You know how you meet little old ladies, who see you with your child, and they smile and say “Enjoy this, they grow up so fast!”
I always smile and nod and say “Oh I understand.” Because they mean well, and they’re right – 3 out of 4 times.
I don’t say “Well, THIS one will not grow up.” I don’t have time to explain. And I am not into making people who mean well feel bad.
But it’s true. I have a child who in many ways, will never really grow up. As she ages and grows, it just becomes more and more apparent. This child of mine is still so very childish.
I was reminded of this yesterday, as I bathed her. She stood in the shower enjoying the water as I tried to clean her. She flapped about, spraying water everywhere. I got frustrated. She was either too close or too far from me. I kept getting frustrated. At the end, because she felt I wasn’t damp enough I guess, she actually started shaking off like a puppy, spraying water everywhere.
Most parents know this drill. They go through it with their two year old. Then their two year old grows up a little more and stops spraying water everywhere during every bath time.
We’re seven years past the two year age. I’ve given up hope that she’ll outgrow this. And I had this flash of “OMG, I’m going to be washing her hair forever!” moment.
I actually said out loud “I am SO TIRED of this!”
Luckily, Maura doesn’t understand me when I say things like this and she’s all in her moment. So I was able to get it out without hurting anyone.
Because sometimes – you just have to say it out loud. Get it out there, acknowledge it, and then go back to drying the wet child off, helping her into her pj’s, combing out her wet hair as she dances about.
I’m lucky. I’ve got a child who has such a sweet disposition, who goes with most flows, who enjoys life and doesn’t mind change. It makes my life easier, and a future with her less daunting. Yes, she’ll be with us forever, but she rarely holds us back.
But there are times I get a glimpse of what it’s like to have a more difficult (though equally as loved) child.
When we were at Legoland during our holiday in England, Maura was doing great at first. She loved everything. Everything was awesome (her word). And then the day progressed. She got more tired. She wanted a balloon. We got away from the balloon seller, only to have him inadvertently follow us to the next section of Legoland. This led to a twenty minute screaming tantrum over a freaking balloon, where she screamed, sobbed, cried, yelled, and sobbed some more while I stood my ground and people stared and the balloon guy finally disappeared.
Things perked up for a bit after that – we rode a couple more rides, she got a crown, all was good until we hit the gift shop. With about 2000 other people, as it had started raining in earnest at that point. Two minutes in the overcrowded, sensory overload of a store and Maura was screaming. I took her outside where she sobbed some more and others stared.
It’s one of those moments where I find myself having this rare thought of “I wish she LOOKED special needs.” Because then people would have a clue that my child isn’t typical and doesn’t react typically. But instead, she looks normal and therefore people expect normal behaviors. Yet she is anything but normal and itt takes a couple glances to realize it. Parents usually do get it after a couple looks, children however don’t, so they stare until their parent shoos them away.
But that was all another time. Now she’s stretched out on my sofa, daydreaming about something, a little smile on her face and I once again wonder – what is going on in that head?
Maura is this strange combination of able and disabled. She can make herself a bowl of cereal, pour herself a drink. She can almost get herself dressed. She knows what she likes and what she wants. But she can’t always communicate that. Which would be frustrating to anyone. She’s a strange mix of 9 year old girl with the physical abilities of about a 4 year old and the emotional abilities of a 3 year old. No one ever glances twice at a 3 year old tantruming. We all just smile inwardly while thinking “I remember that. I’m SO glad we’re past that!”
But I’m not past it. We’ve been stuck here for years, moving forward at a snail’s pace. I have nothing to tell me if it’ll ever more much more forward. We could be stuck here forever. And while it’s one thing to have a sobbing 9 year old who can’t understand why mom won’t buy her a balloon, imagine it being a 29 year old sobbing over it?
I can imagine it. And it’s a little scary. So I push it back into the mental closet with all the other not so nice “what if’s”.
Now, I can hear a section of you saying “But why don’t you just buy her the balloon? It’s not a big deal!”
The answer is – because if I buy her one thing, she expects me to buy her every. single. thing. that catches her eye. Every. Single. Thing. I don’t have that kind of money, and I don’t want to have to do it. We wouldn’t buy every single thing our 3 year old tantrums for. So why would I do this for her? She’s special, but she’s not THAT special! She can handle not getting things, and it’s a life lesson she needs to learn.
Back to us standing outside the Legoland store, her sobbing into my shirt. After a few minutes, I decided to take her to the car. I told her we were going to the car and she said “Okay!” It had all gotten to be too much for her and we both knew it. But as we approached the exit, she suddenly yelled out “I want a wand!”
I stopped and said “You want the wand?”
“Okay then! Good job using words! Let’s get you that wand!”
See, she knew what she wanted. A fairy princess wand to go with her obnoxious pink crown. But in the store, with kids screaming about, parents yelling over the noise, the forty bazillion choices and bodies everywhere, she just couldn’t get that out. Once free of it all, she was able to tell me what she wanted. And yes, I rewarded it.
I’m sure some parents who’d seen the screaming and sobbing thought I was nuts for marching the girl back into the store. You know, rewarding her bad behaviors. That’s not what I was doing. I was rewarding her for being able to calm down enough and tell me what was going on. I spotted Josh and said “She wants a wand.” He said “Okay!”
We picked out the wand. This time, when she lunged for the pretty dress up dresses that wouldn’t fit her, I was able to distract her by handing her money for her wand. I steered her quickly into the shortest check out line, she paid for her wand, and we got the hell out of Dodge, but this time, with a smile on our faces.
This is my reality. This is my every day. Some days, she’s perfect and a joy. Other days she’s splashing me with bath water or having a meltdown outside a store. I
t’s an emotional roller coaster, one I don’t always handle well.
I hear of friends who are frustrated because their two year old won’t potty train and I want to have a hissy fit of “Oh shut it, my NINE year old won’t potty train!” But I can still remember when my other kids were being stubborn about potty training at a normal age and how frustrating it was for me. So I stay silent.
I hear of friends with girls Maura’s age talking about how great they’re doing in school, honor rolls, winning at their sport, talking back at them, with their messy rooms and I want to say “OMG! At least they can talk back to you! And can clean their own room!” But then I remember I brag/get frustrated by Miriam, with the messy room because she’s too busy writing a song.
I get frustrated with my other kids for not being patient with Maura at all times. Except I’m not either. And they are still amazing siblings who really do look out for their sister without me even asking, and sticking up for her when another kid made fun of her (even if Miriam did feel rude for yelling “shut up” at the kid making fun of Maura – I informed her in that case, it was okay to be rude.)
And then I find myself in the position of trying to protect my child while trying to help her spread her wings. She’s still so little in so many ways. But she thinks she can do more. I’m the mom on the stairs waiting to catch her if she trips, helping her get her shoes on, changing her diaper Yet I also know she has a mind of her own, her own style of clothing, her likes and dislikes and opinions. I’m the mom who buys her Doctor Who sets and takes her to concerts. I’m also the mom who squeezed her to my side while she laughed her way through the roller coaster, loving every moment. Until it ended. Then she burst out crying.
That is us in a nutshell – zipping through life while she laughs and cries, and I waiver between enjoying the moment and worrying for her.
And then one day, some nice old lady comes up to me and says “Enjoy them, they grow up so fast.”
Me? I find myself wanting to tell people “Enjoying watching your kids grow up, because some never will.”