Friday, August 3, 2012

a mirror moment

I am truly thankful to be able to send Little Guy to a school where he can be supported by specially trained professionals. Yes, we definitely traded up when we replaced public school with Little Guy's school. This trade is not without its costs, though, and I'm not just talking about the finance-straining tuition. I am particularly aware of those other trade offs as we head into the start of a new school year. As children everywhere prepare for their first day of school, as we head towards Little Guy's first day of kindergarten.

Do I even need to say that it is not the first day of kinder I had planned for him? Let's be honest here – this first day of school business is a bitter pill for me to swallow. Not nearly as bitter as sending him virtually unsupported into public special education, don't get me wrong. Yet, all around me I see other parents prepare to start their children off in regular school and I know that that prototypical first day of school is not meant to be for my family.  Not this year anyways.

About a week ago I sat across from my teenage niece. She is a beautiful young lady with many lovely qualities, but as I sat across from her it was all I could do not to slap her say less than kind things to her. Why? Well, it had to do with some of the less attractive qualities that so often go hand in hand with teenagers. Words like “spoiled” and “ungrateful” come to mind. You see, my darling niece was alternating between being royally pissed off and being despondent because she couldn't have x. My sister was off somewhere quietly weeping, overwhelmed with guilt and feeling like a terrible parent because she simply could not provide my niece with the x she so badly wanted.

So there I was, trying to talk my niece out of her pity party. I thought, “What an ungrateful, spoiled brat you are. Your mother is doing everything, everything, she can just to give you what you have. Do you not see how hard she works? Do you not realize that she would joyfully give you what you wanted if she could? How dare you cry about how terrible your life is! You have a family that loves you, a safe home to live in and food on the table. You don't live like a Rockefellar, nor even like many of your friends, but you have so much to be thankful for and yet to you it is nothing. Spoiled. Little. Brat.” I said none of that, of course.  I spoke carefully chosen words selected to persuade and not inflame.

Time passed.  I cooled off and tried to remember that I liked my niece. I reminded myself that once, what feels like eons ago, I had been a teenage girl. A spoiled, ungrateful teenage girl who had taken her own turn making her mom cry. I could distantly remember that girls feelings of entitlement and bitter rage that life hadn't handed her more.

It felt startling familiar.  I realized that I have not yet entirely stopped being that spoiled, entitled girl. It might not be over something as inconsequential as a dress or a cell phone, but I have been quietly and privately enjoying an ungrateful little pout – a pout that my son is autistic. I have a wonderful husband and two adorable sons that I could not love more. Our family has a roof over our heads and food on the table, but I have been pouting because others have something different.   I will not say something more, because even in my worst pout I do not imagine my son as less. But something different, yes, and dare I say it --something easier. Poor me.

So what was that I said to my teenage niece? Something about how plenty of others have it so much worse. It is certainly true for my family. My son is high-functioning and everyday at his school I see families with much greater struggles. Beyond that, I am blessed to have children at all. I know couples that were not able to conceive, that would have gladly taken any kind of child God gave them. No, I would not trade my Little Guy for anything or anyone. So really, what is a regular first day of school? Big deal. I have the most two amazing boys in the world. It makes perfect sense that ordinary doesn't suit them.

Thank you to my dear niece for reminding me how unbecoming self pity really is.  I guess we all need help snapping out of it sometimes.

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