Yesterday, I allowed my kids to have McDonalds for lunch. It's not too very often they get to have it. When we're out running errands and they've been exceptionally good, I will indulge them. Problem is, they always want to go in and eat in the restaurant and then play on the playground they have there. I do not want to go inside and be around other people, I definitely do not want to be around other people's children. Yesterday, we faced this problem.
My oldest son was griping that we were going through the drive-thru yet again. I got the "You're mean, Mom." whine. I said "Your Mom is not mean, she's bipolar." He knows that I am bipolar, and a little of what it means, but obviously at 7 years old does not entirely grasp the concept. He asked if being bipolar meant I didn't like public places. I said that was correct to some extent. He went on to say how it wasn't fair and that it was getting in the way of his happiness. I told him that I understood and told him that it got in the way of my happiness, as well. He kept at it, telling me it was affecting his joy. Again, I showed empathy and told him it did the same to me. Normally, he would have stopped there, but he called me killjoy a couple of times, and I got meanie a time or two, I think. Something to that effect. He asked me why I didn't want to be around people; if bipolar was contagious. I explained that it wasn't. He asked when I would stop being bipolar. I tried to explain that I would never be cured. He asked how I got it, etc. When it became apparent that the answers to his questions weren't going to produce anything he would like, he said to me, "Why can't you just act like you don't have it?"
What do you say to that? It was a knife through my heart. My son is entitled to feel the way he does. Bipolar affects his life almost as much as it affects mine. He is entitled to a happy childhood and I am not able to do things that he should be allowed to do...like play at the stupid little playground or have lunch inside a fast food restaurant sometimes. Why can't I just pretend I don't have it?
My aunt thought he was being cruel hammering at me with his questions. I didn't see it that way. He had legitimate questions and a legitimate beef. He had a right to express how he felt and I wouldn't want him to hold that inside in favor of sparing my feelings. The kid swallows his feelings enough already. He is an incredibly compassionate child and if he could understand more about my illness, he would deny himself anything and everything if it meant helping me. I don't want that for him. My aunt feels that at 7 years old, he has achieved the age of accountability and should be taught that he was being cruel. At the very most it was insensitive, but even with that I can't agree. He has a legitimate point. Plus, he is a child and he doesn't know the line between appropriate and excessive yet, and I am a patient enough an adult to teach him. It doesn't have to be taught in one day. I felt letting him have his say (and all that came with it) was more important yesterday than teaching him that lesson. I cried over how my illness affects him, yes. I didn't cry because of what he was saying to me. My aunt doesn't understand the difference. She still sees it as him being cruel.
What sticks with me is the notion of 'acting like I don't have it'. I wonder if that might help. I used to do something like that when I had nerves over public speaking. I would just pretend to be a person who was comfortable with speaking to a crowd. I'd adopt the persona of a confident person--in short, I'd pretend to be someone else. Can I do that with bipolar? Can I fool my illness? Has my son come up with something that might work? I would do anything for my kids, so maybe I should give it a try. The hard part would be if it didn't work I'd be faced with being at the restaurant with them and having to tell them we needed to leave. Then I'd really be a killjoy. I'd be committed to staying there until they had enough time to play. I have to find a way to take the method for a test-drive first. Otherwise, if it doesn't work I'm in for a painful, perhaps disastrous, experience.