Bittersweet Birthdays of a Kid with Special Needs

Birthdays are an exciting time filled with colorful balloons, character cakes, and gifts ties up with ribbon.

Birthdays mean next-size-up in clothing or even going from a crib to a toddler bed.

It’s a house filled with family and friends and, if you’re in our family, cocktails too.

Birthdays are not just another day and another year older.

Birthdays mean celebration, reflection, and even small pains in my heart.

There is so much to be celebrated for a child’s birthday, but I have learned that birthday celebrations for a special needs child are so much more.

Our youngest son is medically fragile so as he turns another year older I wipe the sweat off my brow and am thankful we made it another year.

I reminisce about all of the children lost to his disorder and thank God he’s here.

I think about the 365 nights of interrupted sleep and high five my husband because we’re still standing.

I add up the 260 therapy appointments and take note of all of the progress over the last year.

I reflect on the sleepless nights in the hospital filled with worry and am so thankful we’re not there.

I smile thinking about the many people we have met just because our son is who he is.

I think about the friendships I’ve forged with other special needs parents and feel more than lucky.

Another year, another win.

When birthdays come around I am so thankful our son is on this earth, but the celebration isn’t without sorrow.

As he gets older the developmental gap between him and his peers gets greater and greater.

The gap that was a sliver has slowly started widening over time.

The older he gets the more his developmental delay stares me straight in my face.

He’s still trying to reach milestones that 6 month olds have mastered.

Birthdays remind me of what he could be doing.

I can picture in my mind the cake smash that could have happened.

I envision the ripping open of packages only to move on from one to the next.

I can imagine him singing Happy Birthday to himself days before and after his party.

But that’s not how it goes and I don’t know when it will.

Birthdays are bittersweet.

Our son is still very young and I can only imagine what his next birthday will bring.

We’ll be celebrating another year of accomplishment parenting a child who has extraordinary needs, but I know that there too will be hints of sadness.

The hints of sadness may be a reminder of what he could be doing but they will also remind me of what we have yet to achieve.

They’ll keep us moving forward and forging on.

Birthdays have become so much more than cake.

They’re a goal and a victory.

About Melissa Schlemmer

Currently I am trying to juggle life with an infant, 7 year old, and a nearly 5 year old with special needs. Life is all kinds of crazy, but we are loving it all. I’m passionate about advocating for our son and sharing our story so other parents realize they aren’t alone in this.

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