Once I took a precious baby I was entirely smitten with to a pediatric neurologist. That neurologist spent a few moments with this infant and then told me “those kids are mean.” He went on to make some dire predictions about the kind of life this child would lead based on his very limited understanding of the history of the child in front of him. Needless to say, I was not a big fan of that doctor.
I left the appointment feeling like the child in my arms was some kind of ticking time bomb. How long until he turned into one of Those Kids? What would cause him to go from precious bundle of sweetness into an uncontrollable hellion? Would I be strong enough to be his mother even then?
Tonight I thought about that neurologist and every other person who wasn’t sure why we would want to care for kids from trauma. Their voices rang heavy in my mind this afternoon as my child raged at the kitchen table. It was bad. Tears, pounding feet, angry words, two broken pencils. Sometimes homework is hard and coping skills are in short supply. I did what I could to help him deal with his frustration and we made it through. It took all my parenting tricks and lots of empathy, but we made it through without either one of us crossing the line we always know is out there. The line where we speak the things that can’t be unspoken and break the things that can’t be fixed. We made it through, but it was exhausting.
And then tonight, he snuck out of bed. He asked for tape. I suppressed my desire to remind him that it was past bedtime and instead asked him what he was doing. With a sly smile he said, “Making you a card.”
That’s what they don’t tell you about Those Kids. They don’t tell you that the same day you are brought to the end of your rope, this child will reel you back in with love and affection and affirmations that you’re going to make it through this together. These kids aren’t just a diagnosis. They aren’t just their history or trauma. They aren’t their test scores. They are souls in need of love and capable of giving love in return.
This life can be hard. Absolutely. I will never make light of that or try to talk someone into taking on the challenge of loving kids with struggles without being fully informed of the hardships. But the hardships aren’t what define our lives right now. I am intensely proud of my children and what they’ve already overcome to be the people they are even now.
Tonight in a moment of carelessness (typical for this child) one of my kids hurt me. I responded in surprise and anger at the unexpected pain. This child looked at me and sincerely apologized and wanted to be sure I was okay. This is the child who has responded to similar circumstances with extreme defensiveness and a self-centered pouting. The amount of empathy he showed to me made me feel beautifully shamed for the angry way I responded to a childish accident. I went back to him later to apologize for my behavior and to reward him with candy for his newfound maturity. He didn’t ask for a reward, but I’m always hopeful the candy will help cement the lesson in his mind.
That is what they don’t tell you about Those Kids. They can learn to trust. They can change their ingrained patterns. They can bring you such joy and teach you better ways to parent. They make you slow down and ask the questions that always linger under the surface– Are you safe? Am I safe? Can I trust you? Will you still love me? We all wonder these things, but it’s Those Kids that make you come face to face with your own fears as you seek to alleviate theirs.
Sometimes when I read about kids from trauma, I struggle to recognize my own children in those descriptions. It’s not that my kids don’t have hard times, it’s just that I rarely think about them in terms of their hard times. They are a joy to me. They are a gift. I am blessed to be their mom and proud of them even as I watch them wrestle with their demons. Especially as I watch them wrestle with their demons.
If you are doing your best to be educated about the needs of kids like mine, I want to remind you that what you read or learn just can’t fully describe what love does to you. Problems that on paper might seem overwhelming are no match for the passion that child inspires in you. A diagnosis that feels threatening and terrible can become part of your new normal. Special needs can inspire special love, special commitment, special joys.
What I’m saying is, it’s worth it. The hard is worth it. The scary is worth it. The sad is worth it. Because the hard and scary and sad are NOT the whole story. There is also the beautiful and precious and sweet. The kitchen table rages give way to late night card making. In my desire to educate people and open eyes to the needs of Those Kids, may I never imply that the needs are the whole story. The whole story makes me laugh and wonder that this is the life I get to have and these are the kids I get to raise.
About the Author: Maralee is a mother of six children ages 9 and under. She is passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption. She frequently writes on her blog, “A Musing Maralee: Welcome to My Circus” This blog post was originally published here.