Special Needs Parenting: When Number Two is “Typical”

You walk into swim lessons.  The air is heavy with the smell of chlorine and a cacophony of sound; children laughing, splashing, a few crying (oops).  Yet you don’t worry that the little person whose arms are wrapped around your neck is going to let out a frustrated scream, overwhelmed by her environment.  You sit and wait for your turn in the pool, your little bundle of love curiously checking out her surroundings while seated comfortably on your lap.  As you enter into the water, you say hello to the instructor without contemplating if you should explain to her right off the bat why something seems a little “off,” because you know she’s going to wonder anyway.  As the class gathers and makes introductions, you and your babe join in, and you don’t feel the need to translate her words so the other parents know she’s smart too, just like their little ones.  And as you all start to sing the opening, splash along song, you relax, and find yourself thinking “is this what other parents feel like ALL of the time?!”

And you are instantly hit with a wave of guilt, like feeling this way means you are doing wrong by your other bundle of love.

Welcome to special needs parenting: the second, typical child edition.

My first child has a disability.  My second does not.  I’m incredibly proud of both of them.

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Even though our daughter’s diagnosis was not inherited, I was worried when we got pregnant again.  I’m guessing many parents worry to some extent, but we had the extra layer of having unimaginable happen once, plus I was older. I remember telling myself “well, if she isn’t normal, at least they can be unique together.”  Because a typical child was what we were expecting, but was a bit scary, as well.

How long before little surpasses big?  How do I explain when little someday asks why big can’t do what she can do? How do I comfort big when she is envious of athletic ability, academic opportunities, party invites, etc. etc. that she will very likely watch little partake of from the sidelines?

My first question was answered quickly.  It took us seven months to teach big to roll over.  We worked tirelessly with physical therapists, had the couch cushions rigged up all sorts of ways to support some muscles and leave others to learn to do the work.  Little just did it one day.  I think she was a month and a half.  I remember just staring at her, thinking “is it really going to be that easy this time?”

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I struggled the most with this as little started learning to talk.  It was SO early.  Okay, it actually was a little early – but given my past experience, it feels like she exited my uterus and said “What’s up Mom?!”  I actually found myself wishing she would slow down, because the more she talked, the more it emphasized how behind big was.  One day at speech therapy, I wondered to big’s therapist if little would surpass her.  She responded, “Oh yeah.  Probably soon.”  Her frank answer forced me to rip the bandage off – no point in pretending it wasn’t going to happen.  And it wasn’t fair to little, to be afraid of, instead of celebrating, her accomplishments.

The other two questions are yet to come.  It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about having to answer them.  But as of yet, these sisters don’t know anything is different.  They know one loves Paw Patrol, and the other prefers nursery rhymes.  One is all about trail mix and the other can’t get enough macaroni and cheese.  They fight over toys, but couldn’t be better friends when bedtime, aka “run around giggling like crazy while mom and dad try and get us in pajamas” time comes.

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I’m enforcing the family togetherness aspect.  Mandatory family fun time in the evenings, taking turns doing what each other likes – normal family stuff.  Little spends a lot of her life taking big to appointments, so we make sure they both get one on one time with each parent, and get to try new things.  This fall, little will take swimming lessons with Daddy, and big will try out dance lessons (OMG the cuteness is going to be unbearable).

Scary questions will come and go.  I’m sure I’ll have some in five years that I couldn’t even fathom now.  Love and learn, love and learn, is how we will continue.

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One response to “Special Needs Parenting: When Number Two is “Typical”

  1. Pat Reese

    Kathleen, you & Joel are amazing parents. The girls are so lucky to have you! I know that whatever obstacles you might encounter, you and Joel with handle it with grace and compassion. Love u both!

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