So, I’m new here. I really appreciate you having me, listening to me wax poetic about raising a child with special needs. I have a beautiful baby boy that we affectionately call “The Great Potato,” who graces our lives everyday with his beauty and wisdom.
Having a special needs child can sometimes make me feel like a bad mother…as if everything I could possibly do, I don’t do well enough or with enough diligence to make a difference in his (or her) fragile state. It’s the Dark Side of Special Needs Parenting, or at least it is for me. Even worse, while I am complaining about the feeding tube leakage or his stubborn attitude, he is sitting by his toys being cute and cuddly and teaching me a lot about life.
But how can a kid teach a parent about life? Potato teaches me morals and values that I didn’t think were in him, let alone in myself. It’s hard to imagine that I learn from him daily, but I do.
To prove it to you, I have put together a list of the top 8 virtues that having my special-needs (read: special in every way) baby has taught me:
At 12 months, he wasn’t even rolling over yet, I was inconsolable. The developmental pediatrician asked me, “And how does Potato get from Point A to Point B?” I responded, “I carry him,” and immediately, the look of concern came over his face. All of a sudden, terms like “CP” and “brain damage” were thrown about.
Fast forward to 18 months of age and in the last month, The Great Potato can leap toys in a single bound, has learned to roll, crawl, and pull to standing, and walk with assistance. I feel that every time I look into his eyes, he is saying, “be patient Mom. I’ll do it on my own eventually.”
We always joke that The Great Potato is one of the most fearless babies we know. Not only did he survive all those months in the hospital and countless surgical procedures with no fear, he is constantly seeking out the unknown. For instance, when a big dog sticks his snout near Potato’s face, Potato simply reaches out and gives the dog a loving pat. Or if he wants to run at the speed of light to catch the bad guys, even though his legs don’t quite work at the speed of superhero-dom, he gets right back up and does it again.
I don’t have nearly the same amount of raw courage that The Great Potato has, to have lived through so much and not be afraid of anything. It’s one of the things I love him for the most.
The Great Potato doesn’t hold a grudge. If his efforts to rescue the Tigger Toy in distress are thwarted by the evil Daddy with the evil Medicine, he doesn’t even fuss. He forgives the evil Daddy for ruining his plans, sucks up the medicine, gives a hug, and goes on his merry way.
I feel that I can never forgive myself. Since I am the one that is constantly telling his story, I am the one that dwells on the past. Every time I have to recount his medical history to another specialist or doctor, I am the one going crazy because I remember and I am reminded. I am the one that gets frustrated.
If I could be like The Great Potato and learn forgiveness, I would forgive myself first.
The Great Potato doesn’t hate. He certainly doesn’t like things, like food, but he at least treats the food with kindness, giving it gentle kisses before throwing it to the floor.
He is also kind to people. He gives everyone a smile, regardless of if they are about to take his blood or just give him a hug. He often holds the hands of little girls that happen to lay down next to him. He is learning to share, and gets tickled pink when he hands me his ball and I say thank you.
In fact, one of his favorite things to do is sneeze. When I say “Bless You,” he dissolves into fits of giggles. That is how kindness tickles him. I wish it tickled me the same way.
See forgiveness, determination, courage. Potato has an inner strength unrivaled in most 20th century gurus (Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Spider Man).
Potato lives every moment (that he isn’t sleeping, that is) to its fullest. He breathes deeply, and he touches everything and everyone in an effort to really learn their essence. The amazing thing is that for the longest time, we never thought The Great Potato would have much of a quality of life. But he doesn’t let his maladies affect him. Death is not an option, he just knows life. And that life is amazing to him.
I tend to talk dwell on things in the negative. Potato sees things in the positive. It doesn’t sound like a match made in heaven, but truthfully, I become more optimistic when he’s around.
I love watching Potato play, because I can actually see the wheels moving in his head as he sticks his hand out to grab a ball or turn a wheel. Most mothers just think that with repetition comes learning. But it’s more than that. Potato is actively pushing himself to go farther and is actively challenging himself. Yes, he does fuss when he doesn’t get the desired outcome, but that never stops him from trying again.
If he falls, he picks himself up. If he gets frustrated, he takes a minute to reflect on how to do his task better. And that determination is contagious!
Potato doesn’t judge people. He still loves the nurse who gave him his shots. In fact, he still flirts with her seconds after he is pricked. Just because the nurse hurt him, it doesn’t mean he judges her or thinks of her differently.
So, if he can be so accepting of others, why do I feel like I have to explain his differences. Why can’t we just accept the way he is as normal?
The truth is, although I have learned these virtues from Potato, I have yet to put them into practice. Because, as The Great Potato might say, “Beware the Dark Side. Anger, fear, and aggression; the Dark Side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight.” Not letting the Dark Side take control? That’s the next step in this journey.