When you have a child with special needs that take up a lot of your time and attention, what about the other children?
I only have two children: Lei, my older child, the one with lots of appointments, therapies, quirks and challenges, and my younger child. My more or less neurotypical child, the one whose challenges are more minor. The other child.
D is a slightly pudgy kindergartner who looks like a hockey player with his three missing front teeth. He is a cuddler, a rough-houser, a big time hugger. He likes to know when the picture books we read are true, and he’s starting to pick out words in them. He is teaching himself to hold his breath to put his face into the bathwater. He likes to draw stick figures and lumpy hearts, then he colors the hearts red, cuts them out and presents them to me with his black-coffee eyes shining.
He frequently tells me I am the best mom in the world. He may be biased, but I’m oddly tempted to trust his judgement.
D does have his own quirks, but they are mostly adorable rather than worrying. He loves to don his Harry Potter glasses and Gryffindor tie (with a t-shirt, of course) and wave a stick in the air, yelling, “Expelliarmus!” D loves to collect sticks, acorns and rusty bits of metal off the ground. I often find them, forgotten, in the bottom of my purse. Needless to say his sister gets tired of having sticks brandished in her face.
Their conflicts escalate when Lei grabs whatever D is holding, or when D doesn’t like how Lei is looking at him, talking to him or breathing near him. But then I will overhear them talking in one of their rooms about zombie insects or whether Voldemort is really dead. They have each other, which is pretty good for kids who are six years apart and in many ways resemble “only” children.
Unlike his sister, D loves board games. Lei has never liked board games because she doesn’t like losing, learning or following rules that might disadvantage her, or playing a game conceived by someone else. So I’m astonished when D asks that we play board games when the family is home together. We still haven’t figured out how to truly have fun as a family while playing a board game, but I think we’re making progress. It helps that Lei no longer throws a tantrum when things don’t go her way. She might even enjoy it a little!
However, too much family time laying around the house will bring D crashing down by late afternoon. Like a lot of younger kids, he needs to get outside and run around, even if he doesn’t initially want to. He’s a homebody who loves the path from the sofa to the dining room table, hogging the remote, making “projects” using junk from the recycling and eating his favorite food: a baked potato with olive oil, Goya Adobo, Tajin chili powder, and nutritional yeast. But if he doesn’t get outside earlier in the day, the pajama day deteriorates into him melting down and whining, while his dad and I pray for the sweet release of bedtime.
Like me, D is easily distracted. An interrupter. And having a deaf sister has taught him to talk LOUD. He seems to start talking as soon as he notices someone else is. Frustrating! And like me, D has a lot of emotional sensitivity. Phineas and Ferb has made him weep on more than one occasion, and when he finds a lost toy, he squishes it in his arms and tells it how much he missed it.
My blog and my life frequently revolve around Lei’s needs, her crises, her setbacks and victories. Every step forward feels terribly hard-won. My weeks are full of making calls, sending emails, researching possible home remedies or helpful therapies for her, along with my freelance work and running my home. I feel clueless most of the time when it comes to Lei – have spent the huge majority of the last 12 years thus – while occasionally getting a glimpse that Lei’s dad and I are doing a Good Job with her. That in spite of the many hardships she’s experienced, she feels loved and optimistic about the future. But life is full of hills and valleys, and with my daughter, I know another valley is always just over the horizon.
However, at 3:30 on weekday afternoons, I put those things aside and walk to school to pick up D. After he high-fives his teacher, he runs across the blacktop, sweater and backpack flying behind him, to wrap his arms around my legs and squeeze with all his might. We walk home together, eat our early dinner and share those moments when I can focus only on him before Lei and her dad get home after six.
My son is probably more badly-behaved than I have painted him here, because of course he’s not tormenting me with an unreasonable request as I write this. But I think of him in a different way because although he challenges me with his surprise pro-wrestling moves, grief over a lost stick, and bedtime questions about what if he were born a girl, overall I feel like I know what I’m doing. Most of the time, maybe not quite the best mom in the world, but with my son I feel like a success.