Yikes. I think I froze then and I’m freezing now.
You mean Christmas might not be pure magic? Hikes in nature might be so triggering that they end in disaster? Vacations might be confusing downward spirals of trauma? Making friends at school may prove a far-off dream? Yup. It turns out parenting an older foster-child requires a new brand of parenting. My dear friend, Doug calls it “extreme parenting” as in jumping out of a plane or bungee jumping over a bridge. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
I thought I was prepared.
All those years facilitating play with children on the Autism spectrum, helping parents integrate play into their daily lives, writing a mindfulness curriculum for kids, leading 1000 Go Girls! through camp… I’ve spent 10 years preparing to be a therapeutic parent. But until I had a screaming, kicking, singing, roaring, grinning, collapsing, endearing, outrageous “squirrel” in my house… I had no idea what that meant.
Turns out it means gifting a massage to her teacher for Valentine’s Day. It means creating such a boring weekly routine that I want nothing more than to rebel and smoke cigarettes on my back porch. It means sending carefully worded, fierce and loving e-mails to her principal, to her therapist, to her social worker, to our social worker, to the school founder, to family members…to anyone on “Team Squirrel.” It means calling school twice daily so she can hear my voice. It means breathing when I want to yell. Talking when I want to hide. Reaching out when I want to go to bed.
Parents of kids with special needs, how do you become the parent your kids need you to be? How do you evolve past selfishness, past embarrassment, past perfectionism? How do you learn the promised lessons of compassion, flexibility and a new perspective on what matters?
For me, I take it an hour at a time. I laugh as much as I can. I remember to kiss my wife. And yes…every once in a while…I smoke a cigarette on my back porch.