When Lily was a baby I wrote a blogpost called "Enough", detailing a recurring dream I'd had. It was a soul-bearing kind of a post, and in all honesty I've kind of steered away from those over the past few years.
I'm grateful - yes grateful - for the opportunity to raise two little girls with Down syndrome. So I don't want anything I say here to be misconstrued or misunderstood because I'm honest about their challenges and mine.
But some posts - like this one or this one or this one- are therapeutic for me. They're not written to solicit pity or praise; they are mainly just a "word of encouragement" to myself: take heart, self. It's going to be alright.
So today I went back to reread those posts, and even though I'm cringing just a little bit at the thought of writing a similar one.. I'm doing it anyway.
Because I need a "take heart, self" moment here. And maybe someone out there does as well.
After Lily was born, and the words "Down syndrome" became part of the common vernacular in our home, I spent the first year on a roller coaster of emotions. And I would say that the majority of those emotions were good ones…because for the most part, parenting a child with special needs is just like the first year of parenting in general - there were good days and bad days. Days when I felt like I was adjusting to what it meant to be a mom, and days when things felt out of my control.
But the difference between that first year with my first baby, and that first year with Lily, was this : when the dip on the roller coaster of special needs came, it was huge. Like Space Mountain versus the kiddy roller coaster in Toon Town, huge. And it wasn't a dip, it was a plunge. A mind- numbing, shell-shocking, out-of-nowhere plunge into darkness, and it wasn't ever "fun"; it was pure hell.
I've never liked roller coasters in real life, and I hate them in my emotions even more.
And almost every time that dreadful plunge came, it was because of comparison.
You know that saying – "comparison is the thief of joy"? It becomes incredibly real when you're the parent of a child with special needs.
Because you don't just compare your child to typical children… you compare them to all the other children with their syndrome. At least for me that has been true .
And the thing that hurts the most is not the fact that she has Down syndrome - but the horrible introspection that comes after the bus hits.
And it goes something like this..
Have I done enough ?
Would my girls be better off if I were doing more?
Is there something I'm doing wrong?
Have I failed them somehow?
Am I missing something?
How much of "who they are" is because of their genetic make-up -- and how much is because of me?
And this is where I have to stop the bus.
Don't get me wrong - there is a place for healthy introspection. There is a time for asking questions and making sure we aren't missing avenues of help for our children. And I'm never opposed to looking for new resources or bouncing ideas off other parents or educators as far as giving my girls the tools they need to learn.
But then there is the bus.
And when I'm knocked down by the bus, all careful and healthy and honest introspection is replaced by an infinite number of what-ifs.
There is no room for a truthful assessment of "how" my girls are doing, because I'm drowning in the the sea of comparison.
It doesn't matter what Lily can do - just did today ! - because the comparison bus just robbed me of that joy.
I was thrilled yesterday that she got herself dressed for church, folded her play clothes and put them away, told me "I love you" and tried to write her name. But those proud mom moments - held up in the light of another child's accomplishments - are crushed under the weight of comparison.
|she picked out the entire outfit herself and came downstairs ready to go. "Mama, Lily dressed... ME!"|
And here's where my "take heart, self" speech comes in.
Patti: take heart.
Stop the bus.
Pick yourself up.
Stop the what-ifs.
Because at the end of the day, what I'm left with is this: God gave me my children - those with special needs and those without - and He also gave them me.
If my children's futures are completely in my hands ... if everything they are going to be is left up to me, and what I can or can't do for them ... then we are already sunk.
Because truthfully I'm always going to fall short somewhere. Truthfully, there are always going to be things I miss, areas where I could be doing better.
That's true as a mommy to Lily and Madison, and that's true for my other ten children as well. I didn't suddenly become a perfect mom when my daughters with designer genes were placed in my arms. I wasn't instantly, miraculously infused with the wisdom of the ages – and they didn't come with a blueprint for life either.
How many times as parents have we wished that all of our children came with special instruction manuals, handwritten by God? But as much as I wish I could be the perfect mommy, always knowing exactly what it is my children need to succeed in life ... at the end of the day who they are left with - is me.
All of my children have strengths and weaknesses, special needs or not. And no two of them are the same. I have twelve children who excel in different areas - some sing, some don't, some love math, some hate it with a passion, some are bookworms, and some struggle just to read. Some of my children are masters at keeping their rooms clean, and some can hardly remember to make their beds. We have artists in our family, musicians, scholars, inventors, comedians and creative geniuses alike - they all arrived with distinct personalities and passions, hardwired by their Creator... not me.
And just as I can't take full credit for their strengths, I can't take all the blame for their struggles either. I'm the same mom to all of them, and yet somehow ... they are all unique.
And so this game - of comparing one child to another - is really like another old saying, you know ? It's like comparing apples to oranges. I place such an unnecessary burden on myself when I expect a different result. If I can't compare Noah or Jackson to other children their age… with the same amount of chromosomes.... why would I do that for Lily and Madison ? If the comparison game is an effort in futility for any of my children ... then it's even more so for my daughters with designer genes.
I cannot do this job, cannot be their mama, cannot live this way, wondering if I'm enough.
I have to trust that not only did God give me them, but that He gave them me, and that apparently He believed I was up for this...that I was enough.
I might drop the ball at times, might miss something at times, might not read enough or try enough or ask enough...but I do love my children more than life itself, and at the end of the day I choose to believe that is ...