If you live in a house with trauma, you know that not all seasons are created equal. Most kids do better with a regular routine, but especially special needs kids. As parents of those special kiddos, we learn how to tiptoe around holidays and traditions. We often clash with relatives, neighbors or teachers in our efforts to protect our children from the damaging effects of those special days. This means that holidays we once loved, we now dread. Halloween, for example. It was fun when I was a kid, but for a kid with sensory problems, food allergies, or past trauma, it’s a nightmare.
In our house, where we have four kids, plus nieces, nephews, and friends, one super tough season is Spring. We have two birthdays in May. May is also when we have extra rehearsals and practices, recitals, concerts, baseball, softball, track, award ceremonies, graduations, banquets, parties. In school, they are finishing up finals or high-stakes testing. The teachers are preparing the kids for the next grade; they meet the teachers in the next grade or even tour another school. They may be choosing classes and electives. They may be worried about grades or summer school.
Summer is coming. Kids and teachers are counting the days. Everyone talks about vacations and lazy days and swimming and camps, yet our kids are stressed. They thrive on the school-year routine; losing that is scary. Plus kids with attachment issues don’t want more family time; that’s even scarier. And then there are the parents. Lots of parents joke about dreading summer. Parents of special needs kids truly do. We dread vacations and the extra planning they take. We dread those family reunions with relatives who don’t understand why our kids are not allowed the freedoms that “normal” kids have. We live with knowledge that letting them stay up late to chase fireflies may lead to meltdowns in the morning. We are watching to be sure they don’t steal a credit card from Aunt Betty’s purse, or candy from their two-year-old cousin. We don’t let our teenager walk to the pool with other teens because we fear they will go off with a stranger. We can’t enjoy the cute little gift shop because we are watching our little darlings’ hands to make sure nothing is slipped into a pocket.
We worry about the sleep they won’t get because it’s not dark long enough. Kids with trauma often need more sleep than other kids. After all, being hypervigilant takes a lot out of a person. Constantly putting on a show, it’s exhausting. Trying to keep yourself safe when you don’t trust anyone at all, it’s exhausting. So we trauma mamas are always trying to be sure they get sleep. We worry we are “doing it wrong”. Every parent is pretty sure they are messing up, but special needs parents worry even more, especially when everyone is eager to tell us how it’s done. Aunt Sadie says we need to spank that boy; Grandma thinks we are too hard on her sweet granddaughter; even strangers have opinions on what we are doing wrong.
Let me tell you, mom, you rock. And you, the dad who’s missing one kid’s award ceremony so you can stay home with the one who would ruin the night, you are awesome. I see you closing those blackout curtains so your kid can sleep. I see you giving your kid a hug while surreptitiously patting him down. Look at you planning for traumaversaries. Look at that amazing patience as you prepare your child for events, giving her scripts to help her. I see you looking at the floor while you ignore comments from other parents. You are amazing for loving the kid you have, even though the reality is not matching your dreams. I hear your sigh as you read yet another meme about how disrespectful kids are the fault of parents. I see the wince when you see the school on caller ID. I see you doling out medication. I see you outside the church with the kid in full-blown melt-down. I see your tired smile as you get more free advice. I see you clapping as other kids win awards, accomplish things your child might never do. I see you taking that deep breath before going into yet another ARD. I see you researching therapies and looking for answers. I see the tears you cry when no one is looking. I am sending you hugs. Spring is hard, but you’ve got this. You are strong. You have to be for your kid. We will get through this.