One day, I was talking to my dear friend, Eileen. I was probably complaining about something that someone had done that I didn’t like, but realized most people would consider normal. She said something along the lines of: We all have our own owner’s manual, kind of like a washing machine. There are certain rules for dealing with us and if we communicate them to the people we love, they should respect them. If it’s not in the manual (i.e. we haven’t communicated it), we can’t hold others responsible. Disclaimer: She is MUCH better with words than I am. So, I am sure that it was much more eloquently stated.
Anyway, that was really a turning point for me. I got much better about calmly, clearly asking people to treat me the way I need to be treated- and about realizing that, when I hadn’t done that and a person didn’t follow my “owner’s manual” rules, I was partially responsible. I also started being more aware of other peoples’ manuals, which helped a great deal in not expecting others (especially R) to react to a situation exactly as I would.
I spent the first year of Ely’s life really trying to get to know her- to “listen” to her as she tried to communicate her owner’s manual. I’m not saying I understand why she does everything she does, but I can say without a doubt that I’m an expert on Ely, at least for now, before her emotional world gets much more complicated.
So, it makes me cringe when people do things to which I know she doesn’t respond well. Never fear. She is pretty darn effective at communicating her feelings! The problem arises when adults get their feelings hurt by her reactions or her generally avoiding contact with them.
Here are a couple things from her “owner’s manual” that might help:
- If you rush up to me and make loud sounds 2 inches from my face, I’m unlikely to respond well to you.
- I take a while to warm up to people. I have to see if I can trust you. When I decide I like you, you’re in. Forever.
- Whiskers hurt. If you haven’t shaved, please don’t rub your face on me.
- If I say “no”, when you ask for a kiss, please don’t pick me up and smother me with kisses. I won’t like it and, I don’t mean to be a jerk, but it is my body, after all.
- When I say or sign “all done”, I’m full. Please don’t shove more food in my mouth.
- If you’ve just finished smoking a cigarette, you stink. I don’t want you to hold me.
- If I fall and you laugh. That's rude. Please don't tell me nothing happened. I'm the only one who knows if it hurt. How about treating me like you would any other person and asking me if I'm okay?
- When you offer your arms and I say “no”, I’m serious. If you pick me up/pull me away from someone else anyway, I will get upset. I might kick and push away. That’s not being bad. That’s self-defense.
- When you offer your arms, I say “no” and you pretend like you were going to give me something (candy, etc.) if I’d complied, I don’t understand what you are saying. Plus, I don’t know what candy is. Maybe you should just be nice to me and let me warm up to you first.
- I’m only 16 months and the world is still new to me. If I’m feeling scared, tired, snuggly and want to hang with mom or dad, I’m not overly dependent. I don’t have “mamitis” and I am not “con la maña”. I’m just acting my age.
(Okay, maybe the last two were more me than her, but still…)
Looking back at those, they aren’t all that crazy. Most of them are true for me. I’d imagine that they’re true for you, too. Could it be that kids are people, too? Possibly?