Hunter is 7. He was 2 pounds at birth and his story is a complicated one, to say the least. But oh, it’s a good one! It’s a story full of surprises and predictability… joy and fear… knowns and unknowns… and miracles. So many miracles. We hear in the special needs community that our child’s story isn’t ours to tell… that parts of their story should be private or told only when and if our children decide to tell them. Maybe this is true… but I’m starting to think that perhaps time has taught us otherwise as Hunter’s parents.
Hunter somehow has the greatest joy amidst his 23 medical specialists and multiple diagnoses that qualify him as ‘special needs’, however I stand firm in my belief that his hatred for Target is in fact our greatest challenge… one this Mama continues to build an arsenal of ‘survival techniques’ for on a weekly basis!
I had such high hopes on that Tuesday morning! We had successfully gotten through one doctor’s appointment and Hunter was his usual, joyful self in the car. As I pulled into the parking lot I had my sights set on that adrenaline filled power-walk through the Target Dollar Spot! We could do this! Little did I know that today would be a ‘green calculator’ day and not a ‘red one’.
With the red calculator and the tiny hands of my 2 little boys in my larger ones, we started our trek through the handicapped parking spots and as I saw those bright red cement balls and double doors getting ready to welcome me, Hunter stopped mid-stride…. his feet spread in his ‘combat stance’, his body pulled back ever so slowly until our joined hands were stretched as far as they could go, and my grip got tighter as he lowered all 50 pounds of himself on to that brightly painted blue wheelchair on the parking lot pavement before he let out his combat scream.
Hunter. Was. Ticked.
Now you must understand that our son is non-verbal in the sense that he has limited words, however our son communicates extremely well. And very loudly. As his ‘expressiveness’ grew louder on that warm pavement it was my job to decipher why he was there in the first place. In our normal routine, Abe and I closed in so we could give him space to express himself safely. He yelled and carried on for about 274 minutes… ok ok, for 3 minutes but if you’ve ever been ‘that mom’, standing on the blue wheelchair in the Target parking lot, you know how long that 3 minutes feels!
As he threw the red calculator across to the next spot in true ‘hopscotch’ fashion, he communicated quite clearly that it wasn’t a ‘red day’. I took this time to calmly talk to my non-verbal son about how we’d walk back to the car when he was finished and get his green calculator, how I understood that he was frustrated but we needed to get milk and bread and peanut butter and even some lollipops for a special treat so we had to find a way to calm down and do our shopping.
All the while I was taking inventory of our surroundings while trying desperately to push down the intense feelings of failure and humiliation and even fear that I was feeling as I imagined what we looked like to those who were observing our moment; the ambulance was parked out front, meaning that our local paramedics were doing their daily and well-deserved coffee run…. a sweet older couple was walking to their car…. a mom with a newborn was headed inside…. a teenager was pulling in and I wondered why she wasn’t in school… a woman who could be a grandma was talking on her phone in her car….
Hunter started to calm down so I helped him up, fixed the hearing aid that had come loose, straightened his glasses, gave him a squeeze to tell him I was proud of him, gave Abe a squeeze and told him I was proud of him, too, took the hands of my 2 little boys once again, walked quickly back to the car to get the green calculator, and headed into the store where we bypassed the Dollar Spot and forgot to get the milk…. but we made it! On our way out of the store about 472 minutes later… ok ok, about 13 minutes later… that woman who could be a grandma stopped me at the double doors;
“Here it comes… ” I thought to myself.
“You did a great job, Mom. Those boys are so lucky that God chose you to be their mom.”
The laundry list of what I could and should have done better was already running through my head… it had been for over 16 minutes. Her words soothed my anxious heart and gave me the nerve to walk across that blue painted wheelchair one more time and get my boys home.
Here’s what I’ve learned; our son tells his own story well… and your sweet thing probably does too! Whether it’s his hearing aids, her glasses, a wheelchair, braces on his legs, a speech impediment, a turn of the head or silly sounds they make, that swim diaper or life jacket at the pool on a child who seems a little too old, the repetitive noises, or the tantrums on the blue painted wheelchair, they are true story tellers. But the story they’re telling is a hard one to tell without someone to fill in the blanks…. the details. It is so tempting at times for me to push down the frustration I feel when I know someone ‘just doesn’t get it’…. but then I have to ask myself if I’ve given them a chance to.
A few weeks ago we ‘introduced’ our Hunter to our community on social media. It was terrifying. But the truth is, Hunter is the best story-teller… we’re just doing our best to build our arsenal of tools so we can create a life for him that is safe, full, and understood. We’re filling in the details of the story he is already telling.
You were chosen to be this precious child’s parent…. everyone else was chosen to be their community. Come alongside your child and tell that amazing story… let your Village in on the details. Give that “could- be grandma” a chance to see that it’s just a green calculator day and not a red one… and give yourself and that sweet baby of yours a chance to soak up the safety, encouragement, and understanding she has to offer when she has just a few more details to go on. Those green calculator days don’t feel so lonely when your community is in on the secret… and those red calculator days are that much sweeter!
Lindsay Smith is wife to Joey, Mama to 5 babies; 3 heartgrown through adoption, 1 homegrown through biology, and 1 waiting in Heaven. She is an advocate for special needs parenting, open adoption, miscarriage, and every Mama … because we all need just a little extra grace. "From His fullness we have all recieved grace upon grace." John 1:16. She writes and tells stories at On Loan FromHeaven on Facebook and at www.OnLoanFromHeaven.com .