I'm so sad that this column didn't appear in The Observer this week. Good thing I have my blog so I can still share it.
A Special Kind of Mom...
There's a certain kind of mother I'd like to honour on Mother's Day. It's not the working mom or the stay-at-home mom, but she may be labelled as either. It's not the Yummy Mummy, the Mompreneur, or the Mommy Blogger but again, she may fall into these categories as well. This Mother's Day, I want to honour mothers who raise children with special needs.
Over the past four years, I've met all kinds of exceptional moms. I've read their blogs. I've called them to ask for advice or to offer comfort. We've corresponded over email, sharing our fears and triumphs. I've been amazed at the heroism of these women I've met, many of whom I'd never have known had I not turned to them when I was looking for answers. They've been to the dark place where a parent's worst fear comes true and have pulled themselves and their children back into the world. After coming to terms with a devastating diagnosis, whether it be during pregnancy, just after birth, or as their child grows, darkness descends. These mothers not only find enough light to keep going, but to embrace joy again.
Mothers of special needs children are amazingly resilient and resourceful, often becoming experts in their child's condition. They dance the line between accepting their children and challenging them. Exceptional mothers have to come to terms with the reality of their children's future. They worry about what happens when they themselves are gone. What kind of life will their adult child have without a passionate advocate?
When I see them at the pool, at the park, and at playgroups, I know that these routine things are not always easy. There's the reminder that their children are different, that life is sometimes more difficult. But then there's the beauty of continuing on anyway. Of loving and living in the face of great challenge.
And there's humour.
One of my friend's daughters has a neuro-developmental disorder. This little girl accepted a sample from an employee in a grocery store. When the child didn't respond with a thank you, the annoyed employee asked the little girl to "say the magic word."
"Abracadabra," she replied with confidence.
Then, there's my other friend who's son was born with a rare genetic condition. He is non-verbal and cannot sit independently. One day a well-intentioned speech pathologist student came to her house to offer support. The conversation went something like this:
"So, how do you communicate with your son?"
"What do you mean?"
"How do you know what he wants?"
"I just do."
"What does he do specifically to let you know that he's happy?"
"I can tell by the sounds he makes and by the way he moves."
"Well, I've brought an information package on how you can better communicate with your son."
Some days, it's magic. Abracadabra magic. Some days, you're holding a packet on how to communicate with your own kid.
Each developmental milestone becomes a summit to peak. Things like eating, sleeping, mobility, communication and toileting can become complicated tasks. Events that may be rites of passage for typical children and their parents--things like school--are daunting for families of children with special needs.
And somehow, in the midst of medical appointments, surgeries, medications, therapy, and daily care, these mothers find a way to change the world. It's because of exceptional mothers that children with special needs now attend their neighbourhood schools. It's because of these mothers that we no longer send exceptional children away to live in isolation. Consequently, our society has become more compassionate and understanding--but, there's still a lot of work to be done.
So to all you exceptional mothers out there...
I'll be thinking of you on May 9th.