Thursday, September 17, 2009

Busy making other plans

There have been several times in my life where I've found myself re-defined.  Not because I was wanting to make a change, but because I discovered that I am, in very essence, different than I thought I was, or in different circumstances than I had hoped for.  Some have been small things, relatively easy to come to terms with.  Others were much larger in scope.

I always thought I would love the maternal thing.  You know--being pregnant, nursing, caring for tiny babies.  My mother did.  I loved other people's infants.  Baby dolls were my favorite toys for more years than I really care to admit.  My mom used to tell me about a friend of ours who really didn't care too much for kids until they were a bit older.  Even her own.  This story came with a judgemental undertone.  What kind of mother, after all, didn't just adore her own babies?  Something must have been wrong.

I got married young and became pregnant quickly.  And I was sick.  Very sick.  Lose weight kind of sick.  That finally subsided.  Then I was uncomfortable.  Water retaining, back aching, rib crushing uncomfortable.  I could not wait to be done being pregnant.  #1 was born 6 days early, which was good for my morale.  Except that then I had the baby.  A baby who had difficulty nursing.  When she did nurse, she'd immediately projectile vomit most of what she'd consumed.  She had a blocked tear duct.  I had an over-active let-down reflex.  We were wet and miserable a good deal of the time, or so it seemed.  Breast-feeding was not comfortable for me, physically or emotionally.  But I knew it was best, so I did it.  And I felt guilty, because I did not enjoy it at all.  

My pregnancies only got harder and much more painful with each baby.  I never became comfortable with nursing.  I continued to resent the infant schedule.  I did, however, finally stop beating myself up for not being what I thought I should.  I finally came to terms with the fact that I prefer older children.  I loved each of my babies, but I enjoyed them more and more as they grow up and become more independent.  I decided that nothing was wrong with me.  Just different.  As soon as I made that decision, the added stress of living up to unrealistic expectations lessened tremendously.

It was only a few years after that epiphany of mine that #1 was diagnosed with mild mental retardation.  I can't say that it was a complete shock.  We'd been testing her for different things for several years at that point.  We knew that she was not developing  at an expected rate.  It was the beginning of her 1st grade year.  I was happy on one level, because she finally started to receive the help that she so clearly needed.  She also got more understanding from faculty and staff at the school.  But I was also full of negative emotion.  I was embarrassed.  Silly, I know.  I felt guilty for feeling that way.  I never looked down on people with disabilities or their families.  But some vain, arrogant part of me did not want that to be MY child.  I was very smart.  Did well in school.  So did my brother.  My dad has a PhD. and is well known in his small, specialized field.  I married an intelligent, articulate, analytical man, in graduate school himself at the time.  I fully anticipated having brilliant children.  #1's disability was a blow.  

I didn't share her diagnosis with many people right off.  For some reason, it felt to me like admitting to failure.  I was afraid that she'd be treated differently by family.  I actually kept telling myself that she'd catch up at some point in the near future.  That she was just behind and would turn out just fine and normal.  I was waiting for that.  I was impatient for it.  I was not happy.

The best thing I ever did was sign her up for VIP soccer.  VIP is the AYSO's special ed program.  That first year was intimidating for #1.  Our region only had one team, and so she was a 3rd grader playing with High School aged kids.  But it did wonders for me.  I watched the other moms.  They acted like any other group of parents.  They complained about bad attitudes.  They laughed at funny things their kids said or did.  They cheered when their kids made goals.  They hassled them for not paying attention.  Life was normal, and these moms were happy.  And though it seems obvious in retrospect, that was the content of my next big epiphany.  It didn't matter if #1 was retarded or not.  She was the same girl I have loved her whole life.  It would really be fine if she never caught up to her peers.  Maybe her peers were a different set than I was thinking.  Not a worse set, just a different one.  I started to drop my unrealistic expectations of my daughter and started to be happy with my family as it was.

We moved to the mountains the next year.  #1 had a much better experience at school.  We were also in a different AYSO region;  one that was incredibly supportive of their VIP program.  I became very good friends with the coach, and got involved with the kids.  Some of the kindest, sweetest, most genuine people I have ever interacted with I would never have met had I only been the mother of "brilliant" children.  

One of the first things I do now in way of introducing my daughter is tell people that she is mentally retarded (because you don't notice right off).  It's who she is.  And it helps people to interact with her more appropriately.  When we built our home we added an apartment in the walk-out basement to be used by #1 when the time comes for her to have some more independence.  I love seeing that space.  Larry and I want to serve a mission together.  We really hope that #1 will be allowed to come with us, and serve as well.  I'm proud of her when she reaches out of her comfort zone, when she makes friends.  I love what a nurturing, caring person she is.  I delight in her simple faith.  She makes all of us in her family better people for knowing and loving her.

I'm not living the life I had planned, or in the way I figured.  But it is my life.  It's a good one, too, and I am grateful for it.