I’m flashing back today - to a time when Matthew was 4 and Kathryn was 2. We were at Kathryn’s music class – a fun 45-minute weekly experience.
For years, Kathryn was dragged to speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and various other waiting rooms, for Matthew’s weekly appointments. So when I finally had the opportunity to do something fun with her while Matthew was at his special needs preschool, I quickly signed us up for a baby music class. It was so rewarding to watch my baby girl clap along, march in time, reach for the bubbles that Miss Kathye would blow from her bubble machine (a class favorite) and just enjoy the music! It was such a different experience from those I had with Matthew – where I was always comparing him to same age peers – noticing all the things peers could do that he could not (like walk, talk, participate appropriately). I actually felt successful as a parent, watching my daughter enjoy the music, play along and do what the other kids were doing. I felt like I was doing this parenting thing right!
|Here we are at music class with the amazing Miss Kathye!|
One day we had to bring Matthew with us to class. I guess Matthew didn’t have school that day. Taking both kids anywhere at these ages by myself was a true challenge for me (who am I kidding, it is still a challenge today!) which caused great stress. Miss Kathye started playing her “Hello, How Are You?” song on the guitar, and Matthew was right up there with her, his ear practically IN the guitar. I was trying my best to give Kathryn the attention she needed and deserved, while prying Matthew off of Miss Kathye’s guitar. I will never forget Miss Kathye’s words “don’t worry about it, Amy – he’s just trying to FEEL the music”. Deep breath – the first one of my day - she gets him. As moms of kids with special needs, we get caught up in the moments – trying to get our kids off guitars, or to stop turning light switches on and off obsessively – so it’s hard for us to see the bigger picture. He’s trying to feel the music or learn about cause and effect (light switches). Thank you, Miss Kathye, for understanding my boy!
Later in the class, during a “march around the room” type of song, Matthew pushed a little girl down and she started crying. Talk about cause and effect, Matthew had to try again (I’m sure he was thinking: “if I push her again, can I make her cry again?”) Sure enough, he did it again. Watching him do this made me so sad, embarrassed, alone, humiliated. Why is he trying to hurt someone? Why won’t he stop? Why can’t I understand my own child? It was too much for me. I didn’t know how to handle it – so I had a mini-breakdown. I grabbed Matthew off the girl - had tears in my eyes, and didn’t know what to say or do. (Strange moment for me – I’m a talker). I knew giving his behavior more attention would cause him to push her down a 3rd time. But I couldn’t ignore that he had hurt another child. Another mom from the class who I barely knew at the time noticed what was going on and in the midst of the marching song swooped over, whispered in my ear “I’ve got him, I’m a preschool special ed teacher, go to the bathroom and catch your breath”. So I left the music room with Kathryn and went to the bathroom – I cried. I tried to hide it from Kathryn age 2, as I splashed cold water in my face. I cried for not understanding my own son, for the pure exhaustion of trying to get him to stop the difficult behaviors, I cried for myself, for not knowing how to handle this moment without crying. I had to get myself together – fast. I made it back to the music room and thanked the mom who took over for me with Matthew (what an absolute angel she is). We made it through class and got home. I don’t think I left the house with the two of them by myself again for many months.
So I got home and allowed my thoughts to go to these dark places:
Why can’t I just take care of my own kids by myself? Why can’t I take them to a 45- minute music class and have it feel like a fun morning? I watched other moms with 3 or 4 kids successfully go to and from errands, music classes, with smiles on their faces as their kids obediently follow them through parking lots and get into their own car seats. I thought that was how parenthood would be for me. It’s not.
This reminds me of the time we went to the pool in my hometown for an afternoon of swimming when the kids were about 3 and 5. I had my parents, a friend from growing up and myself to watch my 2 kids at the pool (yes, that’s 4 adults for my 2 kids). While we were there, I ran into a friend’s husband with their 4 kids BY HIMSELF at the pool. I was truly dumbfounded. How could he watch the 4 kids by himself? What am I doing wrong that I need 4 adults to watch 2 kids?
|That day at the pool - they actually both fell asleep? A first and a last time for everything!!|
It’s not so much what I’m doing wrong, but more accepting the fact that this ratio is the level of support I need at any given moment to help care for Matthew’s needs. It’s taken me years to accept this truth. Perhaps I still don’t fully understand how true it is.
It’s time for me to feel the music – I don’t need to put my ear in the guitar, but I do need to accept the facts. Matthew needs constant attention to stay safe. This fact will likely not change over the course of his lifetime. He needs support to understand dangerous situations. He needs reminders to stop himself from touching the hot stove. Everyday. He needs help understanding stranger danger. He needs help – so I need help. Accept the help and be grateful. Stop feeling embarrassed, sad, alone and humiliated. Feel the music – the song is the truth.