Sometimes the strain of parenting really gets to me. Sometimes I am not personally balanced enough on my own little teeter-totter, that when the boys throw me a curve ball, I fall off in the attempt to catch it.
I’ve been doing a lot of work in establishing a crisis nursery for the Pittsburgh area. Although a respite for any parent, it started as a child abuse prevention model. Put the young children in a crisis nursery for a few hours or a few days to keep them safe while the parent or caregiver takes a break and attends to an emergency or pressing situation.
This work is built on the premise that our young children are very vulnerable to stress under the age of 5 at the same time that their brains are developing at lightning speed. If they are exposed to “adverse childhood experiences,” their brains, genetic structure, and immune system can be altered for life. Yes – brains, genes, health…changed for life. This is some serious stuff!
So, these adverse childhood experiences are called ACE, because no one likes to say a mouthful of words. In the research, an ACE score was based on an experience of physical abuse, sexual abuse, exposure to domestic violence, having an incarcerated parent, living with a parent with mental health issues or substance abuse problems. The higher the ACE score, the harder the childhood, the worse the person’s health in adult life.
I spoke with a friend about this research recently. Her whole career is focused on this area and in helping people think about ACE and how we care for children and adults who have been traumatized by events in their life.
Naturally, as she is a mother of a boy….we also shared a lot of stories about the joys and stresses of parenting boys. I told her that when Super Tall Guy was around 2 or 3, we were reading a “feelings” book together that had wonderful illustrations of a range of emotions and the word identifying them on the page. He was silent as we turned pages….until the drawing of a red head with exploding swirls and dark eyes and jolting lightning bolts….and he said “Mommy” … right there at the page labeled “Angry.”
I paused. That moment is imprinted on my mind. Sometimes, for my developing boys….“I am your ACE.” I am a stressful experience. I am a scary moment. I don’t want to be that. I don’t want to be the model of an angry face, even if sometimes my head is red and there are lightning bolts jutting out at all angles. (I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of these ACE “experiences,” just reflecting on how powerful emotions can be and a parent’s potential role).
I once took a mini-video of Mr. Ornery when he was having a huge fit of tears and anger. I played it back for him to let him see what it looks like as he yells and flails and stomps and wails. It’s probably the case that I should actually take a “selfie” of my own face sometimes when I’m in a “mood” with the boys….when I’m frustrated at having told them for the umpteenth (I now understand that that word refers to parental infinity) time to not stand on the piano to climb up and hoist yourself over the staircase railing…. when I’m reminding them to aim in the bathroom…. when I’m shaking my head and saying “really? Really? You just hit him for what?!?”
It’s quite possible that my selfie might make me reconsider my outburst. It might help me step back and count to ten. It might encourage me to put myself in my own room for a time-out break and some deep breaths. It might be just what I need to remind myself that I actually never want to be an ACE for my children and will do absolutely everything in my power to protect them from a single Adverse Childhood Experience.
Wrapping them in the “protective relationship” of unconditional love, body-slamming them with praise, encouraging their expressions of independence and individuality….these….these are the experiences I must provide. For I am your Absolutely Cherishing Each – ACE!