Being a workaholic, a happy-go-lucky person then suddenly became a Mom is such a big turn in life. The things you do prior to having the responsibility of raising a kid are things you can no longer do once you do have a kid in tow. You can no longer party the way you did before or leave the house whenever you want to. No more shopping impulsively just because you were in the mood for it. No more long hours at work just because you are so motivated to get things done before their deadlines.
Once you become a Mom, the way you define normal alters. Drinking sessions and partying all night (if you were that kind of person, that is) is no longer your norm; diaper changes and midnight feedings replaces it. No more long hours at work so you can get home to your child before bedtime. Shopping for something you want becomes shopping for baby clothes and diapers and formulas and all that baby stuff.
When you think about it, once you become a Mom, it seems as if your old life is something that you can no longer recognize. A lot of times, you even surprise yourself that you’ve done all those things before (whatever those things were). But now, normal becomes a set of routine that revolves around your kid’s welfare. You make sure that your kid wears clean clothes, eat healthy food, watch age-appropriate shows, take naps in the afternoon, etc. And then you juggle your already busy schedule to make sure that you have quality time together, day in and day out.
When I was still pregnant with my son, I used to dream what my life would be once he was born. We would travel on his first birthday, go on road trips whenever we feel like it, bring him to the beach every summer, enrol him in a lot of activities, etc. I thought that it would all be fun. That time it felt like I was anticipating the arrival of a playmate. I was like a giddy child watching candies being made by the window and waiting for it to be handed to me. I was already imagining my new normal.
That image of normal that I had conjured up in my head was not what I got. Instead, for the first six months of motherhood, my normal consisted of doctors’ appointments, hospital confinements, commuting 6 hours each way going home and back during weekends, etc. In short, it was far from what I’ve imagined my life would turn out to be. And knowing that I became a Mom to a special child makes me view normal a whole lot differently than I used to.
Being a Mom already alters your perspective but being a Mom to a special child alters it even more. And being a Mom to a 30-month old kid with Down syndrome, here are a few things that I have learned (and still learning):
You need to accept to find joy
I was devastated when I got my son’s karyotyping results. I’ve asked myself why a million and one times but I never got an answer. Acceptance is always the hardest, I think. For you to accept, you have to break barriers in your head and see things from a different angle. You have to let go of those images in your head so it will not interfere with the reality of the present.
It took me a while before I learned to accept the fact that my son will not be normal as society defines it. He will always be different from the typical kids his age. But as I watched him grow, I realized that the baby who always gets excited when I come home to him over the weekend is my son. This kid who sleeps beside me and kicks and slaps me when he wakes up is my son. The kid who cuddles up to me in the morning before he eats his breakfast is my son. This kid who is still non-verbal but babbles a lot is my son.
Over time, the image of the “perfect son” that I envisioned faded until all I see is the son that I have right here with me. And it doesn’t matter if he has Down syndrome or not. Once I started seeing my son for who he is and not what he has, I learned to appreciate him more and celebrate what a miracle his life is to me. I learned to accept and I learned to find joy even in the smallest of things.
Do not compare
Adjusting to a new normal (from being single to becoming a parent) is hard. But adjusting from being single to becoming a parent to a special child, that’s harder. One thing I have learned (and is still learning) is not to compare my son to any other child his age. If you look at milestone charts for newborns to toddlers, the ranges are quite short. Try looking at a milestone chart of a child with Down syndrome. You will notice the wide age range to achieve a single milestone.
It’s like comparing a lake and an ocean. While both are bodies of water, one is mostly salty while the other is mostly fresh water. Their characteristics are similar yet different. Just like typical kids and kids with Down syndrome. Their characteristics are similar yet different. Typical kids will achieve milestones mostly within the certain ranges and minimal effort while kids with Ds will achieve milestones when they are good and ready and will a lot of assistance (aka therapy).
You have to stop comparing. Because if you do, you will miss out on seeing the full potential of your child. And the comparison will take its toll on your child as well making them think that they are not good enough. Let’s see our kids for who they are and support them to achieve their full potentials. You never know, your kid may be one of those who will defy the odds.
You need to be creative
Round pegs cannot fit in square holes (or is it square pegs in round holes? Same banana.) But you can always try to find a different peg that will fit the hole or a different hole where the peg would fit. In other words, we cannot always follow the “standard” way of teaching our kids new lessons. Be creative. Find your child’s interest and use it as an avenue for him to learn. Incorporate learning during play time. Be silly in front of your kid if that’s what it takes to excite him to learn. Do not force him to learn the way typical kids do because more often than not, that will not work.
Patience, patience, patience
Having a special needs child will really test your patience at times. I am known to be very impatient but, surprisingly, I have patience when it comes to my son. Though he really tries it every now and then. My son is still non-verbal but when he likes something done – like go out or play his nursery rhymes from my tablet – he will take my hand and pull me to the door and pushes my hand towards the doorknob or takes my hand and points it to the tablet. When he likes milk, he will look for his milk dispenser and bottle.
When he starts throwing tantrums, since he cannot express it in a way for me to really understand, it becomes hard to communicate with him. I then start trying to guess what he wants by pointing at things until I get it. It takes patience to communicate with someone non-verbal. And if you lose patience, it is like conveying to your kid that he doesn’t matter. Patience is also needed when trying to teach him something. He wouldn’t immediately imitate your actions. You have to guide his hands to do so until he finally does it on his own.
Appreciate the smallest things
Appreciation goes a long way to motivate anyone. It goes the same with special children. Clapping after completing a simple task is one of the exercises in occupational therapy. When Z started therapy, putting a single peg in a box took a lot of tries before he was able to get it. And every peg placed in the box, his teacher would clap for a job well done. It started with one peg at a time until all pegs were placed in the box. Slowly, Z learned to complete the tasks before clapping. To motivate a child, appreciate every small thing that he does. We need to make them feel that they have done a good job every time they do.
30 months as a Mom is a short time to be an “expert” in motherhood. However, 30 months is enough for me to be able to gain some knowledge and wisdom to help me become better for my son. I am not the perfect Mom nor do I aim to be. I still get down times wherein I envy parents who have typical kids. Especially when those kids are achieving their milestones on time or even when younger kids are doing a lot more than what my son could do.
There are still times when I imagine what my life would have been had my son been a typical one. But one look, just one look at my son’s face, the envy I feel would banish then I would think to myself, “This is my son. Down syndrome or not. This is who he is and I am a firm believer of the promise that he is indeed being prepared for something greater. This is my heart and my soul and I wouldn’t want him any other way.”
At the end of the day, my son is teaching me a whole lot more than I am teaching him. And I am grateful for it.