When my husband is not around, I love to make pancakes for dinner. (He thinks it is silly and will not eat them!) I don't think my kids realize it is not typical dinner fare since we have it so often.
Anyway, I have a new favorite recipe for pumpkin pancakes. They are gluten-free, vegan, and delicious. I pretty much followed the recipe besides increasing the vanilla and dumping in some flax meal for good measure. My kids gobbled them up, pretty much finishing the whole batch between the two of them. Quite amazing considering the Wise Old Owl does not usually have that big of an appetite (for lunch today, he took a whole hour to consume 2 chicken nuggets). As Herbie asked for his third serving he commented, "these are always good, even when they're cold!" Hooray for a dinner with no battles for a change.
I am probably not alone in the ranks of special-needs parents in wishing my children would say, "I love you." Herbie has never been one to tell anyone what he thinks about them. His emotional outbursts have more to do with how he is feeling about his surroundings and sensory inputs. I am fortunate that he is often in the mood to cuddle, and the fact that he requests my hugs and back rubs makes me feel loved. (Although if I think too much about it, I could convince myself that he is just looking for sensory input...)
The Wise Old Owl was late to talk, so initially there were no expectations of hearing, "I love you." I was pretty excited to hear him call out, "Mama!" when he wanted my attention. We did a lot of sign language and I did try to teach the sign for "I love you" to no avail. And frequently playing the particular Signing Time episode that taught that sign didn't seem to help. One of my brothers worked really hard at trying to teach him to say the words, hoping it could be a birthday present for me. I appreciated the heartfelt effort, having someone try to give me something I really wanted for my birthday. One day last spring, I was tucking the kids in bed and said the usual, "I love you," and Owl responded. I thought for sure it was the moment I had been waiting for. But he ended up saying, "I love Signing Time." He's heard Rachel say, "We love signing with you" so many times, apparently "love" and "signing" go together. Oh well, I do love Signing Time, too. Several weeks later, we were at our local co-op, and he picked up a bag of chocolate chips which he had recently discovered that he liked to eat. He knew which brand was safe for him, and grinning as he put it into the cart he said, "I love chocolate!" Well, I couldn't disagree with that one either! Over the summer, he was doing a lot more mimicking and I finally heard the words, "I love you." I never knew if it was echolalia or if he meant it.
A few days ago, after picking him up from preschool, he was doing his usual routine of resisting being buckled into the car. He arched his back, he squirmed around. Then he wrapped his arms around my head and wouldn't let go. I finally got him in his seat and off we went, as he protested loudly. I was having one of those days where I felt like I was taking care of everybody and nobody was taking care of me. We had only gone a block when his little voice came from the back, even more halting and broken than usual because he was on the verge of tears. "Stop, mama, I want to love you!"
So I stopped. And opened his door and let him wrap his arms around my head as he said, "I love you, mama."
I am creating my Christmas cards this week, you know, the kind with the adorable photos of my boys and some sort of happy sentiment. But I decided that I needed to skip writing the Christmas letter this year. I used to think it was so fun, even before I had kids. I thought everyone wanted to hear about my adventures. Then when Herbie was born, I had to write all about how cute and amazing he was. I liked reading everyone else's letters, too. Last year, I could barely muster a paragraph, so it was just a short note printed on the back of the photo card saying we'd moved and the kids were doing great. What else could I have written? About all of the economic uncertainty and stress surrounding our move? The fact that my kids had serious behavior issues and were not meeting all the developmental milestones bragged about in everyone else's letters? The fact that I didn't know why and it was driving me crazy? Yeah. So I kept it short, and then tried to be happy for the families who sent those long letters detailing their kids' fluency in Spanish and mastery of swimming and bicycle riding at the age of 4.
This year, I could write something about how Herbie was diagnosed with ASD and anxiety. Does anyone want to read that in a holiday letter? Or how we still don't know what's up with the Wise Old Owl, but at least we have an appointment with a new neurologist. Or that Herbie learned to ride his bike with training wheels and actually looks where he is going--I was jumping for joy about that but would anyone else? Or that Owl has dropped all of his sign language and communicates verbally, nothing short of a miracle, the most progress his SLP had ever seen in a child. Does anyone besides my mom appreciate the hugeness of my kids' accomplishments? How could I really write a Christmas letter about all of that? I will not even try.
The next step is reading all of those pesky letters that will arrive in the mail. Will I be sad? Jealous? Irritated? I like to think that I have gotten to a place where I can be happy for my friends and the accomplishments of their NT kids. When it is one friend here or there telling me about something cool regarding their child, I really can rejoice with them. The challenge for December is to read 30 letters and feel the same joy for them. But then I will also wonder, is their life all sunshine like they portray? We don't really say the things on our hearts in those letters. If I chose not to share our real life, there must be others writing happy letters who are hiding something. Maybe this year, instead of reading their stories and wondering what it would be like to have their life, I'll say a prayer of thanks for their blessings, and a prayer of hope that whatever worries them (do you know anyone who has no worries?) would make them stronger, that God would reach out to them through someone's act of kindness this holiday season and make their Christmas even brighter.