My dad is one of the best storytellers I have ever met. I’d like to say I inherited that from him, but his skills are not matched by many in that department.
He is also well known for his many life sayings. One story I remember him telling since as far back as I was old enough to even kind of grasp the meaning is the “you’re not living until you have kids” story.
When he was a young adult, back before him and my mom had ever really even decided to have children, an older man once told him that “you just aren’t living until you have kids.”
Although, as my Dad tells the story, he thought that man was crazy and didn’t think he really know what he was talking about.
He and mom had a great life and things were humming along just nicely.
Then a few years later my dad and mom, in fact, did have their first child, my sister. As the story goes, turns out the man wasn’t crazy at all. He was spot on. And I’ve heard the saying, “you’re not living until you have kids” my whole life because of it.
For whatever reason, whether I really believed my Dad or I just loved to hear the story, that saying has always stuck with me.
As a teenager, I liked to think of myself as wise beyond my years. But I’m sure most teenagers think that and few truly are.
Regardless, as aware and wise as a person can be at a young age, there are certain life lessons that can only be taught by experience.
Kids are one of those lessons.
Although mentally I could understand how having children could change your life completely, like my parents, I also did not really understand the full meaning behind the man’s story until our daughter was born.
From the moment I first laid eyes on our daughter, there was a feeling there I’d not known I was missing in my life.
The word joy comes to mind, but at the same time doesn’t seem like it adequately describes that initial feeling when your heart is so full you wonder if it is going to explode in your chest.
In those first moments of life, you want everything for your child.
Love. Safety. Comfort. No hurt. No pain.
You have a feeling of protection like you have never known that seems to set in immediately and comes out of nowhere.
A feeling of protection that is so strong, you would without question and without hesitation, give your own life for them. And that was just the first moments of our daughter’s life… before we ever knew she would have special needs.
When I’ve been asked what it is like to be the parent of a child with special needs, the best way for me to describe it to someone, is to tell them to imagine all of those first parental feelings you have ... on steroids.
All special needs families have dealt with their share of hell at some point or another, that just goes with the territory.
Most that I know have also experienced traumatic events, some multiple times, and a lot suffer from some degree of PTSD.
Our family has certainly lived our share of these events. What tends to result from those experiences is an even more intense bond with that child and a greater appreciation for their life and your own.
There is something to be said for those parents who have sat in emergency rooms, NICUs, and PICUs.
The ones who have held their child’s hand while they lay in a hospital bed helpless.
The ones who have ridden in ambulances and watched their children medivac off to a hospital while leaving the parents behind.
The ones who have got down on their knees, with tears in their eyes, and prayed for more time or a better life for their child, for their own strength and guidance, for answers and purpose.
Many of these of feelings I wish I’d never had to experience and hope to never have to again. But there is a flip side to all that too.
You experience the good feelings just as much, if not even more, intense as you do the bad.
Those first words from a child that is non-verbal. That smile you were not sure you would ever see. The sounds of laughter you never thought possible.
Holding their head up on their own for the first time. A few steps with assistance after three years of hard work.
The joy in your child’s eyes when you break out their favorite book or sing their favorite song. These are joyous little miracles that will make your heart skip a beat.
Most parents put their all into raising their children.
Special needs parents put their all and then some. That’s not to say they are better parents by any means.
They do it because there is no other option. Children with special needs require special attention, special doctors, special therapies, special school plans.
If you are like us, you spent the early months in specialists’ offices trying to determine the best course of action.
When you thought you had something figured out, something new popped up and you started again.
You spend more one on one time with special needs children because most of them require it.
While most traditional children begin to gain independence as they get older, some children with special needs never do.
When people have joked that they’d just take my daughter home with them, I joke back and tell them they can have anything they want but her…
I’ve got too much time invested in that one.
But if I’m honest, it’s only a half-joke because the hours we have put in just to accomplish in three years what most kids accomplish by six months are too numerous to try to count.
Being given the opportunity to love and raise a child unlocks a portion of your soul you never even knew existed.
When it comes to your children, you feel with an intensity that you never knew was possible.
And that is true for both the good and the bad that comes with raising kids.
For special needs parents, I think that intensity is magnified a bit. It’s not that a parent may love a special needs child more than another child.
I simply mean that parenting a child with special needs brings awareness to a person that you don’t even recognize is missing.
For me, my Dad’s story resonates even more because our daughter does have special needs.
Now, three years into this journey, I can’t even imagine our lives any different.
I don’t know what we ever did before we had her. And she reminds me every day that we are finally living.