You are welcome to call me the crazy lady or to entirely disagree with me but I really believe candy coatings are over-rated and a spattering of stress and a dab of dirt are under appreciated pieces of childhood.
Okay, okay…shhhh….don’t scream back yet….just listen.
I am frequently asked how in the whole wide world my spectrum boy, the once-non-verbal kiddo with the abysmal evaluations, non-existent receptive/expressive skills and the not-so-bright future outlook has progressed so well and made it so far-and-above where anyone expected him to be. And I have to tell you it really is a stumper of a question because…you know what?… For the life of me the only conclusion I can come up with is that I was not a candy-coating kind of sparkle momma.
I wasn’t and, honestly, when I’m pressed….mostly, here’s what I come up with…
I did not try to make his life easy.
I did not refrain from positive reinforcement/discipline to support his coping skills and lessen his behavioral outbursts.
I did not ask others to tip toe around him or to expect less of him.
I did not allow excuses to be bantered about behind his back.
I did not insulate him from stress or life or excuse him from own personal responsibility.
I did not make excuses to lessen his load but I did always assess his abilities and take his weaknesses into account as well as his personal skill level so that I could support and grow them up. I mostly just treated him the same as I treated his sister and brother and I did not expect the world to change for him.
Right or wrong, I didn’t. What I mostly did was to simply remain constant in my walk with him and vigilant as I tailored his therapy (mostly that I did myself) to support his weaknesses.
I was kind and soft voiced.
I was patient.
Did I mention I was really patient….for a very long time? I was NOT a screamer.
I was a choice giver.
I was as firm as I was loving.
I was consistent.
I was not a melt-down-avoider.
What we sometimes forget, or hate to remember, is that success is often born through struggle. I think we forget that stress, loss and failure are part of the lessons we all have to learn and this new philosophy of making sure everything in our kiddos’ lives is perfect, lovely, soft, sweet and sanitized is a disservice to our kiddos, spectrum or not.
You cannot learn to be a good sport without a heartbreaking loss. You cannot learn to be independent and to rely on yourself without some struggle as apron strings are untied. This last week, just five school days long, my spectrum kiddo faced three very stressful situations with grace and describing me as gobsmacked hardly begins to explain it. After six different bullying days of being bullied by the same kiddo, my kiddo chased down the boy who had been bullying him, after the boy threw a cheap shot and hit him, and he put the boy in a head-lock. And, when mom accidentally got my boys’ sandwiches confused and gave the bagel with cream cheese to my spectrum kiddo, instead of his beloved pb sandwich, he did not meltdown or even flinch. He was not phased and he did not complain. He rolled with it. And when mom’s brain was scrambled so much so that I was late picking him up, he simply walked to the office and let our secretary know. No stress, no meltdown, no flip out, no panic, no tears…simply a boy facing the bumps of life with tolerance and patience. Just one boy gracefully facing life with the bumps that inevitably roll in. Once upon a time we could not do that but these days we’re pretty bullet proof to life’s rough spots. Granted the rough spots are not my favorite but sometimes, if we are honest and admit it, stress and struggle are great assets too. You cannot learn the firmness of your backbone or the joy of triumph, as we did this week, without a bully in your face or uncomfortable mistakes being made. In the long run, resilience is what matters. The ability to roll with the punches, to move on, to keep going with an attitude that demonstrates these strengths should not be undervalued when it comes to life skills because….life happens.
Will negative moments happen? Yes.
Are they going to be uncomfortable and ugly? YEP.
Are overcoming those rough spots the hallmark moments we relish in our lives? ABSOLUTELY.
Bad but fabulous too. You cannot learn the depths of your own strength without hitting bottom, without facing imperfection, without children pushing back, without some stressful moments in your life. When our kiddos are younger, coddling and protecting are what we do and we do it beautifully but at some point, as they get older, letting go so they can fly is a valuable form of love and nurture too. Letting them spread their wings, come what may (with support :)), is a new stage of mothering.
My kiddos lose.
My kiddos fail.
My kiddos fall flat.
My kiddos get dirty and don’t always sanitize…
My kids choose to break house rules.
My kiddos push the boundaries over the cliff with Mom….and Mom pushes right back.
Is it going to be ugly? Brace yourself because the answer to that is a resounding YES. Quite ugly at times in fact and that’s okay. These are the teaching moments. These are the moments they learn where the boundaries really are. These are the moments when they learn to lose gracefully and be good sports. These are the moments when their character is born and their backbones are formed….if we, as parents, let them. And when it comes to dirt…this is the time when their immune systems are formed.
My children fail and fall flat and are crushed sometimes by life’s losses and failures and bumps… and that’s okay too. It’s hard to watch it happening when every piece of you wants to protect your kiddo and make it better but making it better robs them of the life lesson. And, frankly, it robs you of the opportunity to teach them that no matter where we finish in the lineup, it doesn’t change who we are and it does not change our value. And when they break house rules or willfully defy mom’s rules, that is the moment when we have the opportunity to redefine our relationship, firm up expectations and face the consequences of misguided arrogance and mistakes made.
Dirt and loss may be the darker side of the rough spots and they are certainly not the flashy-fun side of parenting but they are the hallmark moments of the life-lesson-teaching that we are entrusted with. They are the moments we are given to teach our kiddos and, without them, we rob our kiddos of the chance to learn the harder lesson of life…with mom and dad still waiting in the wings to catch them when they fall.
I look at the struggles my kiddos have faced:
All three of my kiddos have been bullied multiple times.
My boy has been the soccer goalie who lost the game in the last second by allowing the tie breaking goal.
My girl has lost her swim goggles during the race leaving her unable to finish a race in a big meet.
My spectrum kiddo missed his word after a 30 minute spelling bee spell-off.
The wild man struck out…again and again.
And not one of them was ever allowed to quit or give in even if it meant finishing with tears.
Candy coatings are pretty and nice and soft but dirt and loss and failure contribute to a more reliable outer shell that, while not always pretty, will carry our kiddos through their own rough spots when we are no longer in those wings waiting to pick them up. That is what I want. That is what matters to me. It’s all well and good while they are little guys and I am here but I happen to be the good-at-not-kidding-myself-girlie who knows my kiddos are a lot younger than me. I’m honest enough to see that I will not always be here and in that moment when I am not here I want them, including my spectrum guy, to have a backbone, good judgement, confidence and a moral code that will carry them through their own rough spots and will serve as their own moral compass when mom is not close at hand.
That is the only theory I have to explain how well he has progressed. That, to me, is what matters most and that is why I have skipped the candy-coating version of childhood in favor of the one that leaves him more independent and prepared for life as he marches toward adult hood. I want him to have as full and independent a life as he can possibly have. And I will be thankful for every rough spot because of the opportunity it allows me to better prepare my kiddos for the whole wide world. That is exactly why I ask for…umm….no candy coating please so that hopefully the lessons they are learning are enough. More than anything, I want them to have enough. Enough strength and enough love to see them through the good times and bad, with or without me, with their spirit, their attitude and their sense of worth unscathed and, Wonder Souls, that is my greatest wish of all. Sparkle On, my friends!