parenting...whenever I see a child “misbehaving,” there’s often more to the story than that snapshot in time. Thanks for reminding us of that.

  2. Can I be amused that Julie wanted to be your cruise director? ♪ The Love Boat ... ♫


Thanks for sharing!

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