5 Years, guys.
This fantastically colorful, quirky, energetic, spirited, hilarious, curious, wonderfully spunky, tenacious and quite courageous, little girl has been in our lives for 5 years. She loves salads, eggs, raw peppers, cucumbers, beans, guacamole, tortilla chips, and peanut butter. She doesn't like carrots, broccoli, corn or pizza. She loves flowers, gardening, playing in dirt, catching bugs, letting them crawl on her, her favorites are stink bugs, ladybugs, and ants. She likes to play in the rain, ride her bike, paint, color and to make cards by hand for her loved ones. She loves her aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas. She loves cooking and being everyone's helper. She loves back scratches and having her nails painted. She doesn't always understand why certain things might hurt someone's feelings. She doesn't always know why certain things are inappropriate. She hates pants and any types of clothing that are "too tight", "too itchy", and "too hot". She even hates underwear but is learning that sometimes we have to figure out how to do things we are really uncomfortable doing, if there isn't another option. She loves spinning. She loves swinging as high as you will push her. She knocks things over a lot but never means to do it. She loves asking questions and getting long answers that lead into opportunities to ask more questions. She loves singing. She loves animals and constantly asks for a "real" pet. (Apparently, a fish is not a real pet.) She doesn't like to be teased. She wants to be taken seriously. She takes the world very literally and will hold you to your promises. She's fiery and giggly. And oh, so lovable.
I had great intentions to post this back in August when she actually turned the big five, however, this year has been one of delayed best intentions. One of shocking incidents, thrilling adventures & unexpected circumstances.
In the Spring, we fought the school district for educational rights, for our son who has high functioning Autism, that were being violated, six ways to Sunday. In the Summer, we prayed for God to spare the life and limbs of my younger brother (He did! Though some were broken and may never be quite the same, he has all of them and is alive and well), who was in a severe motorcycle accident, when he wasn't seen by a driver who turned right in front of him. In the fall, we moved, started new schools, traveled a ton for work, and received the second high functioning Autism diagnosis, for our second child, Miss Piper June Elizabeth. We kind of already knew. It's not really surprising, yet, really? Does this happen to other people? Do we just have really good odds? Should we play the lottery? Who knows...Apparently, these things run in families.
I'm still processing it.
I'm still learning how to be a mom. How to be a good mom. Is that even possible for me? Trying to figure out what to read. Who to ask. Who to listen to. In a world where everyone has opinions, whether they know what they are talking about or not, I'm finding it more and more difficult to find answers to my questions. In a world where there are millions of books, thousands on parenting, hundreds on special needs kids, and even less on high functioning special needs kids, it's often VERY difficult to know what in the hell I am supposed to be doing, on a day-to-day basis, as a mom. The mold never fits. People in this world are constantly trying to cram me into. They are constantly trying to cram my kids into it. They try to convince us why the mold is so important. That we need it for the success of our children. That if we don't fit into it then we must not matter to society. We are failures. Our kids our failures. Our kids are fakes. They are bullies. They are playing the system. The outcasts. The weirds. The misfits. The unacceptables...
I took the mold and I threw it away. It's stupid and pointless. The mold is not welcome in my house.
Maybe it's welcome in some homes because it works there. But for the last 7 years that I have been a parent, I have followed (more like tried to follow) the path that is prescribed to the masses, yet I always find myself at the end of the road, a brick wall in my face and all I want to do is head-butt it; kick it down; take a sledgehammer to it; set it on fire; do SOMETHING that makes it feel like all of my efforts weren't for naught.
I'm learning, however, that parenting really isn't about MY efforts as much as it is about my children's needs. What if their needs have nothing to do with everything I have tried? Time to try something different.
My children are what matter. For some reason, God knew that I would be the mom that my kids needed. I still, sometimes, don't know how to be what they need but I know that actively trying to figure it out is, at least, helping. I know that if they feel loved and valued by Levi and I, and by those whom we allow them to be around, then they will be healthy. Part of what they need is for me to keep asking questions, to keep checking on them, to be present so that they are getting what they need from the other people, in their lives, who are not their parents.
I can't explain the toll that it takes on a parent to keep up. I do not have it all. I do not have it all together. I do not even care about things that I used to care about. I no longer want to have it all. I no longer want to have it all together. I no longer care about not caring about the things that I used to.
I care about my husband. I care about my kids. I care about my family. We have been told that we have a much higher rate of divorce because of having special needs' kids. Well, screw that. At the end of the day, I'm going to come up short of all that was expected of me because I'm human. I will always make mistakes. But at the end of the day, if I have made my husband feel loved, if I have made my children feel loved, if I have put my family first, the rest of the world will either be here for me, or they won't. I am ok with that.
Many of you know that we do something a little different for our kids' birthdays. As they have gotten older, over the years, it's been increasingly more difficult for them to be at birthday parties and/or to have birthday parties thrown for them. We have to keep it small. Alongside that thought, we felt that, because we know our life is chaotic, we desire to have 1:1 time with our children. Out of those thoughts was born the idea that we allow each child to choose what they want to do for their birthday and we would take them to do it. (Within reason.)
This year, Piper J, as I sometimes call her, really wanted to go somewhere. She always wants to go somewhere. "Mom, can we go to the store?" "Mom, can we go to the park?" "Mom, can we go to the library?" "Mom, can we go do something fun, somewhere?" She asked if she could go see "mommy & daddy's office" which was downtown, at the time. She also asked if we could take the city bus. We have never taken the city bus, here. I guess we just haven't needed to, at any point, in the 5 years that we have lived in Columbus. We decided to take her to get a gluten-free dessert at our favorite bakery, she chose two treats and had her first root beer, (It was a little too "spicy" for her taste.) caught the bus at a nearby stop, she got to open her present from us, and the bus dropped us off downtown, within walking distance of our office. We made a potty break stop inside the office and she pulled out one of my lipsticks that she had smuggled; and was applying it before I realized what she was doing. We left the office and headed over to the surprise part of our evening. I had packed her swimsuit and cape so that she could play in the water fountains at Scioto Mile, after we ate dinner, next door. She was so happy with her surprise. It took some clever distractions to get her to be patient enough to eat after she found out that she would get to play in water. But she did well. We always have an incident or two in public but with only one child in tow, it's a little easier to keep it under wraps.
She was pretty sad when she asked a few girls to play with her and asked their names. They told her she was weird, after she tried squatting down like a puppy to lap up some water. I'm used to the stares but it's really difficult for a little girl to be told that she is different, by her peers. Especially, in an unkind way when she is trying to make a friend with them. Kids just call it like they see it but it doesn't hurt any less knowing that they don't know that what they are saying is mean or rude. I told Piper that, in life, some people will like the things that we do and some people won't. That when someone says they don't want to play with us, we move on to the next friend and try not to let mean things make us sad, but that it's hard.
Man, is it hard. Even as an adult, I have difficulty with this. Why do people say mean things? (There, see, another one of those unanswerable questions.)
At any rate, for now, she has mommy and daddy to pour more love in than the hate that the world feeds us. She really enjoyed her birthday. As we were walking to the bus stop, we realized that we were probably going to miss the bus that was coming and would have to wait a bit for the next. Pipes was clearly spent. So, we called an Uber, and got on our way. Even though she was deliriously tired by the end of the night, she did say that it was the best birthday ever.
Totally worth it.