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At some early point, perhaps after my third decade mark, I naively assumed that I had already experienced the maximum that I could handle, and surely the road would start to smooth out. Yet, here I am, and currently going through the most testing time of my life. Nothing in my past has ever been as heavy a burden as the one I am carrying now as the mother of Jacob, my special needs child.
Of course, parenting is not all burden, and with Jacob, there are things that give me joy. Jacob is my greatest test and yet makes me laugh every day. He can make everyone smile with the costumes he creates out of paper and tape for the family to wear, or the way he acts out cartoons. He covers walls with character stickers and tacks up his own precious artwork. He must fall asleep nose-to-nose with me and hugs, kisses, and loves me without question.
Unfortunately, these rewards account for less time than the ordinary minute-to-minute tasks of special needs parenting. Imagine having a giant toddler who does not speak and has little or no understanding of consequences. Someone who can hardly be kept out of anything that could be potentially dangerous, who manages on occasion to escape from the house and run tirelessly down the street and reacts to every “no” with serious, physical, 165 pound aggression. If you can imagine all of this, then you will also see in your mind a mom and dad that are left bruised and breathless and feeling like battered parents nearly every day.
I have been woken at 4 am to find kitchen and hardwood floors covered in permanent black marker, and shortly afterwards, had the walls and furniture coated in white paint. I have found a gallon of milk poured onto the floor. Daily I try to wrestle away sharp objects, anything that can be thrown, or other people’s small children away from my 5-foot, 3-inch “little boy”. Nothing is as I expected or ever experienced.
There are other unexpected differences that no one ever thinks about. I struggle to change diapers and care for all the hygiene needs of someone who fights it all tirelessly. I try to regulate the diet of a verbally non-communicative child, or learn about and then administer his numerous daily medications that change quarterly. Finally, at the end of the day when mom is an exhausted wreck, I must still deal with the tireless motion and energy of this little body that does not seem to need sleep.
Sometimes, I ask myself, why is my burden so great? I love my boy with a passion, and yet I can’t help but lament when I see a typical nine-year-old boy living his typical nine-year-old life. Jacob would be in 4th grade and learning multiplication, rather than in a class made up of him and other seriously delayed children. His brother and sister were already involved in music lessons, sports, and playing with neighborhood friends at his age. Jacob has never had a real friend or been invited to a birthday party.
But who ever actually gets an answer to the question, “Why me?” I have spent too much time asking that rhetorical question and feeling like my burdens are particularly unfair, that I should have been given easier crosses to bear. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I began to realize that the principles and morals my parents insisted on in my childhood were even important to me. But, at some point in my life the realization began to grow within me that my Heavenly Father’s plan was a better one than mine. I cannot become the woman I am meant to be without His directing hand on earth.
My current tests seem the most trying of my life. If I have learned anything it is that there are more and perhaps even greater challenges ahead. Although I can’t foresee the difficulties I will encounter in my life, words given to me in a church blessing point to particular pains and trials. Proof that my Heavenly Father knew what my life would have in store and that there is obvious power from Heaven that has stretched and shaped me. Perhaps, I was being prepared and just did not realize what I was being prepared for. These things give me confidence that I can handle all things that may come my way.
John Taylor once said, “Some people suppose that persecutions and trials are afflictions; but sometimes, and generally, if we are doing the will of the Lord and keeping His commandments, they may be truly said to be blessings in disguise.”
Although I’d prefer my blessings to be out in the open rather than in disguise, this statement gives me great comfort. How else would my rebellious, defiant nature submit to God’s will but through the absolute need for Him to give me patience and gentleness in the face of suffering? And, to offer it to me in the form of my own precious Jacob.
Every day with my son, Jacob, I have to give it my all. Despite my efforts, sometimes I fall short, but my Heavenly Father never falls short of providing me with blessings. Because of those blessings my heart is bigger, my mind more alert, my love unconditional, and what is sometimes as important as all those others, my reflexes more lightening speed. Through all the spilled milk, bruised and bitten skin, and long, demanding days, Jacob never ceases to amaze with his creativity and eye for the smallest details. His joy is simple. He is a wonderful blessing to have.
QUESTION: As a parent, what do you deal with that is both a blessing and a challenge?
CHALLENGE: Find a new strategy or talk to a friend to help you better see your parenting trials as blessings.