So Proud

For those of you who are new readers, or who don’t remember this, four year old Leah did not want any siblings. When she heard the news that we were expecting her little brother, she was angry with me. She told me that she wanted to be an only child forever. When she came to see him in the hospital, she glared defiantly at me and didn’t ask to hold him.

Our first night home, however, she gave in. I will never forget how exhausted that little girl was, after three days of being juggled around by three sets of grandparents (and spoiled, too!) She couldn’t hold up her facade of not having any interest whatsoever in the little pink, chubby faced boy peering at her from the blankets. For several weeks she would tell me that she was only pretending to love her brother to make me happy, but it was apparent that she was only trying to protect her bruised ego; she was hooked. She was smitten.

When a child has been raised as an only child for 4 1/2 years, it isn’t easy to suddenly have their world turned upside down by a new baby. And it certainly didn’t help that Christopher was no “easy baby”. He required a lot of time and attention. Leah sat quietly by, observing the small bundle that was taking over her mommy’s life and biding her time until he was old enough to play.

Play, they did! As Chris began to walk he quickly learned how to go to her bedroom door and knock relentlessly until she let him in. He learned to call her name from his crib for some extra smiles and attention, and that she could open up a popsicle almost as well as mommy could. As for Leah, she took it all in stride, learning that it’s fun to be the “boss” and to have a built in playmate who is always up for whatever adventure you have in mind.

I just want to say that I am so incredibly proud of my little girl. Raising Chris is no easy task. Even at 3 1/2 years old he still takes up a lot of my time and attention. There are appointments every week, and the infinite patience that I have had to develop to deal with his meltdowns. 99% of the time, my daughter is exceedingly patient, kind, and tolerant of her brother.

It isn’t easy to be a superstar- the oldest child with the highest expectations from mom and dad. Keep your grades up, don’t whine, be a good role model for your brother. But she does it all, most of the time without being asked. She is talented in so many ways, and yet she know how to just have fun and be a little girl as well.

I hear the patience in her voice when she explains things to Chris. Sometimes I see her getting frustrated, and there are even times when she uses her older sister status as an excuse to be bossy. But for the most part, she is just his partner in crime and most of all, his best friend. As a parent, there is nothing better than watching your children love one another.

Leah Noelle, you will be eight years old soon, but I should say eight years young. You are still so little, less than a decade old. You have many experiences yet to come and life lessons waiting to be learned. But even so, you are wise beyond your years and kind beyond anything I have ever seen. I know that it’s not easy, but I need you to know that I see you. I see everything you do to help me, and I appreciate it. I am so proud of you.

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Not Alone

When you picture your future as a kid, teenager, or young adult, most of us picture perfection. A marriage to the spouse of our dreams, a house in the suburbs, good working vehicles, family vacations, and 2.5 perfect children. As we get to that point, however, we begin to realize that life doesn’t come in a perfect little package like that. Life is hard work! Relationships take effort, even if you are with your perfect partner. You have to work hard for the career you want and advance before you can afford that dream home and those nice cars and vacations. And then there are the kids. They don’t just come out perfect.

It takes a lot of work to raise a child, and a lot of personal decisions on how you are going to do so. Even those who may be aware of this, however, usually will imagine themselves having children who are healthy. It’s so easy to think “that will never happen to me” when you hear about children with health problems, autism, etc. The term Special Needs doesn’t come up when we are thinking and looking forward to our future children.

And yet, it happens.

My daughter was an easy baby. Everything came easily from sleep-training (okay, it didn’t seem so easy at the time!) to potty-training, to acclimating her to school. She was well-behaved, even mannered, smart, and eager to please. And, she still is! For those who have followed this blog from the beginning, you will be pleased to know that Leah has turned into a lovely young lady of almost 8 years. She plays sports, sings, acts, and does extraordinarily well in school.

And then there is Christopher. As an infant, he was a little trying. He didn’t sleep much, and he would ONLY breastfeed. No bottles, not even with my pumped milk. He was stubborn. As a toddler he was ornery, but it didn’t seem more so than any other one or two year old. However, as Christopher approached the age of three, my instincts were screaming at me that there was something more, something beyond ordinary toddler issues. He was continuing to throw tantrums, yet they seemed so much more intense than anything I had ever experienced. When Chris is happy, he can be the most joyful child in the world, but when he is unhappy look out! His emotions are wrought in intensity. His meltdowns were frequent, monumental, and could stem from nothing.

Last fall I made a decision to get some help. I wondered if I was more lenient with him, but when I would go over it in my head, it seemed apparent that he was getting the same upbringing as his sister. I thought that if I sought the assistance of a behavioral therapist I could learn some strategies to deal with his behaviors.

Let me just pause here to explain something- I was burnt out, yes. Every day was a struggle, a battle of wills with my son. But you all need to know that I ADORE this child. He is my son, and I saw every side of him. My biggest fear was the world would never see the joyful, funny, sweet side of my boy if they got too caught up in the other things.

The first appointment was just me and the therapist. When I sat down I didn’t know what to say. There was so much to my son, how could I begin to describe him? As I begun to talk, however, it got easier. The therapist nodded thoughtfully as I described my days with Chris. And then it happened; I began to hear about things such as Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder. I began to hear about special needs, and IEP’s, and developmental pediatricians.

Chris has been in therapy for almost 6 months now and has made many strides. He isn’t as freaked out by certain textures as he used to be, but he continues to struggle with loud noises. His meltdowns are still intense, but they are becoming less frequent, and easier to calm. He also gets OT through the school district and has an appointment with a developmental pediatrician. I still have a lot of unanswered questions (he has no official diagnosis) and a lot of hard work ahead of me. You see, as the parent of a special needs child it will be my job to fight for him, to advocate for him to get whatever he needs. He is above average cognitively, a very smart little guy. Chris struggles mostly with anxiety and social behavior.

I am learning more every day. There is a lot to this, and I can’t possibly put it all into one blog post. But I just want you all to know that I get it now. No one has the picture perfect little family that we pictured for ourselves, but that doesn’t mean that our lives are not rich and fulfilling. I would not change one thing about my son, even the challenges we face. We will face them together, head on. I will fight tooth and nail to get him whatever he needs to learn and have a good life. And, I will share my plight here, with you. If you are facing a similar situation, it so helps to know that you are not alone. Not everyone who sees your child have a meltdown is thinking that they are just a brat. I don’t. I get you. I see your child and I see your struggle. You are not alone.