Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Talking to Myself

Knowing what I know now about my daughter’s hidden disabilities, I can look back at her first 10 years of life and connect the dots—specific instances where our world veered wildly away from “normal.” Before we had any diagnoses, before we had language to explore and explain Cami’s behavior, we had hints of the struggles ahead of us. In Cami’s only preschool year, the dots aligned into a pattern of special needs for which I wasn’t prepared. The preschool Christmas program that year hinted of Cami’s struggle to successfully process the world around her.

The packed church buzzed with conversations among parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends while we waited for the program to start. I chatted with my parents while my husband set up the video camera. We were so excited to see our Cami girl in her very first “school program.”

Each class stood on the pulpit steps of the church and sang a Christmas song while the other classes sat in the pews and watched. As one class finished their part of the program, the teachers herded them to their assigned seats as another class took their places on the steps. The teachers and aides worked together well, guiding children and staying out of the way of camera shots. As the four-year-old class filed onto the steps in their footie pajamas and night caps, I stood in the back, excited and expectant that our daughter would be a natural on stage, having a musician mommy and an actor daddy.

We have video of the entire disintegration of my daughter’s composure as she stood in the middle of her classmates who were singing “Up On the Housetop.” She was okay with the piano introduction, but when the singing started around her, she sank down to the step, covering her ears.

I wept through the whole ordeal.

I felt embarrassed and disappointed. It was the first time my daughter stood apart as different from the rest of the kids in such a public way.

I knew then that something was very wrong, but I had no idea what it was. I didn’t even know what questions to ask, or who to ask, or what to do. Remembering that experience now, I’m surprised to find myself weeping. That was a hard year. That was a very hard year.

Sometimes, I wish I could go back and hug the young mommy I was then. I’d tell her so many things that I know now which would have helped her to know then.

I’d tell her about auditory processing disorder, how Cami’s brain sometimes misinterprets the information she hears. I’d tell her to give Cami one verbal direction at a time instead of complicated, multi-stepped instructions.

I’d tell her about dyspraxia, how Cami’s motor coordination will be awkward and slow, but she’ll get there…to just be patient; she’ll get there.

I’d tell that young mommy-me about extra-sensitive kids, about how too much information can derail and short-circuit their communication and coping abilities. I’d tell her instead of thinking how cute it was when Cami purred and crawled like a cat, or flapped her hands like hummingbird wings, to see that behavior instead as a signal that Cami was stressed out and overwhelmed with sensory information, and needed an escape route from the situation.

I’d tell her that labels like “defiant” and “uncooperative” and “behavior problem” aren’t as helpful as labels like “sensory challenged” and “learning differences” and “frustrated.”

I’d tell my mommy-self to keep snuggling Cami, to continue reading aloud to her every day, to keep telling Cami how beautiful she is, how smart she is, how valuable she is to Jesus. I’d tell that young mommy to tell herself those same things, too: how beautiful she is, how smart she is, how valuable she is to Jesus.

I’d remind her that she has the Mommy Power to love Cami and teach Cami and equip Cami for life and godliness. I’d tell her that as God teaches her to be Cami’s mommy, He will reclaim and restore that little girl inside her own heart.

I’d tell her that the upcoming journey will be difficult, but so worth it. I’d tell her the experience will be all the more rich when she realizes she really is Cami’s BMF (Best Mom Forever), that she has a more authentic relationship with her daughter—her only child—than she ever had with her own mother.

When I return from this hypothetical time-travel to my mommy-self seven years ago, I’ll start preparing to time-travel to my future mommy-self—say, 10 years from now when Cami will be 21 years old—so I can help her connect the dots—all the graces and mercies God is giving to all of us on this journey. I’d better pack light—and take excellent notes.

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