“Tell me a story!”
I’d like to say I don’t tire of this request, but I do, yet I still indulgently comply. As I acquiesce, I look at her and catch her eye and remember why. Because someday she won’t ask. She won’t have the time or the interest. I can tell myself that this isn’t in the realm of possibilities but, it is, yet with many parenting truths our kids put those to test. Our kids are wired differently. Good, bad, doesn’t matter. Just different. Atypical, neurodiverse, neurodivergent…pick your label. Just different.
Either one of them have the potential for many great things and yet their lives will possibly look very different than the average person’s. The truth is, their lives already do but it doesn’t stop them. It’s challenging to live in a world seemingly not meant for them but the trick to not letting it ruin our day is to act as if that isn’t the case and continue on.
We all have seasonal allergies and it hit the kids fairly hard the week before her 8th birthday. Owen’s turned into a sinus infection and Leonora was fighting one. I was faced with canceling her long awaited birthday party. A dear thing for any kid but much more so when that child is being taught outside of school. Some of her friends she rarely sees anymore. I anticipated a meltdown when I broke the news that I was canceling. The response instead knocked me sideways.
She hugged me in relief, “I don’t want a party.”
I had it wrong. I had built it up. I had been anticipating seeing everyone. She wanted to please me and had been playing along. I was giving her what I wanted and not what she wanted or needed.
Suddenly I felt sick to my stomach wondering how many times this has been the case in the past. Some of those moments resulted in her not speaking up when she should. She would rather face harm and danger than disappoint others. I hugged her close.
“Thank you for telling me. I’m sorry I didn’t understand before.”
She looked up at me and smiled with relief, “I like playdates. Just ones where it’s one friend though…I like quiet parties.”
I’m thankful she speaks up now. It’s been a recent development and hard earned. It means being non judgemental, calm, asking constructed open-ended questions, and waiting very patiently. It takes her two to three times longer for her to respond than her neurotypical (NT) peers and sometimes not at all. It can take her weeks, months, or years to process and share. Especially painful events.
She can read at a fifth grade level, complete multiplication and fraction problems, but she doesn’t understand how to socialize at a party or how to maintain a friendship without help.
It’s been a long year again of new discoveries, lessons hard won, and some harsh realizations for each one of us and all of us in our family. Leonora has sailed through them beautifully and thrived with studying at home. School was painful for her last year and we’ve learned from that and continue to recalculate how we teach her based on those lessons.
My hope is that she comes to trust others again. That she makes friends on her own someday and finds the courage to take a risk on being who she wants to be.
I don’t have a time machine nor a magic wand. I can’t undo the damage of the trauma she endured at either public school she attended but I can teach her how to carry on and not let it define her. After all, isn’t that what we all are struggling to do in life?
She amazes me. I look at her and feel speechless at how long each day has felt and how quickly the time has past within a breath.
We’re walking through the zoo on a crisp, spring morning before it fills with tourists, field trips, and play groups. She’s wearing her new coat that she loves, her favorite pink shoes, and she’s officially eight tomorrow. She stumbles over her feet as she turns back to look at me across the empty pathway. It leaves me gasping and biting back tears.
How did this wondrous creature come into my life?
As unlucky as I feel at moments, as grueling as all of the struggles can be these past few years, I am always thankful for these two people that I make these sacrifices for. My rainbow babies. Happy birthday, Leonora.