Parenting a baby with particular wants one heck of a visit
She had the poem on her wall for years when I was younger – about what it is like to raise a child with special needs, how to plan a trip to Italy, only to find yourself landing in Holland. You cycle through anger and disorientation before you finally find the beauty of your unexpected journey.
I can’t say my own journey was as poetic or as clean. True, I didn’t end up where I expected it to be and the emotions associated with seeing my child function differently than others his or her age were a whirlwind. For many days I have lost myself, stranded and felt so very alone. Even my spouse couldn’t understand the depths of all of my feelings – my life with siblings with disabilities colored my perspective as well as my own personal guilt for everything I had done “wrong” in my parenting career, causing me to darken the future of mine Daughter and how everything would be my fault.
My brain agonized over the fact that I should have noticed earlier, seen the problems, and be more proactive. If only I had seen the signs that I could see in hindsight, my daughter’s life would be better. If only, if only, if only.
I lay awake in bed every night thinking about all the signs I had missed and tormenting myself over moments that I told myself should have pointed me to bigger problems. I “should” have realized that she was dealing with more than fear. I “should” have gotten their help earlier. When it got really bad, I “should” have known that there was more going on than just adjusting to the pandemic.
But I didn’t know what to do.
I was unprepared for the reality of a young child whose body could become so full of emotion that it would attack its parents just to get something out of it. I couldn’t predict her outbursts, have no idea what would frustrate and upset her, or find a way to help her calm down before her brain and body were out of control. All I could do was hold her while we both cried, get the professional help we needed, and make sure she knew I love her no matter what.
Because it wasn’t like landing in Holland at all. There was never a moment when I noticed that there were beautiful things in this place and agreed to my new parenting goal. There are still tough days, days that end in tears and mornings that start with whispered wishes for a quiet and quiet day. There are still days when I wish I could raise the way I planned so that my daughter wouldn’t have to face these battles or grapple with such big decisions so often. That I could hug my child tightly and tell them everything was fine and I could feel more confident about my response.
– Alicia Strnad Hoalcraft
But that’s not what life brought us. Instead of a trip to Italy or Holland, we get on a plane every day without knowing what our destination is. There are tools I can bring, things I can do to help my family prepare for the trip, but I can never be fully prepared for the realities of each moment until we land and find out if we are are in Siberia or the Seychelles. Adaptation is the order of the day for us, because at least at this stage nothing seems to be fixed for long.
But the trip has brought things I never expected – so many opportunities to show my child that I am on his side in any case; the chance to make friends who understand me and her better than I dared hope; the ability for her and me to connect on a deeper level and learn so much about each other’s thoughts and feelings. I suppose that’s what the poet meant by discovering the beauty of Holland, but I would be lying if I said that I could feel this feeling all the time. I am blessed to have a wonderful support system (and the resources to make sure my daughter gets the care she needs), but that doesn’t matter how much this has been for all of us and how much a part of me it is longs for my daughter my do not have to experience these fights.
But I don’t regret who my daughter is. I love every fiber of your being, even in your darkest moments. There are fights, yes, but she’s also brave and kind and cute and funny and smart and so, so wonderful. I love her passionate determination to find her own way, and I love the way she uses her experiences to help other people, from explaining from friends and family how to deal with “great feelings” to being Discussion of plans to become a child therapist one day.
I don’t know what the future will be for them or for me. I can’t say if we will spend the rest of our lives on this journey, alternating between tulips and storms, or if one day things will be calm enough to be predictable. I cannot promise my daughter or myself what tomorrow will be like. All I can promise is to be by her side and do whatever I can to help her.
Alicia Strnad Hoalcraft is Integrated Media Operations Production Manager for Forum Communications. She and her spouse live in Moorhead with their 7 year old Calliope, who gave her permission and blessings to share her story in this play, and their pup, Ripper. In her spare time, Alicia enjoys acrylic painting, watching the real housewives, and reading the adorable comics her daughter writes. Calliope’s latest work is “Dennis the Toothbrush Who Wanted to be a Dinosaur Lawyer”. To contact Alicia or offer Calliope a publishing contract, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.