Monday, March 1, 2010

Project Enlightenment Saved My Family

I posted this to Facebook this morning when I read about the drastic cuts proposed for Project Enlightenment.

"My family was in crisis when our son was 3. Not medical or financial crisis. Behavioral crisis. It is no hyperbole that we would not be who and where we are today without Project Enlightenment's support and care. Without those counselors and programs, our son would not be thriving in first grade now. The impact of that experience fixed what was a potential shattered relationship with my son at that tender young age. I'm emotional even harkening back to that time. These programs are not just for those people whose paths you don't cross. "Those people." These programs are for ALL of us. And they work."

My fingers quiver on the keyboard as I conjure up the memories of when Bird was 3. He had violent raging temper tantrums. I'm not talking the I-Want-Candy variety. He'd overturn furniture and fling books out of his bookcase in a head spinning rage. He would yell like a banshee and writhe in fits of fury. 15 minutes would pass. Then 30. 40. Most rages lasted 45 minutes to an hour. Full on screaming, flailing, kicking, hitting. Deal was an infant then, cradled snugly in my arms for fear he'd be in the path of Bird's destruction.


Not just his room and his belongings. Our family. Our relationship.

I sat in tears, quaking with stress, worry, fear, resentment. I never knew what would tip the scale to make Bird fly into a tantrum. I tiptoed and spent every waking moment anxiously awaiting the rage to begin. He saved it all up for me. Bird didn't demonstrate this behavior at school. Whatever he corked up at school came gushing out at me. He spewed all his emotional venom and bile upon me. We spent many hours huddled in his room sobbing. Feeling helpless. Alone. Defeated. Guilty. And just terribly sad.

All while tending to an infant.

I was alone. No family support. A husband at a new job.

Bird's tantrums were escalating. It was as if he were possessed. Seriously out of control and a danger to himself. I began to resent this behavior. To resent my own son. Do you know how that feels? I feel ashamed admitting it now. My heads hangs, my whole being awash of guilt. I defied all truths of motherhood; suddenly I was rewriting what unconditional looked like. I loved Bird, of course, but I didn't want to be around him. I didn't want to cater to him and fear him. I wanted to instead protect the sweet baby Deal who was innocent and vulnerable. And yes, easy. Easy to love. Easy to care for. Easy to adore. Then I was swept with such guilt for feeling so that I mentally collapsed.

Once, just once, I slapped my son.

In the midst of one particularly violent rage I slapped Bird across the cheek thinking I could get him to snap out of it. It didn't work. He didn't even take note of my hot hand on his wet cheek. I still feel the sensation of my sweaty shaking palm making contact with his tear streamed soft skin. His face. I literally shake my hand to get rid of the sensation as if it were an EtchASketch. My eyes well with tears and a coal-like lump rises in my throat as I write this. I've never said this before. I never talked about what hell it really was. For all of us.

But that afternoon I called Mac Daddy. I told him I couldn't do it anymore. I wasn't fit to be a mother. I was overwhelmed and under supported. In retrospect I am most certain I suffered remnants of undiagnosed and untended-to post partum depression. I was the camel, and my slapping palm was the straw.

We called Project Enlightenment.

Our counselor saved us. Saved me. Saved our son. Saved our relationship. Without the skills and insights and therapy we received....

I'm afraid to even think what might have been.

Project Enlightenment gave us specific tools, words, exercises to manage Bird's tantrums. We learned how to handle anger, fear, anxiety, in him and in ourselves. We learned how the parenting we were a product of made us the parents we were becoming. We learned how to repair what was shattered. Just yesterday I opened my Project Enlightenment file to get a quick refresher on how to teach empathy to my sons.

That file has sat atop my desk for almost four years. Its contents are dog eared and highlighted. Those resources have given me my son back. Project Enlightenment served a need, a desperate need, that no doctor or grandparent or teacher could have filled. Or fixed.

If our counselor at Project Enlightenment hadn't helped us, my resentment toward Bird would have surely escalated. I know this much is true. I find myself still battling it at the times he's particularly difficult or defiant now. My brain takes me back to those fits when he was three, and I think, "Haven't we been through this? Haven't I paid my parenting dues?" But now I know how to change. Now I know what resonates with him. Now I know. The self loathing I have from that time still haunts me. There are times I want to rewind, words I want to retract, steps I want to retrace.

Project Enlightenment, while unable to magically erase or rewrite the past, has enabled us to walk into a shinier future. Hand in hand.

Bird is now a thriving first grader. He has no behavioral or medical or psychological issues. Well, he does pick on his little brother and talks too much in class, but that's all normal, right? My Bird is bright, curious, eager, and awfully funny. He knows he is loved and adored. I still call him my first baby when I kiss him good night. We exchange Eskimo kisses, butterfly kisses, and lip kisses. Then he blows me a kiss from his bed, and I pretend to catch it and put it on my cheek. This is our ritual.

And we have Project Enlightenment to thank.

Join the Facebook Group here.
Send an email to the school board. You'll find their contact information here.
Write to the paper.

Raise your voices, people. Cutting funding for early childhood development and education will prove to be disastrous, and expensive. Our children are an investment, not an expense.
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Mary said...

you are a brave and excellent mom. we all need help now and then and I am glad you found superb resources.

@sweetbabboo said...

Oh my gosh, this broke my heart and then made it sing. I'm so glad Project Enlightenment was there for you. It needs to stay around.

Go get 'em tomorrow night.


Deb Rox said...

Wow, amazing writing, amazing story, amazing program. Thank you for your passion to save it.

Corina - Down to Earth Mama said...

Go get them. Wake County needs a wake-up call!

Thank you so much for sharing. As heartbreaking as it is, I am so glad that it worked out in the end. The trials and tribulations of motherhood make a hard road. You do it with such grace.

BB said...

It took a lot of courage to write this. I have heard similar stories before, regarding Project Enlightenment. Thanks for sharing this, maybe it will inspire other mothers who are going through similar crises. There were so many times that I slapped -- I can't possibly count them all. I just called ahead and turned myself in to Social Services. Unfortunately, there was no Project Enlightenment.

Anonymous said...

I've never heard of this program, but thank you for having the courage to share your experience with it. It sound vital.

1A said...

Good for you, Ilina. Now that my 5-year-old daughters are almost ready for Kindergarten, I can look back and realize how far we have come from the day they were born as 29-week preemies with an 18-month-old brother. I had SO MUCH help and support through programs that were available for my children and for us as parents. Thanks for reminding me of this.


Erin Lane said...

What an amazing amazing post! Thank you so much for sharing and for speaking out for this essential organization!

Nelson's Mama said...

You are a great Mom and doing a wonderful job - we all have bad times and have made choices that we regret.

I once slapped my older daughter after she had pushed and pushed and PUSHED...I immediately regretted my actions, but could not take back what I had done.

Anonymous said...

It's gone. They cut it. I was in the middle of my short term parental counseling with them. It was making a difference. What am I supposed to do now?