A pile of gifts sits to one side by the bride. He looks inquisitively at the growing mound of trickets, household items, and knick-knacks. He sees a blue birdhouse and begins to point. "What's that?" Someone offers a reply. The sentences flow from his little mouth as he engages in a conversation with others in the room. The topics are a litany of thoughts and ideas that can only be produced within the imagination of a very young child. Superman gets discussed, as does a prayer. Again and again, he returns his attention to the birdhouse with it's brilliant blue color. After all, what could be more quintessentially boy than such a brilliant royal blue?
The situation should be one of joy. One of pride. One of enjoying the delights of a young child in your presence. Only this isn't my child. This is someone else's child.
This child is a year younger than mine. He speaks in sentences. He is engaging and social. He is eating - by himself! - all of the foods that we are. He shows imagination. Everyone is enthralled with his actions and his energy, as he brings nothing but smiles.
Except to me. Sitting in my chair, I stare at the scene and feel a sense that doesn't come often, but when it does, it creeps up like a storm cloud, permeating the very air that I breathe. It's heavy and envelops me like a wet blanket. I feel a lump forming in the back of my throat and find myself, in the midst of so much joy, fighting back tears.
Though I try to not compare my child to others, especially NT children, I am only human. For this reason, I tend to remove myself from the social scene of NT preschoolers and their families. Like many other special needs mamas before me, I find my community and solace amongst parents who can relate to my situation - who just "get it". As a result, I remain blissfully ignorant to the traditional trajectory of early childhood development.
Even in the midst of this bliss, there are the times that you can't help but look at the other children and you can't help compare. When you see a child who is a year younger than your own, but who left your child in the dust developmentally months ago, it is difficult to put the comparisons out of your mind. In a way, it just highlights your child's delays. Here is a child who is a year younger, but my child is months to a year or more behind him - and that's with a 15 months (and counting) of intensive therapies.
I know that I can't completely shelter myself from these reality checks. I can't remove myself from all aspects of social life that involve NT children, nor do I wish to begrudge the parents of these beautiful children the right to brag to anyone -including me - about the successes of their offspring. Just as I beam with pride each time that Jack reaches one of the small but blessed milestones that our children work so hard to obtain, so I expect a friend of mine with NT kids to want to share her triumphs with the world. It's not her fault for wanting to share, nor is it mine for silently feeling that sadness that I cannot share those same triumphs.
I try to remember that my angel's developmental path is, in and of itself, a detour from the norm. Instead of a steady upward motion, with a plateau here and there, Jack's resembles the wires of his bead maze - with twists, turns, sharp inclines, and declines. It's no one's fault; it's just who he is.
I try to be a very upbeat, optimistic person. I try to look towards the positive. The reality - the honest truth - is that special needs parenting is a roller-coaster. You'll have both highs and lows. Maybe the highs will be more numerous than the lows. Maybe it'll be the reverse. Either way, even the most positive person has to admit that, occasionally, our resolve weakens and we feel those slight twinges of pain. The reality is that I will see the things that NT children can do that my son presently cannot and that reality will occasionally cause me to hurt. We're only human, and everyone breaks from time to time.
I also have to admit that it's okay to feel how I feel, as long as I don't let my thoughts dwell in that dark place for too long. I have to give myself permission to feel that brief sadness. I know that, in the end, my weaknesses don't define my strength.
Ultimately, I have to pick myself up off the ground, re-abandon that dream of the NT path, and continue on our journey.
Jeanie is a former engineer turned stay-at-home wife and mom to an amazing 3-year old little boy on the autism spectrum. After her only child was diagnosed at 24-months with autism and an alphabet soup of special needs, she began to write about life parenting a very young child with special needs with honesty, optimism, and as always, a touch of humor.