Monday, September 16, 2013

She's Not Growing Up

I think by far the hardest part of motherhood for me is having an oldest child who is not growing up.

Sure, she is advancing. And yes, she is learning and making us all proud.

But she is not growing up.

I know this now. Because I have Carter. And I have watched him grow up into the big number 2 with flourish, trouble, and a whole bunch of stink. Addison hasn't grown into the development of a 2 year old yet. And I didn't truly realize that until he passed her up.

And as frustrating as this is to realize, it's nice to be able to pinpoint why I feel sometimes so trapped in the preschool years. I have been feeding, diapers, bathing, nurturing, teaching, loving for three and a half years- without the measurable three and a half year development point to show for it.

Someone posted a picture on Instagram yesterday of their little boy's last day in nursery.  She said that her kids were growing up "just like they said they would." My heart seized realizing that no one every promised me that about Addison. There is no guarantee that she will ever truly grow up.

In fact, that was one of the big fears I had when I got her diagnosis. I would parent and love and parent and love for years and years and years- for what? Would she ever grow to the mentality of an adult? Would she ever create a life all on her own away from us as her parents? Would she ever get her dream job that would make us so proud? Would she ever make "the big bucks" and put up her ol' parents in a plush retirement home? (-:

And whereas this used to be a fear of mine to the point of "well this isn't worth it then" it has now just become one of those things that is tucked in the back of my mind that just is as I continue nurturing her life (a job which is very much worth it.)

Don't get me wrong- we will always push Addison to be her best. We will give her every advantage and opportunity possible. We will cheer her, encourage her, and push her.

But, even if I move the world for her to get the best- she will always be different. She will look different, act different, grow at a different pace because from her very genetic base- she IS different. And part of this difference means that I will never see back the same amount of effort that I put in- developmentally speaking. And whereas this thought used to cause me much grief, now it causes me to reflect on why I'm doing all this in the first place.

Why parent?

Do I mother for the end goal? Do I look down the road 20 years and push towards some sort of arrival point? Is my success as a mother determined by my children's successes in life? Do I change dirty diapers and clean up thrown bowls of food promising myself that this is just a phase? What if it isn't? What if my child always needs more assistance from me than others her age need? Does that make me a failure as a parent? Is this only worth it only if my children accomplish certain things?

I heard someone say recently that motherhood is not about the moments- it's about the journey. I was pondering this concept, and I can't help but wonder- what about those whose journey is cut short? What about those with children with disabilities whose journey is full of doubt and uncertainty and difference?
And the thing is- I don't have any answers.  I know that this is about selflessness and putting children before ourselves. I know that this is a greater calling than I can truly comprehend. I know that I strive to reflect God's unconditional love to my children. But as far as specific answers to our specific journey- I have none.

But I do have moments.

I have moments when Addison climbs up next to me on the couch, lays her curly blonde head on my arm, leans her body into mine, and just rests. In that moment nothing else in the world matters. The journey beyond isn't a priority. I only think about that is in the now. And that now is wonderful and fabulous and everything I ever dreamed motherhood should be.
I have moments when Addison laughs and smiles and talks hysterically in a way that makes me laugh- which sets her off into even louder laughter. Her eyes sparkle, her cheeks disappear with her wide grin, her entire body shakes with the hilarity of it all. These moments are perfection. They fuel me onward.

I have moments when Addison is walking next to her brother and reaches out to grab his hand- for the first time. I watch them silently hold onto each other, not saying a word but communicating so many things. In these moments I think my heart might burst with pride and love.
I have moments when we sit side by side and look into a mirror together and she mimics whatever face I make. I open wide with a terrified "AHHHHH" and she makes a terrified "AHH" and then giggles. She chooses a toned down "ooooooohhhhh" and I mimic her "oooooooohhhh" and she laughs some more. We smile, we frown, we shake fingers with "in trouble eyes" and we say so much using only facial expressions and hand gestures. Words? Who needs them?

I have moments when I reflect on how far she's come. G-tube eating and oxygen wearing all the way to snazzy leg warmers and cute pierced ears. Wow she has amazed us every step of the way. Who's to say that she won't continue to do so? I have moments when she does something so completely surprising that I am literally left speechless. Addison is a smart girl!
I have moments when the stars align and I understood what she is communicating to me. I have moments when I watch her socially interact as a big, big girl. I have moments when I watch her get into a project- such as painting or reading or singing- and see what great potential there is for her to express herself in ways that have nothing to do with words. I have moments when we work together at baking something- or picking up a mess- or washing hands in the exciting big sink, and all is right with the world. I have moments when I am in sync with my daughter and we are speaking the same language and nothing else matters.
What if I never have a big arrival point with her into adulthood? What if- despite our very best efforts she isn't high functioning and continues a very slow pattern of growth?

Well then I cling even more tightly to my moments. Because they are gold. And make every single thing about this parenting gig worth it.

I think she will get her dream job someday. I think she will grow up to be successful and make a difference in her own way. I think she will continue to be this amazing person through all the stages of life. I think she will surprise us (and give us her famous side eyes for ever doubting.) But I also don't think that her life success rides on her actually achieving any of these things.

I think by far the hardest part of motherhood for me is having an oldest child who is not growing up. 

I am learning that 2 plus 2 doesn't always equal four in motherhood.  Sometimes you put in 10 plus 4 and you get back 8.  But then you remember that 8 is your lucky number and that all the fabulous things that you get from 8 are way more awesome than the previously expected 14. Things like moments. Moments that are yours alone to tuck away and treasure forever.

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