I am sharing this Father's Day post over on Today Parenting.. For all of these Father's we honor on this special day.. 6 Secrets of Strong Special Needs Dads... Happy Father's Day!
A few weeks ago, on a recent summer afternoon, my girls and I escaped the heat by heading to our local movie theatre. As we stood waiting in line at the snack counter, my soon to be freshman took hold of her younger sister’s wheelchair, took the movie tickets from my hand, and called over her shoulder “ I got Zoe, Mom, we’ll go grab our seats”
Zoe smiled and waved while I stood stunned, watching my oldest daughter making her way to the theatre, pushing Zoe, weaving through the crowds with confidence. Once she reached our theatre, I could imagine her carefully helping Zoe out of her wheelchair and into her seat. I knew Zoe was thrilled, and I was too-This was my girl, doing what she was supposed to do-growing up and letting me know that she is ready for more.
We spent a lot of time together, sharing this summer of anticipation-that would be forever marked by her transition into high school . These are just some of the things she taught me.
1. I want you to expect more from me, and then remind me I can do it. High school teachers already know this truth, and that is why they come on so strong the first week of school, so parents, be ready. Do our teens get overwhelmed? Sure, especially when everything is new and expectations are higher. Our teens are ready for more, but that doesn’t mean they have the confidence to match. Create opportunities to build confidence, pointing out small successes whenever possible.
2. I need to stay socially connected, so don’t take my phone away. Teens experience a huge social shift as they start high school. Some friendships fade with the transition to a new school, and new classes and clubs that can leave teens feeling vulnerable and disconnected until they settle in. In our home iPhones are placed on the kitchen charger at bedtime, and the rest of the time we all try to follow basic phone use etiquette. It’s tempting to take the phone away as a form of discipline, but that’s how she connects to her peers, and teens have a strong need for connection.
3. There are big things happening in the world, and I still need to talk about them. Most teens today get their news, both current events and pop culture, through the digital stream of Twitter, Instagram and Tumbler. We still watch the news together and share a daily paper, but most breaking news my daughter sees first online and sometimes when she’s alone. It’s important to discuss the big topics-especially the biggest, most violent, sensitive and provocative issues in person,to make sure teens have a true sense of understanding and that you have addressed any concerns that may be troubling to them. ( Think ISIS, Ferguson, Ebola and yes, even 50 Shades of Grey.)
4. I still want to hang out with my family sometimes, even if I don't act like it. Just because your teen looks so comfy just hanging out in her room, doesn’t mean she wants to be alone. In fact, it gets lonely. Our family time isn’t always about going out to dinner or shopping, we do a lot of kitchen table game time, movie time at home or we hangout together in the pool. Once you get past the initial resistance, laughter and good family fun will follow. Eventually, the resistance falls away.
5. Your hugs, your touch can still make me feel better. Let’s face it, life is busy, sometimes family schedules can conflict and so much communication today takes place via technology. Our teens are walking around in these adult bodies and sometimes we forget that they are still forging their way, trying to figure out how to de-stress and carry on conversations IRL and teens are often touch deprived. When was the last time you hugged your teen, snuggled for just a moment together on the couch or even held hands? Begin slowly, reintroducing affection to your daily routine,-it is one of the fastest way to reduce stress and boost both physical and emotional health.
It is late when I enter my daughters room after bedtime. I sit, listening to her talk about her day. Eventually I lay my head onto her extra pillow . It is hesitation I hear at first, and then her voice grows stronger and then smoother. High school is hard, but she is finding her way.
Her hand reaches for mine, and our fingers find their familiar places as they wrap around each other. We lay connected as her breathing slows.
I close my own eyes, remembering my once-little girl, with her copper color curls that would fly as she ran. The way she hid behind my legs, on the school sidewalk at the start of kindergarten.
We do all we can to prepare our kids for adulthood, pushing them out into the world-when really we want to pull them back in , for just a little longer. We prepare them to go out on their own-hoping still- they will keep us close.
Her fingers are still tightly wound around mine, so I don’t move. I I know that years from now, she will be gone, finding her way in the world with her confidence in full bloom, and it will be this moment I will miss- the simple joy of being the lucky one - to hold her hand late into the dark of night.
