Finally, you can fall into bed and for just a brief moment let the cyclone of air from the ceiling fan let you believe it is the gentle breeze coming off the crystal waters of an island in the caribbean.You let your body sink into the bed and will it to slowly relax from a day that has been anything but ideal. In that brief moment you wonder what your life would be like without the tiny Picasso that wrote in permanent marker all over the closet door, the high maintenance child who demands your A plus plus parenting game, and the young doesn’t want to grow up and cries about all the things one. You then guiltily wonder what would life be like if you weren’t the parent to a special needs child. That guilt is a guilt like no other.
It’s on days like today, when parenting goes all wrong, you wonder how you made it to this place. I never imagined being a mother of four children. We would have given anything for years to be the parent of even one miracle. As a result, I hands down never imagined myself as the mother of an adopted, biracial, terminally ill, and transgender child. Nope, that’s categorically NOT something covered in the parenting books I scoured during our years trying to create our family. Yet, that is the exact child that turned me into a mother. A child that requires all of my stamina and steadiness. So, as I lay there wondering and feeling immensely guilty, I made a very powerful choice. I chose grace this evening. I chose to allow myself to breathe and escape even if mentally to a place where things weren’t so hard. My mind simply needed a moment. That moment can be costly, as they either bring me inner peace or a savage storm of emotions. Tonight was no exception to that assessment.
Like horses competing at the Kentucky Derby, my thoughts all jockeyed for first place. They all want that shiny trophy of finishing first. Will it be making an appointment for new orthotics, a dental appointment for our number two, a play therapy appointment for number three, a seating clinic appointment for a shower chair for number one, the three baskets of laundry that need to be put away, packing for our next vacation in four days, or do I even dare think of sneaking in fifteen mixtures of reading something purely for me? I almost laugh as tears begin to form at the corner of my eyes. They are formed out of the feelings of pure devastating overwhelming fear of not being able to do it all. That is what we strive for right, doing it all?
I sat my children down today and said to them emphatically, “Mommy cannot do everything each of you is asking of me. I am just one person. I love each of you beyond measure, but I am not super human. I need you to help me, so that I may help you.” It was a lightbulb moment for my children. What they heard was a call to action. They all starting moving swiftly to find solutions. If I had only known those words would be so powerful! This family of ours has become a force to be reckoned with. We are a unit of six that stand back to back in a tight circle prepared to defend our little corner of this world. It’s a product of number one’s diagnosis, and our other children learning how to be compassionate, patient, and helpful when she needs it. It’s the group decisions we made on expanding to a family of six, that bring us closer and protective of our chosen child. It’s the absurdity and terrifying consequences of doing the right thing and supporting our number one in knowing who she is inside and out. It was easy for all of our children to accept and love their sister unconditionally, but it was anything but a seamless transition for our community in general. The tears fell tonight not just for the deep river of pain that watching number one slowly deteriorate or for how incredibly hard balancing everyone’s needs are. No, these tears were also for gratitude. When our family is at our worst, we are at our best.
How can that be, you ask? When number one is outraged and rightfully so over the fact that her arms just sent her chicken nuggets sailing across the room without her consent, number two steps up and locates the chicken nuggets and reminds number one that sharing with the dog is really kind of her. Number one laughs and number three hands over two of hers without saying a word. In the rare instances that my mask of strength slips and mom does the unthinkable and cries, number one scoots on the floor to get me a blanket. It takes incredible effort as she can’t walk and the floors are hard on her knees. She doesn’t complain for even a second. She just gives it her all to help me feel better. Her big heart makes mine grow three sizes bigger. Number two wraps her legs and arms around me and envelopes me in pure love. Number three gets me water, and number four just stands there and takes it all in through his two year old eyes, learning through experience just how powerful unity, compassion, acceptance, kindness, and love can be.
Through the eyes of my children, I see the best in our situation. I see love, acceptance, humor, and fun. As the tears help wash away the the hurt, they also allow me to see anew. They reveal the truth. There are always going to be hard days. There will be days that I forget to pull out dinner and we end up eating breakfast. The kids think this is the coolest idea ever, and I let them believe I am secretly a rebel mom. There will be days where you kick yourself because you thought you bought the washable markers, but in fact they are not. Your nine year old will rejoice as that means she will probably get her room painted pink sooner rather than later. You will lose your patience, your A game will be found three ball fields over, and you will want to throw a tantrum simultaneously with your toddler. Those days make you wonder. Is the crazy, hectic, and exhausting routine of raising these little people worth it all?
Yes. Yes, they are worth every single second. During those less than stellar parenting moments, I have the unique chance to teach my children some very powerful life lessons and to relearn them myself. Here are the five things we all learn from when parenting goes all wrong.
- We all make mistakes. We lose our temper, patience, and ability to express ourselves in the way we should. It’s how we recover from those mistakes that makes all the difference. Sitting down and showing your children the power of not just an apology but true forgiveness is exceptionally powerful. It’s a lesson they will carry with them for a lifetime and allow them to have healthier relationships.
- We all have hard days. On those hard days, it’s ok to ask for help. We can’t make it through this world alone. Why would we want to? While my children may scoff at helping from time to time, it’s just another chance to remind them that I need their help just as much as they need mine. It’s called teamwork and stepping up to the plate. Those qualities will serve them well in whatever career they may choose and in interpersonal relationships.
- There needs to be balance. There is a time for playing and fun and there is a time to get things done. On days that there is a great deal to accomplish, it’s ok for them to realize that not everything is all about them. Just like there are plenty of days where it isn’t all about me. Here’s looking at you children’s museum! We will all have our turn.
- We all get overwhelmed from time to time. Yes, you lost your temper when I asked you to clean your room, to find your missing shoe, and to feed the dog in the same sentence. I probably asked you to do too many things at once. It’s like the time when you asked me to help you with your homework, get you something to drink, and to take you to the store to get new markers because yours were all dried up. That was a lot too ask too. We both learned how to sit and breathe together and work out a plan for us to get our things done in a way that we could compromise on. Learning to compromise is an invaluable lesson.
- We have a new chance to start over tomorrow. While it is never a given, especially for someone raising a terminally ill child, that hope is. The hope that with a new sunrise, we too can rise to the challenges that were placed before us and to embrace the strengths within us.
So, today, hard day of hard days, I want to thank you for the reminder that it doesn’t have to be easy to be beautiful. In the coordinated chaos of raising children, we can find humor and lessons to be employed and learned. This family knows hard, lives and breathes courage, and loves fiercely. You reminded us that we are stronger together than we are apart. You refreshed our memory that we aren’t guaranteed happiness or an easy path. No, we must persevere and actively camp on the doorstep of fun and go after our dreams. After all, you will be genuinely surprised at the packaging your happiness may be disguised in! Trust me on this one. Now if you will excuse me, I must go to sleep before we start this madness all over again!