For years before I became a mom, I worried and stewed over how to raise a child to be the good and wonderful person we want he or she to be. How do we instill the values we think are important? How do we make the life lessons stick? How do we know for sure that they GET it? I have asked several parents these questions, and no one seems to know the answer. The general consensus is, “We do what we can and hope for the best.”
This is a difficult concept for me to grasp because I am not a “hope for the best” type person. I need a plan. A foolproof, thorough plan that has a definite outcome. Things cannot be left up to chance. At least, that’s the type of plan I aim for. Being a parent does not allow you to have perfect plans, I’m learning. I haven’t learned it well enough to stop trying though. With every outing, I plan what time we need to leave to ensure we arrive in plenty of time, what snacks we need to bring, where we will be when nap time hits, and how many outfit changes might occur. And of course, every time it seems, we leave 45 minutes late, Avalynn finishes her juice too early when we don’t have any more, and nap time gets postponed so we can take cute pictures (which turns into not so cute pictures).
So if these small, basically insignificant plans never work out, how in the world am I supposed to create a plan to raise my child to be the absolute best, caring, and smart individual she can be? If figuring out how to raise a kid the “right” way is difficult, then learning to raise a child with special needs seems even harder. Not only do I have to teach her right from wrong, how to say please and thank you, and how to share, I also have to make sure she goes to three different therapies, pay attention in those therapies so I can continue to help her when she’s at home, and also make sure she’s able to enjoy her childhood and not just be overwhelmed with what she needs to learn next. All while trying to make sure she’s accepted by her peers and intercepting any awkward or rude remarks from strangers (because they happen).
I firmly believe that early intervention is a very vital part in the healthy development of children with Down syndrome (and any disability). Avalynn goes to physical and speech therapy twice a week and occupational therapy once a week, all 45 minute sessions. It’s a lot for a 15 month old to handle, but so far, she’s a champ. (Sidenote: I have always hated when parents refer to their child’s age in months after they turn one. I’ve tried to just say she’s one when people ask, but I feel like it sells her short. Babies/toddlers learn so much so quickly when they’re under two, and when I just say she’s one, I feel like it’s not enough. So here I am, being one of those parents I used to hate. She’s 15 months, 17 days, and 16 hours, thank you. How old’s your kid?) Her therapies have helped her tremendously, and I have no plans of cutting them back for now because I definitely have no idea how to help her on my own.
But I also believe that children need to be given the chance to explore and imagine and create and just have fun without any extra stressors. Will the bulk of Avalynn’s early childhood be spent in therapy sessions? And if so, will there be enough time left in the days to just have fun? This is why Kindermusik is so important to me right now. It’s a class that we go to for pure enjoyment. It just so happens to have a few moments that can be beneficial in the same was as one of her therapy sessions, but I think it’s mainly helping her develop socially, which, from my experience, cannot really be learned in therapy. When we first began the classes, she tended to sit right in front of me for the whole class, periodically turning around and climbing into my lap to be closer to me. In class earlier today, I kept having to drag her closer to me so we could do the activities together. She kept crawling off to explore on her own. She plays little instruments more confidently and smiles at her teacher more. She has even started reaching for her classmate and wants to sit by him instead of me sometimes. And she really does have fun. Every week, I can see her face light up when she gets to hold a new instrument, and she never gets upset (which I cannot say the same for therapy: this kid does NOT like to work sometimes…ok, all the time). We’re planning on trying out a “storyplay” hour at our local library next week to throw some more “just fun” time into the mix, and we went to a children’s museum a few weeks ago, as well (which I think the adults enjoyed more than Avalynn, but we’ll try again when she’s a bit older).
So I don’t know the secrets of how to raise a perfect child. I don’t think anyone will ever be able to uncover them. I also don’t know what our future will hold, but as for now, we’re learning the balance of therapy and play. All I can do is make sure Avalynn enjoys life as a child, and hope and pray that will lead to her enjoying life as an adult. If she’s happy, I’m happy, and all I can do is try to keep it that way.
P.S. Here’s some pictures of Avalynn’s Halloween costume. You’re welcome.