" I'm not perfect". I told my teen. " I made a mistake, and I'm sorry." Still, as we sat down for dinner, Superbowl hum in the background, my daughter continued to make her point. Yes, she was right, but that wasn't the point I wanted to make." Listen," I told her.. "We are all imperfect. I can't go back and fix it, but I will try harder next time, and I am sorry I disappointed you."
I wanted this conversation to be over, and yet, it wasn't. I tried again.
" When you are upset over your own mistakes, or failures, I don't yell at you over and over again, Do I? I asked, in my leading, let me teach you a lesson voice, "instead we talk about how you can make a change, and do better going forward." Soon the incident was forgotten, soothed over by Chris Martin, Beyonce, and Bruno. All was good and happy again in our household.
I fell asleep thinking about my daughter, and the constant high standards she holds herself to- the same standards she was holding me to that very night. And how in these very situations what we both need is more kindness, and how I had to stop and tell her how much her words hurt.
I have barely put my car in park when I hear Zoe's ardent plea from the backseat. " Mom, can I walk at this store?" It is our last stop and I try to recall how shaky Zoe's legs were when I last helped her back into the car. A quick glance at her face and what I see reassures me. Her eyes are bright, her face slightly flushed, but she is smiling too. All signs that she isn't too tired yet. At this store, we are just picking up something right inside the door, so it is easy to just say yes.
As I help Zoe out of the car, she looks up to me and grinning asks, "Mom, you know what would be the best gift ever?" This is a game we have been playing lately, the girls and I naming both real and imagined items as a best.gift.ever. "What?" I ask pausing, as I picture Zoe's painstakingly prepared Santa list sprinkled with favorites like Barbies and nerf guns.
"Not needing my wheelchair," Zoe replies. "That would be the best gift ever." She is smiling still, this happy kid of mine and in this moment I can't tell if she is content with the understanding that this is a dream gift, as unattainable as the Hoverboard she imagined placing at the base of her power chair, or if she is hopeful and excited, believing that maybe one day this gift could be real.
Zoe has always been my Christmas kid. In our home, we celebrate with simple holiday traditions during a season that seems to bring sickness too. We embrace the Christmas jammies, collect seasonal blankets, and stuffed animals and have amassed an impressive collection of holiday DVDs. The season starts with the arrival of our Frasier Fir Christmas tree fresh cut from North Carolina, and we bake sugar cookies through December as the excitement builds for Santa's visit to our home on Christmas Eve.
And then last year Zoe started middle school, and because my kid is so social, I told my husband it was time, we had to have the talk. We whispered and worried, my husband and I, unsure how Zoe would take the news that Santa isn't real. That all of these traditions she loves are based on this one untruth. I couldn't risk the fact that Zoe might be outed and laughed at if we didn't tell her. And so we sat down to talk, and in the end, her face full of emotion Zoe looked to her father and I, stunning us by asking, "You did all of this for me?"
Through the years, Zoe continues to teach me to count our blessings with each new item she adds to her Christmas list. A Fisher Price basketball hoop. She has grown stronger and can balance with her walker. A Barbie dream house. Her mind is now full with imaginative skills and she loves pretend play. A deluxe collection of Sharpie pens. The strokes of her pen are steadier now and her grasp stronger, she is delighted with drawing. The pink Rebel Nerf gun. She fills the satchel on the back of her walker with nerf bullets and moves through the house with ease on sneak attacks. Lego Friends Beach house. With her brain and her hands in sync, a flashlight to assist her affected vision and a lego base to stabilize her projects, she is able to spend hours building. My blessings grow with each new Christmas list.
I hold out my hand to Zoe and help her step out of the car. Still smiling, she is waiting for my response. Her eyes meet mine and I can't quite tell if it is hope or mischief I see. Still, I guide her forward, adapting my own strong stride to match her smaller, slower steps. I consider the miracles this season brings and I realize that maybe I do believe. Maybe it is hope, maybe it is Zoe's joy, but for now, we can both believe that it can be real. With Zoe's hand tightly held in mine, I sigh. " Yes, Zoe," I say, "that would be the best gift ever."