What I have learned now that I have four years to look back and evaluate how I got to today.
Were once I was the student I find myself now the slightly-more-seasoned-teacher. I learned what works and what is a waste of time with all things big and small. I do get calloused at some things and cynical with other things, but I have now built a better understanding and emotional relation to other aspects of life. I learned who really has my back and who I can count on. And I learned how to build relationships by opening up communications with those who were timid or afraid to be a part of my special needs world. I have learned how strong I can be and how much stronger I can get with each hurdle. I soon realized there is no limit to the strength I can build. I learned what is important in life, what aspects are superficial, and what now makes me truly happy. I learned that being content is the same as being happy, just not as flashy. I find myself having an inside chuckle when hearing certain phrases or getting incredibly offended or sad hearing others. I have found myself having more manic days out of adrenaline rushes or utter exhaustion. I have found my new “me.” It is different, more mature in some ways and yet more emotional in others, but it is still good. Choices become clearer and easier because I do not have time to waver on anything and have to make big bold choices and actions immediately. After so many of these choices being thrown at me I have found my ability to tackle them much faster. The emotion attached to these will still be the same. But the choice on what to do comes faster because I have now learned that I have little control over the outcome to most choices I have been forced to make.
After four years I have gained a whole new understanding of my growing boy. I have been able to figure out what certain movements or sounds mean. And if I can’t, I make up my own meaning to them to bring another moment of happiness to my day. Noah’s eyebrows move much like mine. All over the place and with each and every thought my eyebrows express themselves. When Noah likes something or I think he might be concentrating, his eyebrows go up in unison. When he is familiar with a song or voice his eyebrows go up in unison. To me, upward eyebrows mean happiness, familiarity, positive thoughts, and smiles. Locking knees on the other hand can mean the complete opposite. When Noah feels overwhelmed or loud sounds are starting to get under his skin he will lock his knees and stiffen out his legs. His entire body becomes rigid and he starts to move in awkward little jerks and twists. At one time I thought these were random acts of neurological misfires. Then I thought that he was seeking stimulation or movement. After four years I have finally learned that when Noah does this he needs his space. His quiet dark time alone to center himself and calm his over-stimulated nerves. Noah will now suck his tongue as if imitating sucking on a pacifier and this means he is thirsty. He does this every single morning and once I realized his night meds cause cotton mouth it finally clicked. When he wants a drink he sucks his tongue, when he is really intensely hungry he will shove his three fingers in his mouth and suck on them. When Noah is tired he will immediately start to fuss and the smallest of sounds can set him off into a full blown cry-fest. The second we see Noah’s tired eyes means we have exactly five minutes to get him into his own space to ensure a calm and peaceful night.
Noah’s laughter is joyous and full of light and peace and I am pretty sure it is what snowflakes are made of. Noah has laugh attacks that come out of nowhere and can last 30 minutes. As an infant he would have them before he fell asleep. Now that he is four he will have them on the school bus, or riding in a car, or sitting in his wheelchair riding on pavement. He will also just be sitting in the middle of the room playing with the same toy he has held for the past hour and all of the sudden break out into boisterous laughter. I cherish these moments and try to make sure that every instance is safely stored into my Noah laughter memory box.
I have learned that I can plan, pack, and prepare for days before any single event, holiday, or simple family outing. But in truth, I have no control over what might happen and soon realize the time I spent preparing were wasted minutes I could have focused elsewhere. This isn’t a special needs lesson. This is a parenthood lesson. I didn’t know this until I had the twins.
In fact, since Noah was our first I didn’t know much of anything regarding the differences between being a parent of a special needs child versus a neuro-typical child. Now that I have two typical children I realize that most of those first year worries, tears, and hard moments were actually first-time parent moments and not just because we were caring for and raising a special needs child. Every single parent in the entire world has these moments. Every single one of them! That thought made me feel not so alone or lost like I felt in the beginning. Actually, now that I have built such a big support system of other mothers raising both typical and special needs children I never feel alone. I have friends all over the world with a wealth of knowledge and advice that a price tag couldn’t be put on.
With that being said I still have my dark moments. Usually when I am shopping by myself during my lunch hour or riding in my car alone to pick up the kids from daycare. It is always when I am alone and I have time to overthink things, dwell on the past that can’t be changed, or stress over future events that haven’t even happened yet. I am always living in the moment and that is my happy place I have figured out. When I let my mind float to past or future stresses is when I tread into emotional roller-coaster territory. I have targeted my weak area and I have found solutions to overcome it as well. It took me awhile and much self-examination but once I accepted it, I learned from it, and I grew from it.
I learned that I have to say “yes” much more often. When help is offered, meals are offered, an invite to lunch or even a quick walk around the office with a coworker to chat. I am not naïve enough to think I can do this on my own. I have the best husband I could ever have hoped for. I have amazing parents and in laws and family and friends. Life is so much easier to walk through with a helping hand. I do not pretend to be supermom. My house is in one constant state of chaos or havoc. Some weekends the only tasks that get accomplished are some games of chase, some giggles, and a million new messes.
Life is short, it’s hard, it’s equal parts sad and happy, and every minute of every day is a new opportunity to make a new memory with those standing next to you. Life as a special needs parent means each new obstacle of the same type gets easier, but the first time is always the hardest to face - - isn’t that just the way life is for everyone?