As my family and I walked down the busy street to my daughter's school carnival I found myself soaking in the night. It was our first day of real sunshine and fresh air after a long winter. Finally it was starting to feel like spring. Pushing the umbrella stroller and holding hands, we embraced the evening and made our way to the carnival.
My daughter is in kindergarten and we are in the first years of what I call, "setting the tone." We are building relationships, people are learning about our family and it either becomes a deal breaker or not an issue at all. I admit that I wanted it to go well. It was our first school function with all of us attending. I wanted a night out with our family where we could have fun and enjoy the party and go home feeling refreshed. As a stay-at-home mom I am always up for a social event to get recharged.
There were long lines at the ice cream truck, games in the gym, a book fair in the library and clowns passing out animal balloons. The noise of the crowd was a blessing. If our kids got fussy over something it was drowned into the background of all the chatting. They all did great, we were able to visit with some parents we were getting to know better and our daughter introduced us to her classmates. Even our son Jabar, with his anxiety, walked up and hugged the Clifford the Big Red Dog at the book fair. It felt good to be out, everyone enjoyed meeting our kids and we were having a good time.
I took a deep breath and let myself enjoy the evening.
Toward the end of the night we were waiting to see if we won the silent auction item we had bid on, and ran into our daughter's teacher. She met our kids, who she had heard so much about and our little three-year-old Katie eagerly wanted to be picked up as she does with any new person we meet. Mrs. M picked her up and seemed comfortable holding her. We continued to chat about the event and soon Katie wanted to be put down. It is almost as if she tests people out with being held and then she is fine to stand and visit. She is little enough that it comes across as still age appropriate.
In mid-conversation, I look down and see Katie bent over on the ground licking the top of Mrs. M's black shiny shoe. I was mortified inside. I grabbed her right away and handed her to my husband and apologized. I think I tried to explain her behavior but stumbled over my words. "I am so sorry, she just um...she just...." Thankfully Mrs. M knew some about Katie and it didn't seem to bother her. We departed and finished the evening.
I couldn't get it out of my head. I wasn't super embarrassed, well I was, but I kept feeling shock over the situation. I didn't see that coming, she has never licked someone's shoe before. Even as I write those words, I want to laugh and cry at the same time. Not tears for myself but more sad about the realization that maybe I have been living with blinders on.
Friends and family try to remind us of ways that our kids, who have special needs, are just like other kids. Maybe to try to provide comfort to us, or maybe to make it easier for themselves. Yes, our kids are great kids and they have a lot of behaviors that are on track for their age. But in the midst of trying to ease the awkward moments for those around me I think I have tried to candy coat things for myself as well. So much so that I was shocked when this happened. I didn't know how to respond. I had anticipated meltdowns after standing in line too long. I was prepared to leave early if we needed to. I had a plan, we could enjoy the evening and before it escalated too much we could go home.
I am sad to think that I have been acting this way all this time. Was I at fault for hoping we could have an evening out with no hiccups? Licking the shoe isn't what bothers me so bad. I think I am bothered more at myself. I am sad that I wanted to pretend things were going to be a certain way. I had expectations for my kids. We all do though don't we? As parents? It doesn't mean I love them any less when they fail to follow through, but maybe I am at fault for having them in the first place. I don't know.
So here I digest where I am at as a parent. Will I ever be the parent who has tough skin and doesn't care if we are embarrassed out in public? I used to be the teenager who could dance around with my friends in a public place and not care but somewhere along the line I have put these expectations on myself and my family.
How often do we say at the end of a party, "that went well." Because everyone met our expectations. There were no fights, mishaps, big blunders that we think ruin an event.
Yes, I could learn from this and next time bring Katie a "chewy" to help her get through the night with oral stimulation. I could have had her wear her pressure vest to give her more security, but I know that I will never be one step ahead of the new behaviors that will come. I am reminded that I need to let go of my expectations and just love my children and enjoy life.
I am inspired by a story my husband heard at a Men's retreat about a man speaking about his son who had Down Syndrome. He had spent so much time, as we all do, dreaming about all of the milestones he would witness with his child but after parenting him, he learned to just love his son and not dwell on where he was in life. The thing that stuck with me about the story is that he said it was so freeing to just love him unconditionally and rather based on what he would do or accomplish. This is how God loves us, not based on our behavior but just because he loves us.
So often we can get wrapped up in the expectations of our children or for our family and most of all of ourselves. But if we keep our focus on just loving each other like Christ loves us, maybe we will lose sight of those assumptions we have about how life will play out.
I adore each of my children. I am so blessed to be their mom and I pray that God will teach me to keep my sight on Him and not worry about the little things in life.
Vulnerable yet hopeful,