The Rebel and His Mother

The Rebel

When my son was a preschooler in daycare
His class had a field trip to the local In ‘N Out
As we walked back to the daycare center
My son held my hand
We walked in pairs down the sidewalk
His daycare teacher said
Everyone stay on sidewalk
Do not step into the driveway or the road
My three-year old son touched his foot in the gutter
Just his tippy toe
His teacher swiftly grabbed him from my hands
Took him with her to the front of the line
She gave me another child to walk
A more compliant, less rebellious child
My son, he was rewarded
He got to walk at the front of the line
Beside his favorite teacher
I was punished
Humiliated actually
Bad mother
Cannot control her child
Later that day when I returned to work
I told this story
One of my bosses smiled
Kitt, you love that in your boy
That your boy rebels against the rules
Just like the Berkeley rabble-rouser you once were
Pushing the limits
Yes, it still brings a smile to my face
That I have a son who dared touch his toe to the gutter
He understood the importance of staying with the group
He understood the spirit of the law
He did not run out into the road
Yet he questioned, dared to test, the letter of the law
What happens, he wondered, if I break this rule just a little bit
The memory also hurts
How dare that teacher rip my son from my hand
How dare she judge me and my child
Deem me unfit to walk my son back to daycare
Before I had to return to work
Return to work judged an ineffective mother
Return to work rather than stay with my son
Now that I think about it
He punished me
How dare I go back to work
How dare I not stay home with him


This event happened over ten years ago and still sears my memory. I was not feeling very confident in my parenting skills at the time. From the expressions on the other parents’ faces, I could tell that they were shocked at her treatment of me. I complained to the daycare center director, and the teacher lost her job. I later regretted having complained because although she lacked adult social skills, the kids loved her and responded well to her structure. My son loved this teacher a great deal. She ended up being his after-school teacher at his pre-kindergarten school, and we later hired her to babysit him in her own apartment, which was a treat for him. She irked the administration and her co-workers at her next job, as well. She was great with preschoolers, but you do not treat an adult like a preschooler.

Not too long after the incident in this poem, I fell apart, crying hysterically in the parking lot of my employer and ended up voluntarily hospitalizing myself. A year and a half previously, when my son was about two and a half, I recognized that my feelings of euphoria and a sense that God was calling me were symptoms of mania. I realized that I had bipolar disorder, not simply depression as I had been diagnosed since I was eighteen and treated with antidepressants since I was thirty. Newly branded at the age of thirty-nine with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder type II, I thought my son would be better off in someone else’s hands. I was afraid of my temper and my mood swings. I was afraid I might hurt my son. I like to think God taught me otherwise and made it so that I had to stay home with my son, who as it turned out needed me home. Choosing to believe that I was meant to stay home with my son and that my illness forced me to do so is my way of positively reframing my experience of mothering with bipolar disorder. I choose to positively embrace my two week stay in the hospital, months of partial hospitalization, and subsequent enrollment on disability. I simply was unable to balance work with mothering while living with bipolar disorder type II. I am no super woman. I am a mother with bipolar disorder doing the best that she can.

Ever since my hospitalization nine years ago, I’ve been home on disability. This past February, I initiated a job search and considered re-entering the work force. As I applied for jobs and went on an interview, I started ramping up, became hypomanic, and panicked at the thought of returning to work. I feared ending up once again overwhelmed and hospitalized. Since then I have focused on blogging, participating in group therapy, and attending two weekly MeetUp.com writing groups. My son says I’m addicted to blogging and to using social media. Perhaps. But, it feels good. I’m impassioned. It’s about time!

6 thoughts on “The Rebel and His Mother

  1. tonyroberts64 June 19, 2014 / 2:52 pm

    A heart-wrenching reflection on the challenge of leading a balanced life with bipolar. I share your passion for writing and find blogging a much better alternative to calling the suicide hotline.

    Like

  2. amandaquirky June 18, 2014 / 10:51 am

    Hiya, Kitt.

    I’ve been wanting to comment on this for a couple of days, but you know how it is when something *really* hits you. (In reference to another of your posts: I feel like you’ve whacked me with your tennis-strong backhand, right in my guts.) It’s such a balancing act, isn’t it? Do I stay with them all the time, even though I know my patience is not all it should be? Do I work, so they can have nice things? Do I do what I think is best, do I ask my kids what they want, do I listen to conventional wisdom (do I let “professionals”–teachers, doctors, in my kids’ case a variety of autism services, etc–tell me that I’m wrong, and do I just swallow it, if they do)?

    I can’t read the above poem without tearing up, actually. It reminds me of so many incidents from when my kids were younger, that I can’t isolate one instance; it’s just a wave of emotion and half-remembered humiliations from long ago. Well done, from the bottom of my heart; this is what poetry is supposed to do; and it says something that I’m complimenting your poetry, the skill of it, its ability to move me, while sniffling into a tissue.

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    • Kitt O'Malley June 18, 2014 / 11:56 am

      Thank you so much for your response, Amanda. Parenting is challenging. Parenting while struggling with symptoms of mental illness, more so. We can be completely overwhelmed and at wits end when we add to the mix loving and parenting a child with “issues” whether they be behavioral, developmental, neurological, or psychiatric. I first sought treatment for my son when he was four. Four!

      What made it incredibly difficult was that I felt completely lost and humiliated and judged, in spite of the fact that I had at one time specialized in working with emotionally disturbed children and adolescents as a psychotherapist. I had worked in both day treatment and residential treatment with multidisciplinary teams that included a psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist, educational psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, and special education teachers.

      Still, preschool teachers would shake their heads, tsk-tsk me, and tell me all the things I was doing wrong. Turns out that what works for other children, for “normal” children, did not necessarily work for my child. My child, my son, was and still is extremely stimulus reactive. He is easily overwhelmed, especially in social situations. He did not need a firm hand. He actually is a gifted, straight-A student, thriving in a challenging academic setting. I am proud of my son, of what he has accomplished.

      Just as you have been there for your children, I’ve been there advocating on his behalf, making sure that he has received the help that he needs. In spite of the judgment of others, in spite of the struggles we endure as parents, we continue to do whatever we can to help our kids. God bless you. Thank you.

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  3. Tertia June 17, 2014 / 10:03 am

    Dear Kitt, I loved this poem and the heartfelt pain and anger it expresses. I so appreciate your frequent comments on my site, and feel so much in common with you–we live in the same area, have similar professional backgrounds, and my daughter is about the same age as your son! Wishing you well–Lori

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