We have been in crisis. And I am good at crisis. As a parent of a child with special needs, I’d have to say I feel comfortable there. After years of wishing to be done with the drama of crisis, recognizing a pang of nostalgia for it makes me stop and think.
It’s not Groundhog’s Day here in Sweden but that won’t stop our family from the annual viewing of the Bill Murray classic. Tonight we’ll snuggle on the sofa while Bill awakens to Sonny and Cher for about, according to the DVD comments, 1000 years or so, reliving the same day until he gets it right. When I first saw the movie years ago, it was merely a funny, clever film with wry Murray wit and all that Andy MacDowell hair. Over the years it has become a story of engagement.
I think sometimes we special needs parents are getting the wrong message. We’re told that if we want to be effective, we should be the mama bear — fierce and protective. Or the victim, sad and pleading. The course leader’s parable reminded me that I have other options, ones that actually might be more effective than anger or sadness.
On one side is you — with your skills, your strengths, your resilience, your smarts, your capacity. On the other side is what life throws at you — work, relationship needs, illness, a bad economy, whatever. The distance (actual or perceived) between what you can do and what life needs you to do is the Gap.
It struck me that being in the fun house was so like my experience of parenting a child with special needs, especially in a new country. Looking from the outside in, the recognizable elements are there: the kids, a school, a pediatrician, the toys, the hopes, the dreams. But take a step in and the floor starts to shake.
We arrived in Sweden to festive pomp and circumstance after disembarking our ship in England and hopping a short flight to Stockholm. Flags, streamers, champagne, hugs, dinner in the garden, even the cherry tree blooming on cue for our arrival…it was a reception in the truest sense of the word.
When my husband and I moved our family from Boston to Stockholm last week, we decided to kick the whole she-bang up a notch by getting ourselves to Europe by boat on the Queen Mary 2. A week-long break between the stress of saying good-bye and hello appealed to us both. As the granddaughter of immigrants who had made their way to Ellis Island decades ago by sea, there was the romantic symmetry of returning to Europe on a boat for me as well.
Several years ago I heard a radio interview with a devout Jewish woman who had a practice of laying prostrate—face down on the ground, arms outstretched. She said she did it to remind herself that she was not in control of every little thing. She was in God’s hands.
In other faiths too, the act of laying oneself down is one of humility or surrender. While I might not share the beliefs from which this tradition springs, I do appreciate the value of acknowledging that I am not always in control.
I always dreamed I’d have adventures. Why shouldn’t we now? The wonderful thing about learning new skills like advocacy, collaboration and creative problem solving is that they are global. I’m bringing them with me. Thank you to all my wonderful teachers.
I can’t even capture the intensity of the dark feeling now, but it was there, even though the circumstances seem trivial now. In one flash I saw myself forty years from now tying his shoe laces, wiping his mouth and his bottom, and my mind did a high-speed rewind through all of the thousands of tying and wiping moments I’d have between then and now. Zero to despair and rage in sixty seconds. It was hot and black and tight.