I'm a woman, so it's second nature to compare myself torturously with others. I know it's not healthy, but it's hard to ignore a mom who's skinnier, a mom who's more organized or a mom who seems to just be... more.
Most women will admit we face the daily challenge of flipping our brains to off and choosing to focus on what we have, and where our abilities shine.
Avoiding comparisons can be even more difficult as a parent of a child with special needs.
When I'm feeling particularly cynical, I picture a cluster of moms in cargo pants peering over their iPads and mentally ticking off how their typical (read: non-special needs) child's abilities align, surpass or fall short of another child's.
- The Aligners breathe an audible sigh of relief and return to "101 ways to prepare your child for gifted-child camp."
- The Surpassers nod confidently and return to online applications for gifted-child camp.
- The Fall-Shorts feel a simultaneous ache of love in their hearts for their beautiful cherub's hard work while mentally combating the familiar burn in their stomachs as they yearn for life to be just a little easier for that cherub.
As mother of a child with Down syndrome, I see these reactions in a much sharper light. On a bad day, it may feel like Charlie's abilities will always fall short of others' expectations. On a good day, I remember I don't care.
Since having Charlie, I've realized how important it is for parents to talk about these differences and realize that, while one mom longs to see her child walk (as he babbles away to his playmates), another mom longs to hear her child speak (as he toddles circles around his playmates). As parents, if we stick together, we can understand each other better and also provide so much more love and support for our children, regardless of ability.
My son, Charlie, is 2 years old and almost walking on his own. My husband and I cheer loudly when he takes steps independently. We understand he is delayed because he has Down syndrome, and because he is our eldest, we relax behind the veil of the unknown.
We aren't faced daily with the reality of where he could be. (Although his 9-month-old sister is beginning to introduce us.) We can choose to focus on where he is, which is generally a pretty happy, typical toddler place.
But occasionally, the veil of the unknown (protecting us from reality) gets stripped away. This summer, reality met us on vacation with my family. He had big brown eyes and a cute Irish stubbornness.
When my nephew, RJ, danced into the kitchen our first day in town, I swept him into a hug and marveled at how he recognized me after a whole year. To him, I'm "Auntie Moo-Moo," which I choose to believe reflects his 2-year-old admiration for Hinduism, a faith that reveres cows.
My son, Charlie, sat on the floor, quiet and overwhelmed by this fireball of physical agility.
In no time, RJ had raced to a bin of toys. In a blink, he had stacked handfuls of blocks -- an effort we focus on almost daily as part of Charlie's occupational therapy development.
I glanced at my sister, who hadn't noticed the stacking but was honed in on the blocks RJ had hurled toward my daughter. As RJ sat in time-out for throwing, I had a collision of emotions.
Yay! My son is equally misbehaved! (I never said my emotions were rational.)
And then... I can't believe how quickly RJ built that tower of blocks.
It's all about perspective, right? I can't expect my sister to revel in accomplishments RJ's had mastered for some time, and I can't waste time comparing Charlie's abilities to another child's.
The Husband and I exchanged glances and mental hugs. Charlie is doing so well, at his own pace. He will get there. Our wish for him isn't achievement to make ourselves feel better, but achievement for the sake of his own abilities and happiness.
Except… wait a minute.
Charlie was beaming at his cousin. He was surrounded by love and the unmatched power of family. He was a picture of happiness.
And with a glint in his eye, our precious little picture of happiness karate-chopped RJ's tower to rubble.
Yep. We're all gonna be just fine.