Several weeks ago, I sat in the waiting room of the orthopedic office waiting to check out. Ike had just taken Mark out to the car, sweaty and traumatized from the multiple X-rays, removal of his long arm cast, and the placement of a new cast. This was the worst appointment of them all. As Ike laid across his strong lower half, I bent over and held his ears tight with my hands to deaden the sound of the saw next to his face. He shook with rage and fear, dry heaved and gagged, and fought us with every fiber of his being. He was terrified and there was no way to tell him the reassuring things you would tell other children. Of course, I said them in vain, hoping something I said would magically make it through. And once it was all over and I was waiting to make the next torturous appointment, I felt the weight of our world, and I felt tired.
I’m tired of everything being seemingly so much harder because of Mark’s limitations. The tech who wrestled his cast onto his arm tried blowing up a rubber glove and giving him a sticker to cheer him up, and none of it made a dent. And if anything it just made me even sadder, almost like it was just another thing I was missing out on in life with Mark.
Ike teared up on the way home. We both felt overwhelmed by the mountains that stood before us. The broken arm was just a symbol for all the things that would always be more challenging because of the hand that we had been dealt.
And then one day shortly before the final removal of his cast and after we had returned from our trip to Chicago, we decided to take away his pacifier when we put him to bed. And miraculously, he slept through the night. And then night after night, car ride after ride, and doctor’s appointment after doctor’s appointment, no paci needed. It was amazing.
When Jillian was dealing with her pacifier addiction we bought a book that told a story of binkys being sent away to binkyland. After some resistance, she decided to give it up. I thought for sure that Mark would be 7 or 8 years old and still need it. How could he get rid of it if he couldn’t understand the binkyland book? My obviously flawed line of thinking further added to my amazement that he had easily dropped the habit. He hasn’t looked for it, “asked” for it, or really seemed bothered that it’s no longer a permanent fixture in his life. Tomorrow will be one month sans pacifier and meeting this milestone had shown me a few things.
Mark will do things in his own time, his own way and he will surprise us.
And yet as exciting as this milestone has been, especially given how few we meet, I’ve been reluctant to share for a number of reasons but namely because as odd as it may sound, it’s hard to celebrate.
Recently, a fellow special needs mama cautiously shared her daughter’s accomplishment and I totally understood her reluctance.
There’s a sense of “knock on wood” that if I celebrate it, it will be taken away just as quickly and I’ll feel sheepish and foolish. Like when I shared that Mark waved “bye-bye” in speech therapy for the first time. Do you know I have not seen him do it since? His words that have been spoken have only been heard once or twice, and I worry that he will regress, lose it all, and someday someone we know will see us out at a restaurant, and he will be sucking on a pacifier, despite previously kicking the habit.
And yet there are so many things to celebrate with Mark right now. He’s beginning to make animal sounds, really good, accurate, and amazingly distinct animal sounds. He’s begun to point, attempt words, understand more and more of what we say, and he knows how to stop when running in the opposite direction and will come home when told. That one is huge.
And yet I’m still so afraid that someday he’ll lose it all. Several conversations I had at the SCN2a conference still haunt me. Parents shared how their children were making progress despite their autism diagnoses and then it started. The seizures. They took everything. And now these children need a number of devices and machines to help them function. So that is why it’s hard to celebrate: you never know when your current challenges and triumphs will fall into the “before” category.
But despite the obvious cloud that looms I am trying to savor the goodness of what God has been showing me.
In addition to the excitement surrounding Mark’s burst of development, I am also in awe of Jillian.
Her first day of kindergarten was the same as Mark’s last day of his program. One was ending a year-long journey and the other was just beginning. It created a weird sense of dissonance in our house.
At the end of Mark’s last day, he brought home a social story that showed him pictures of his new classroom and speech therapist since this will all be different when he returns in September. In a way, I felt sad that he needed something like this to transition and realized quickly that this is the first of a long line of social stories that will help him cope with new things.
Jillian’s first day of kindergarten proved to be gut-wrenching for us both. The morning was filled with crying, tantrums, and a ridiculous attempt on my part to document all of it on camera.
She arrived home that afternoon sweaty, tired, and emotionally exhausted, just like me. She didn’t say much about her day despite my carefully crafted open-ended questions. That evening our neighbor stopped by on his way back from his evening walk with their dog. Of course, he asked Jillian about her day, and of all the things to say, she ran inside and grabbed Mark’s social story to tell Mr. Chip about Mark’s new digs at Kennedy Krieger.
The next day she went to work creating her own social story illustrating what her classroom looks like and what she will be doing. She took something from Mark’s world and used it to make sense of her own.
She is such a bridge builder. I often look at her and see her completely unphased by her brother’s loud vocal stims and screeches, the pacing in the dining room, the need to have some type of electronic device repeatedly playing the same melody and has almost no issue with the chaos that one little tornado creates in our house on a fairly regular basis. I think I don’t give her enough credit for adapting so gracefully. Fairly recently, he ran over to her, grabbed her arms, stomping his feet, making loud noises and just gripped on tightly. I hovered in the doorway watching, afraid that he was going to pull her hair or hurt her, and she just looked up at me, smiled and said, “it’s just his way of loving me.”
She celebrates him in the ordinary and helps me to remember to rejoice in all of his mighty moments. Jillian will learn a lot this year in school, as will Mark, but I have so much to learn from both of them.