Oh, boy. There is nothing like being at a busy and popular outdoors store (aka: the “big” Bass Pro Shop) and dealing with a very defiant, loud, and just plain out-of-control four-year-old. Wowza. Directives were given. Choices were offered. Still yet, the force was quite strong with this one, today. Because I am the parent and he is the child, I gave him one last warning, “If you do not hold my hand and stay with me, you and I will have to go to the van.” And, boom. He’s off. Throwing a major, cataclysmic style of meltdown for all of the outdoorsy, fishing fanatics to see.
I swiftly, yet gently picked the floppy body of my child up off the ground, maneuvered him in a way that protected the both of us, grabbed the keys from my husband, and headed off to the seemingly non-ending walk to our van. The ENTIRE time, my child was screaming. Now listen. His screams were not just a “typical” scream. Oh, no. It was something animalistic that surely came from the depths of the dwelling place of Hades.
His body stiffened. I nearly dropped him. He somehow managed to get himself to the ground, and then magically became limp and without strength to stand up on his own two feet. I picked him up off of the ground, carried him like a basket, watched for the flailing arms and legs, and we meandered our way through that gigantic maze of dead animals and camouflage.
As we walked, or better yet, I walked while wrestling what seemed like an alligator, people just stopped and stared. They parted the way (just like Moses parting the Red Sea…sort of) so that I could get through. Sometimes, a few older people chuckled. Others made eye-contact with me with the “Girl, we feel your pain” kind of solidarity (AND I LOVE THOSE PEOPLE), but then were many that gave me a look of disdain. I mean, how in the world would any decent parent have a child that acts like that?! Right? Yeah, right.
Alas, we made it to the van. I opened the door, he threw himself on the ground. I got his car seat all ready for his delivery, he stiffened his body. I peered around to see a church van of folks staring and watching our little game of cat and mouse. I finally got him in the van, shut his door, jumped in on my side, and locked it.
With a bit of snarkiness, I posted on my personal Facebook page a status that included wild animal sounds not being a new sound effect of Bass Pro Shops, having a walk of shame out of the store, and Jesus coming back, but then I sat back in my seat as he started to soften a bit, and I held back tears.
Some might say that this behavior is quite typical of a preschooler. I suspect it is. However, and I’m going to be extremely candid about this, my husband and I deal with these type of behaviors on a daily basis, and we manage the best we can. All of our children experienced trauma in the womb. It is as if they not only absorbed the choices their birth mothers made, they also absorbed the chaos around them. There is something to be said about that.
People have said to me, “At least you got them as babies.” ‘Tis true. We are very blessed to receive our children as infants, but that does not mean, nor ever will mean, that we do not experience daily struggles with our children. This is the thing that only parents of children with invisible special needs can understand.
When others see my children, they see bright, cute, outgoing, athletic and friendly kids. What they don’t see is the day-to-day parenting energy that is expelled in order to pull this off. They don’t see our neurology appointments, clinical assessments, and a medication regimen that we have to attend to. They don’t hear our discussions with people in the helping profession or attend the various training on managing trauma and behavioral issues that we’ve attended.
They don’t know the late-night, in bed, talks between my husband and I about how we can handle a behavior, or what we should or should not do to maintain. They don’t know the time spent advocating for our kids. They don’t hear our prayers for protection, wisdom, and healing. They don’t understand just how exhausted we are at the end of the day. And, they do not know our worries for our children’s futures.
But..let me tell you, friend. There is this mighty thing called faith, and it encompasses us. It envelops us and surrounds us with the will to get up each day and try to do better. We know, with every pore in our bodies, that our children are exactly where God needed them to be…with us.
My husband and I realized a few weeks ago that we are parenting special needs kids. Of course, we’ve known this for years, but we finally spoke it out loud. We finally gave ourselves permission to call it what it is, and to not be happy and “okay” with life all of the time.
For others who are parenting kids with special needs, I just want to say that you are a special kind of parent. You deal with issues that a lot of families will never face. You understand with full attention what it is like to parent a child whose walk on the Earth is laden with challenges. Your energy and time spent researching, advocating, listening, crying, and praying is time well worth spent. Don’t ever forget that.
Tomorrow is a new day. Cover yourself with the belief and hope that we are making a significant difference in the lives of our kids. We are not perfect. We have to discipline differently. We have to choose to ignore the things that would drive other parents crazy. We have to carry ourselves in a manner that does not show just how much we are struggling. And, we should be proud of this.
It takes a lot, a tremendous amount, to parent children with special needs. Don’t be shy to ask for help. Don’t be embarrassed to admit that you struggle. After all, we are simply parents whose lives are a mission field for children who desperately need us.
Don’t ever forget that.