I’ve said it before that this journey is not only about the development, advocacy, challenges and uniqueness of each of my girls alone, but there is a parallel journey of “self” for parents themselves. An Easter egg hunt the other day, helped me to reflect on my “parallel” as a parent.
The girls had enjoyed crafting paper mache Easter baskets for their much anticipated school Easter egg hunt. I had the fun of playing Easter Bunny, as I was tasked with hiding a few decedent treats each, in the untamed garden. Once perched in subtle nooks and crannies, I called the girls, eager to capture a few photos of the fun. There were some ground rules that were explained, but kids being kids…these were soon forgotten, as excited little bodies trotted off clutching their new baskets. Squeals and shouts, furiously waving hands and extreme expressions declared the acquisition of each find. It didn’t take long though, before this fun activity saw excitement turn to disappointment, jealousy and frustration, as eager eyes compared the finds of each other’s baskets. I’d hidden a few marshmallow eggs each, a trio of tin foil-wrapped white eggs (my fave!) and a bigger bunny for each little hunter. In spite of already having a fair collection each, panic struck as the possibility that a friend may have more than themselves, was considered. I gathered the troop and inspected each basket. They were all relieved to see that they pretty much had the same little pile of glistening eggs. We had agreed that they’d have the loot split equally when back at school, anyway.
Well…they were NEARLY equal. A teary Tahlita expressed that she did not have a chocolate bunny. In that instant, my usual sharp memory failed me, as I could not recall the 5 little hiding spots for the 5 bunnies. How hard is it to remember 5 spots?! What started off as an individual hunt for the hidden spoils, became a team search party for the missing bunny! After 10 minutes of me feeling like an idiot for failing a fairly simple task, we heard a hysterically excited Eden declaring her successful rescue. The rebellious vines that shelter the garden path had hidden it well. Everyone cheered and hugged Tahlita, as the golden rabbit was handed over by her sister. There was a calm sense of contentment all round.
Apart from the sugar high that soon followed, we had an amazing opportunity to discuss some of the very real and tricky lessons that were learned and experienced, outside of the chocolatey kind. Again, ever grateful for the language that enables me to get to the heart of the matter, we discussed what had brought the satisfying joy. One by one, they reflected on their feelings of when they thought that someone else was “winning,” and considered how their actions made the other person feel. A great Theory of Mind development opportunity. The resounding conclusion, was that it felt fun and happy when they were all helping Tahlita find her chocolate bunny. The sense of “team” when they were no longer comparing, brought them all joy and contentment.
Whilst being the “adult” in facilitating this life lesson with my three, I couldn’t help feeling somewhat convicted of sometimes where I’ve lost the joy in the hunt for the prize, because of the distractions of everyone else’s journey…and selfishly so.
Every parent is on a journey, whether their child is hearing or deaf, special needs or typically abled. Every single parent will face challenges, feel inapt at times, have victories of various forms, and make mistakes. It becomes a lonely journey when we are comparing our “winnings” with the mom next door, instead of enjoying the moment of something very special…something not an obligatory right, but rather a gracious blessing.
For those of us with deaf kids, there are areas of hyped intensity and times where we feel like everyone is looking to see whether we are doing a good enough job. Erroneously, it’s the no-further-questions-asked outcomes that are observed, that make that judgement call on the effort of the individual parent. Comparisons are made across a range of very different children, rather than vertically along one single meandering journey. “That child speaks so clearly, wow that mom did a great job! Gosh, my daughter doesn’t, does than mean I’m not a good enough mom?…What does that mean for her future?” … and the panic sets in. Or “Phew, he is doing so well at school, what amazing parents he must have!” Every little kiddo that we have been gifted with, has their own story. And sometimes we get so caught up with comparing notes with the family next door, that the joy of the moment, the treasures that we claim along the way, are not even noticed, let alone appreciated.
Our rewards, “wins” and special moments look different on different journeys, how can they not when we are parenting extraordinarily different children? Wouldn’t it also be a sad day, when we felt that we couldn’t share our victories with each other, in an effort to not seem to “boast” about them, or that someone else may feel bad for not having that particular one in their basket? It’s simple human nature to not like the feeling of being left out. When we are struggling along, and other people seem to be winning…their kid is doing well at school, receiving awards in sport that they participate in, or even just being able to participate in a sport, speaking more clearly…or just doing something that feels out of reach for my child in her “now”, phew, it is a struggle to feel contented with my child’s victories…it’s a struggle against that “I have no chocolate bunny in my basket” feeling. It’s a struggle to even see the other 10 shiny spoils that are piled high for my enjoyment.
In leading a parent support group for parents with kids who have a hearing loss, in South Africa, I’ve tasted the joy of community. I’ve experience that exhilaration in sharing with the joys and victories of fellow parents journeying similarly yet very differently. My joys have been multiplied as a result, joys that my journey would never have led me to. I do have to keep myself in check every now and then when panic sets in. My child’s unique journey is precious and priceless, and I really do want to enjoy as much of it as possible, appreciate what I can and celebrate at every opportunity. Choosing to appreciate the simple things, is part of that.
Issues around unequal opportunities, inequity and discrimination are a completely different matters altogether. An established community of people who are able to celebrate in the uniqueness of a fellow family’s child and journey, yet stand united on common challenges and obstacles, is a potent and powerful combination.
Let’s marvel at our fellows as they rejoice over treasured moments and new developments, personal achievements and celebrations, because if we do, we’ll double our joy and contentment and realize, phew, I already have the prize and my basket sure is full!