Hi, this is Stronger Every Day. I'm Bo Bigelow.
Four and a half years ago I quit my law job to be at home with my kids. Turns out our daughter Tess has special needs. She's different. And now, so is everything else.
A bit of warning, this podcast has swearing in it. Swearing always makes me feel better, so you'll be hearing it.
This is episode number six.
If you have more than one kid, they watch each other like hawks.
Their eyes are on their own plate, their own toys, their treats, but those eyes look around. A lot.
Who got more? They want to know.
They're thinking: how much love do my parents have, and the most important question: is that love being given out in equal portions at all times to all children under this roof?
On this week's show: fairness. Equality. No favorites. Quit comparing. I love you both the same. Even if our family isn't 100% typical. Even when it comes to Tess.
You give your kid something. A gift. A slice of pie. Some screen time. A hug. A nickel. Whatever.
Any gratitude from that kid is swiftly overtaken. And the comparing begins.
Screen time is a great example. This ever happen to you?
One kid gets the iPad. They play for some indeterminate amount of time. (Side note: meanwhile, you the parent are able to get your shit together for a second, do some dishes, return a text, take a breath.)
Kid two also gets some iPad time, which then ends, and kid two objects. Loudly. See, kid 2 was keeping track of how much time Kid one got. Really keeping track. Atomic clocks are not as precise as the time measuring capability of a kid when it comes to a sibling's screen time.
Tess keeps track too. My wife used to have Tuesdays off, and Tess would have us all to herself for a couple hours before Dane got home. She knew it. She'd get all happy, put my wife and me in headlocks, incredibly painful, good times.
These days, there's another way the t-bird gets more than her brother, and knows damn well that it's happening.
See, every night she goes to bed and then escapes. She's in a big pack and play for now - I know, I know, we need a real bed for her, but the problem is, she gets out, and then is free in her room. We've childproofed, but still there's no way to make it completely safe. So eventually, we don't have any choice but to get her and bring her downstairs, to tire her out. It's fucked up. I know. I know.
Meanwhile, it's Dana's bedtime. He's in a bed in her room, I'm carrying her out to bring her down to the TV room, and of course, he's not thrilled. So yeah, he's in bed, she gets to stay, AND watch TV, and as we walk out, I swear it's like she's sticking out her tongue at him, or flipping him the bird.
She wants attention. She wants it so much that she hates our dog. Well, hate is too strong a word.
Our dog Marley was trained to be a service dog. He went through a ton of the training, many months, on a farm, we think, only to flunk out when he broke out of line and ate a chicken.
So technically he's not a service dog, but he's been trained so much that he acts like one. He tolerates ear pulling and loud noises. He's patient.
We figured he'd be perfect for Tess. But she ignores him entirely. While I'm holding her or sitting and talking to her, the dog'll come over, in search of some love. And she's like, do you see something? Cause I don't see anything. It's like, for her, he's not even there.
Bo: What is it about having the sound of her yelling that bothers you so much? So what? Big deal. Like you play loud music all the time, what's the difference?
Dana: The difference is that this really ticks. I mean, it's not like you're listening to music. It's like somebody's punching you in the face millions and millions of times.
Bo: That's what it feels like?
Dana: It just feels like that, yeah, except it's in your earlobe.
That was my son, Dana , back in Episode 2, talking about what it's like living with Tess.
There's an inherent unfairness in our house. Tess is in many ways still like a baby, even at age 5. She needs to be held a lot, cooed at. Pampered. Literally pampered. Still in diapers.
We can see that Dana wants to be babied too. He's at this crucial point, though, where he wants to be cool to the older kids, the 4th graders, (and we think that's why he refuses to wear a winter coat, by the way), but he craves baby levels of attention. He wants to get in our bed. He wants us to read to him, with us wedged into a chair together.
Bo: Okay Dane, I got two questions for you. One, do you feel like we treat you and Tess equally? That's the first question, what do you think?
Dana: Um, sometimes you don't and sometimes you do. I mean, I'd have to say no and yes.
