The other day I took the kids to the park. I have discovered with delight that they no longer scatter in 3 different directions when I take them on outings by myself (knock on wood).
At first it was nondescript as far as incidents go, but extremely memorable as far as motherhood heart moments go. They played together. Laughing, running, sliding, climbing, twirling, talking, pushing each other down the slide (when it was asked). My heart exploded.
It was while I was watching Addison that it happened.
She was crouched in the middle of the platform next to the monkey bars. Little boys were swinging all around here, easily crossing back and forth on the bars. I went to her. "Addison are you ok?"
She looked up at me, her eyes brimming with tears. "My turn." she said, pointing at the monkey bars. "My.turn." she enunciated clearly.
I saw the problem. These boys (who she probably recognized from school) were doing something that she wanted to do, but couldn't.
I lifted her and carried her over to the monkey bars, waited until there was a break in action, and helped her do it. "Hold on with your hands. Good! Now reach for the next one. Great job!"
The boys very politely waited for her to have her turn. One of them asked, "How old is she?"
I replied "5. She's 5 years old."
"I'm 5 years old and I don't need any help with the monkey bars. I can do it myself!" he said.
"That is really wonderful." I replied, helping Addison to the next rung. (Side bar: No, I did not take this as a "teaching moment" to talk about individual strengths and weaknesses and how we are all good at different things. Pretty sure if a strange lady tried to take a "teaching moment" with my son in the park...I would have few choice words for her. There is a time and a place. The only thing acceptable in this moment was to celebrate with him. And so I flashed him my most genuine smile and hoped that he felt as celebrated as I would want Carter to feel if the situation was reversed.)
Addison then went to the climbing structure, but try as she might, she could not hoist herself up to the starting point where all of these kids from school were swarming about.
"My turn," her lip quivered. "Addison climb." I helped her once again.
Most of the kids seemed to know her, and while they played around her, they were all extremely polite and kind to her. Some even came over to help her at times and called her by name.
But she kept returning to the monkey bars. Oh she wanted to DO IT HERSELF, but she couldn't. I looked around at all of the busy kids only slightly older than her. I looked around at Carter who was fitting in marvelously (he climbed to the very top of the climbing structure and flirted with several girls while casually resting on the top rung...and then he flirted with the teacher who ended up carrying him down when he got stuck lol). I looked around and saw Eli soaking in the attention, throwing a ball and getting several kids to play fetch with him. And then I looked back at Addison, crouching by the monkey bars, watching her peers play, and crying with frustration.
It hurt to see this. And it hurt even more when I pictured this being a regular scenario at school when I wasn't there to help her through it. It's easy to live in denial about her differences, put on the blinders and just focus on what she IS instead of what she isn't. But the truth is, there are times that I bet Down syndrome makes Addison sad. Oh she doesn't know to call it that, but I could see in that moment that she would have given anything to jump outside of her body just for a minute and fling herself across the monkey bars with ease.
Addison is a smart girl, and because of this I really believe she is smart enough to notice the difference in herself. Most of the time she uses this difference to her advantage (her teachers tell me she likes to charm her classmates into doing work for her), but sometimes she doesn't know what to do with the difference.
I make a point not to compare my kids to their peers, not to hold them up to the "typical" mirror and see how much they measure up. NO. I understand the value of accepting each of my children for exactly who they were meant to be...and the development timeline that comes with that. But for some reason, this hit me in an extremely vulnerable part of my heart.
In that moment, just for the briefest of instants, I hated Down syndrome. And that surprised me.
I thought about how Carter is blossoming into this little man, full of conversation, thoughts of his own, and ability to do whatever he put his mind to. He is quirky, opinionated, stubborn, smart, sweet, kind, and so handsome sometimes I wonder if there was a baby switch situation that went on at the hospital (the quirky characteristic sometimes adds to this thought hehe). Watching him grow from toddler to little man has been an incredible experience (also....such a relief as he has become much less of a flight risk among other things).
The thing is, I am FINE with where she is. I am proud of her. I am overjoyed by her. And 99.9% of the time I will wonder if she will ever "emerge to the next stage", and I am not bothered by it.
Then the more selfish part of my brain of course jumped to-- "I've put in 5 hard years of parenting!!! I should have a 5 year old who can not only do the monkey bars by herself...but brag about it! It's only fair. I've put in the same amount of time that that kid's mom did."
Honestly, I hate myself just a little bit when my mind goes here. I know parenting isn't all about me...but I can be a very selfish person at times. And I am very disappointed in myself when my mind dwelling here then leads to disappointment.
Because that doesn't matter. My effort in parenting doesn't matter when it comes to justifying "deserved" outcomes. My effort in parenting isn't me doing my kids a GIANT FAVOR...it is me doing my job, plain and simple. And the fact that Addison is where she is after 5 hard years of parenting...it just IS. But more importantly...it is my good. All of my children...exactly as they are...are God's goodness to me as a mother.
I knew all of this in my heart. But for some reasons my eyes were on a mission of their own as they filled with tears.
The feeling that this monkey bars moment left me clung to me all weekend. Sunday I was taking a short nap when I heard her open her baby gate, go to the bathroom, put on a clean pull-up, and then come to Aaron's side of the bed. She scooted her little body under the covers, flung her blonde head onto his pillow, and then brought her smiling face inches away from mine.
"Hi". She said, slightly breathless.
"Hi, sweetie. Did you have a nice nap?"
"Chocolate. Addison potty. Need chocolate."
I laughed. She giggled and then wiggled closer to me as if about to pat me down for the chocolate that I was clearly holding out on her.
I don't have any answers or magic fix-its. I don't know if perhaps I will get better at handling these playground-type incidents as she grows and these moments increase...or maybe it will just be that much harder. I don't know. I don't know how having an elementary-aged daughter with Down syndrome will be different than having a preschool-aged daughter with Down syndrome. I don't know if I will grow in my own selfishness along the way. I don't know what the next years hold...or how to help Addison through these moments of frustration.
But I do know that she got over it. So I did too.
She has been begging to go back to "Park. Park please." I think she wants to try again.
Something tells me she will conquer the monkey bars soon....and then demand a reward of chocolate.