Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Answering the Questions

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Answering the Questions

Article excerpt

As a mother of a daughter with special needs, as well as to a son without, I can say having had both experiences, all mothers, regardless of her children, struggle in one form or another.

That may actually be a part of the job description: Mother: must be able to function well with minimal sleep; is capable of multi-tasking; be clever enough to deal well with loneliness, boredom and isolation; and be able to mentally manage all of the struggles she'll undoubtedly encounter. For the mom with the exceptional child, however, one more requirement need be added: You must retain a sense of humor.

My friends sometimes share their struggles, as mothers so often do, but oftentimes stop abruptly in mid-sentence and say, "But I know it's nothing compared to what you've had to go through." My daughter had three strokes before she was seven months old, so my issues are not in the same category as those problems my friends were experiencing, but that doesn't make their problems any less important. Just different.

After my son was born and I became a part of the 'mommy world', I realized that most of my friends were in complete denial of their struggles and would, in fact, lie. For example "My son was potty-trained before he turned two," or "My little guy is already sleeping through the night," or "My little girl is a wonderful eater." I thought, lies, lies, all a bunch of lies. I could tell from the dark circles under their eyes, or the day-old mashed peas embedded in her hair extension. The extra pair of pampers tucked inside those designer handbags was also a dead giveaway!

I also learned, when entering into the 'mommy world', that you're now an open target for comments, questions, criticism, and judgments not only from friends and family, but from anyone that may come within ten feet of you. The thing is, with my son, I never felt the need to lie or even embellish the truth. I loved to tell anyone who'd listen about my struggles with new motherhood, for example, how, during the first 10 months of my son's life I was up with him every three hours--on the dot--and it would take a good 45 minutes of breastfeeding before getting him back to sleep. Or, how he refused to eat anything that didn't have cheese in it. Come to think of it, six years later, my refrigerator is still cramped with the orange stuff!

Now having a daughter with special needs, I find I'd sometimes like to lie. I don't see the necessity of telling every Tom, Dick and Mary on the check-out line the background story associated with my daughter. Yet I always find myself revealing all of the sordid details and events surrounding Sydney's first six months on earth; how she was born prematurely but without incident, how my husband and I reacted to the first stroke, and then the second a week later, and then the third two months later. In retrospect, I think it may be therapeutic for me to talk about it. Maybe it's that way for you too. Or maybe you're the type of person who dreads even going to the supermarket with your globally delayed child for fear of that stranger who just may approach you.

Whether you're the type of person who, like me, doesn't think they want to be asked questions, yet find themselves still ready, willing and able to offer a lengthy dissertation, or you're the type of person who is more reserved, it's your prerogative to answer in a way that won't make you wish you had the magical power to disappear just because a certain question comes up that makes you uncomfortable. Each of us with a special needs child, I tend to think, must have had several experiences where "that" question came up--that one question that you get asked that you simply HATE to answer. The thing is that while "that" question isn't necessarily an inappropriate one, it also wouldn't raise the hairs on the back of your neck if you were responding about a child without special needs. That question would be a whole lot simpler to answer. …

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