Bo: Well what do you mean no and yes? How do we not treat you equally?
Dana: Well you pick up Tess and you give her attention. I mean you give her toys so she doesn't yell.
Bo: Okay. And what about you, do we give you attention?
Dana: Um, sort of. Ever since you tore your ACL, there's been really kinda nothin. I mean I usually play with you, but now I can't really.
Bo: Okay, that's fair. That's fair. What about you mentioned the iPad yesterday, or couple days ago, I guess. You were mad about her getting the iPad, she gets screen time when you don't get screen time.
Dana: Yeah, I didn't like that. 'Cause I'm, I can't have screen on weekdays unless it's vacation or Friday.
Bo: And so she gets screen on weekdays and that makes you mad?
Dana: Yeah, it makes me really mad. 'Cause I'm like, if you're treating me like this, when why don't you treat her like this?
Bo: You want us to treat you both the same?
Bo: Okay. Okay, second question--is there anything your mom and I could do to make you feel like things would be more fair?
Dana: No, not really.
Dana: Not really, because Tess has special needs, and I understand that, so she might want more attention.
See what he did there?
He does this thing sometimes, where he says, "it's fine, it's fine," and not in the guilt-trippy way to get us to do stuff -- he's honestly saying it's fine, and sometimes it's when he's getting totally hosed.
Look. Don't get me wrong. I don't want to spend my days clocking iPad time for each kid, monitoring fairness on every level about bedtimes and such. I have shit to do. I have to clean stuff and cook food.
But my wife and I want Dana to keep talking. To tell us when he's frustrated, when it's hard to have Tess in our family, when he thinks it's unfair.
The hardest part of this by far is when we visit with another family who has typical kids, and Dana sees what it would be like to have a sibling like any other. Somebody to play games with, to make up goony songs with in the car, to go outside and make snow forts with.
I know all parents worry sometimes that they're warping their kids, but my wife and I think and talk a lot about Dana. We talk about how much we ask of him, and how important it is to let him be a kid.
The fact is, our household will never be 100% fair. There are burdens, for sure. I just connected with a guy on Facebook in New Jersey named David Murphy. He's a grownup, a little older than me, his folks aren't around, and it's up to him to care for his sister. She has special needs, she's 39 but operates more like a 5 to 7 year old on an emotional level.
I've never met David, except online, but I can tell it's tough on him. He doesn't complain about it but it's hard, takes a lot out of you, you know?
My wife and I have no idea how long we'll be around, on this planet. We do everything we can to stay healthy, eat right, all that. Sometimes Dana wants to know where Tess will be when she's a grownup. We don't have a good answer, but we know that he'll need to be there for her when we aren't there anymore.
It's not fair. None of this is fair. It's good to say that out loud.
But we see in Dana this generous spirit, this way he has of turning off the resentment over what's fair and embracing his life. He loves Tess so freakin much. Part of it might be that he never had to share his bayblades or magic cards or video games with her, but mostly it's just love.
And that's it for this week's show.
I'll be back next week.
Thank you again to all you listeners who've been reviewing the show in iTunes: Mark Viviano, Rose Carradini, Adam Kessler, Laura Glover, Lindsay Haun, Jamie Bell, plus the people whose names I don't know -- Guinness Girlie, ME army nurse 73, no bones jones. If you haven't reviewed it yet, please do -- it really does help.
If you like this show, you know what would be truly fantastic? Think of someone else you know who would like it. Then if you want to head over Facebook, tag your friend, and mention the show, I'd be forever in your debt.
A ton of you have been spreading the word online, like Lauren Bell, Alison Camillo, Bandar Al-Hejin, Justine Cherry-Macklin, Amanda Rand, Krista Haapala, just to name a few. I am really so grateful to you guys for growing my audience so much in the past month.
Will Sakran wrote and performed our closing theme.
Thanks to Brad Peirce for co-writing and playing guitar on our opening theme.
Thanks for listening, and see you next time.