A week-long Easter vacation provided my husband and I much-needed time to soak in all the wonders (and funny quirks) of our children without the world breathing down on us, sucking away our patience. With a nine-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter, I would describe us oftentimes as deer-in-the-headlights parents. I imagine we aren't the only ones who have had the idealistic bubble of parenthood burst at the first sign of a wailing baby or a sink full of dirty bottles. After nine years, we have certainly and willingly adapted, but there are times when we still feel like an inexperienced soccer goalie, desperately defending our territory instead of the confident coach on the sidelines calling the shots. This is especially true with our son, Ricky. Sure, Lily has her share of estrogen-induced melodrama. Still vivid is the time she refused to even consider our wishes for her to join the local Brownie troop. "MOM!" she reasoned. "I hate brown, and you know I don't wear vests!" Score: Lily 1, Parents 0.
With Ricky, however, we truly never know what player will hit the field each day. He has struggled with social and academic issues for years, yet his emotional awareness about life is stunning at times. Our vacation week provided a unique opportunity to sit back, observe and reflect on the recent culmination of a six-month process of psychological, physical and intelligence testing in which Ricky was involved, at our request.
"Sometimes, it's tough being bright," commented the school psychologist at the final meeting, just days before we left for vacation. She pointed out what we already knew: Ricky is not a middle-of-the-road kid. He is a boy of extremes. Superior language development battles against excruciatingly slow math comprehension skills. Highly developed intuition clashes with frustrating sensory processing and attention deficit issues. Extreme sensitivity for animals and the environment competes with Ricky's desire to be a rough and tumble boy like his buddies. Basically, our nine-year-old is busy battling the heartbreak of, "I'm different," at a time when he so desperately wants to be the same. An out-of-town vacation was exactly what we needed to regroup and reunify the "home team."
A new player was introduced over vacation in the form of a massage therapist my mother-in-law recommended for Ricky, citing the benefits of gentle-touch therapy for kids with sensory and attention deficit disorders. Every day of vacation, Ricky lay on the warm, padded table wrapped in flannel sheets while Marty worked her magic, gaining quite a rapport with our socially awkward son. While the physical benefits were probable, Ricky's positive interaction with Marty was more intriguing. The impact of those daily "huddles" wasn't fully realized, however, until my Mommy radar picked up faint whimpers coming from the back seat as we traveled home from the final appointment. Ricky was crying.
"What is it, buddy?" I asked, sensing the answer.
"Will I see Marty tomorrow?" he weakly managed.
"No, sweetheart, that was the last appointment." His whimpers intensified, and he hid is face from all of us.
"Maybe you can write her a note," I offered, sliding in the seat next to him. "You know, honey, all of those "testing" people kept saying how good you are with language. Why don't you write down what you're going to miss about Marty, and we'll go back to say goodbye one more time, okay?"
I wasn't sure whether he was motivated by writing down his thoughts or by the prospect of seeing Marty again, but Ricky went to work, filling up the inside of a blank thank-you card.
Though he wouldn't let any of us see it beforehand, Marty tearfully shared the note's contents:
Things I like about Marty:
1. She is very relaxing.
2. She is easy to talk to.
3. She is the only one outside of my family that cares about me so much.
4. I am not afraid to be myself with her.
Thank you for all that you have done for me this week.
That precious note spoke volumes about my son and taught us more about raising him that any other experience could have.
My son is an amazing gift entrusted to me by my heavenly Father, just as He has entrusted you with your own children, grandchildren, cousins, neices or nephews. Though many moments have been filled with the frustration of trying to guide my son through the awkwardness of growing up, I am thankful to God for the glimpse He gave me last Friday into Ricky's potential. Ricky genuinely loves people, and best of all, he is gifted at expressing it. At nine years old, he has surpassed most 39-year-olds in the area of emotional attachment and genuine expression.
I believe God granted this moment for my husband and I to take action, the subtle action of folding up our outstretched arms of defense and removing ourselves as Ricky's overprotective goalies. We must reclaim our proper place as coaches on the sidelines of his life, trusting the guidance from above. Doing so is excruciatingly difficult, but I know it is best. Marty's note was God's way of giving us a view of the big picture of His plans for Ricky's entire life, not just the awkward school years.
As parents, aunts, uncles or grandparents, we draw up amazing game plans for our little ones. However, while molding them into what we think is best while protecting them from what we believe is the worst, we can lose vision, experience frustration and even become overzealous controllers of the game. The task is magnified when children are born with physical, intellectual or emotional challenges.
Raising Ricky and Lily has humbled us in so many ways. Their defeats as well as their victories continue to bring us to tears. Our peace in this process comes from God's little reminders (like Ricky's incredible "moment" last week) and His angels in the form of supportive friends, teachers and family members. The ultimate reminders about navigating our relationships with loved ones can always be found in His word, as we are reminded, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." Proverbs 21:19
Friends, may you be blessed with God's sweet moments, and may we all find the proper balance between our plans and His ultimate purpose.