Expectant parents hope for perfect children. We hold our breath while doctors pronounce health statistics at their births. We proclaim gender doesn’t matter, just health. The truth is, health matters. And perfection is in the eye of the beholder.
When my son was six-weeks-old and started reacting violently to my breastmilk, I mourned. We began to search for explanations. We hoped his reactions were immature infant stomach issues. We learned instead they were life-long severe allergies requiring epinephrine. We began to live in fear of food. At six months old, the same son had a surgical procedure to determine why he was so noisy when he was breathing. General anesthesia. At two, he again had surgery. More anesthesia. Now, he is eight. He still has to carry two epi-pens everywhere. He has never had real ice cream. He is now fearful of food. He isn’t health. Or perfect. He will never be whole.
My other son is ten. He has autism. His brain works differently, and he experiences intensity in different ways than do typical brains. When he was a toddler, he played differently. He obsessed over toys being in just the right places. He didn’t talk until he was four. Then he read too. Again, we grieved the loss of healthy.
Healthy bodies and healthy brains are acclaimed as goals for children. Society puts much importance on wholeness of body and mind. Parents grieve the loss of normalcy. We mourn in private, though because “it isn’t that bad” and “at least you have kids” are common responses to our lament. We are told that as long as we have children who can at least sort of function in the world, we should be happy. We can’t wallow in sorrow because they’re alive.
Yes, they are alive. They laugh. They run. They love. They cry.
Mack, my son with food allergies, may never know what it is to eat an ice cream sundae topped with peanuts on the warm grass. He, and I, are supposed to be okay with that because he isn’t dead…yet…until someone slips him a peanut. But that realization is too harsh for many.
Will, my son with autism, is in the group of people second most likely to die by suicide. Many with autism spectrum disorders kill themselves by age 35. Society doesn’t understand his brain and how he needs to process life. They expect things from him that he can never give. He doesn’t tell me, his own mother, “I love you”. I have to be okay with that because he’s alive. Until the stress and anxiety of showing for a society that doesn’t want to understand him becomes too big to bear and he quits.
There is hope for us too. Go ahead and grieve. Feel the loss and the pain. Talk about it. Make it okay to talk about the loss you feel. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re wrong to feel how you feel. Then, hug your societally imperfect child and remind them you think they’re wonderful. And remember, you are wonderful even when you struggle to parent. Find your child’s passions and embrace them. Find a way to give your child the experiences they crave. We aren’t all the same, nor should we attempt to be. Differences are what make the world beautiful.
Mack loves to run, climb, and build. Will loves dinosaurs, reading, and Transformers. They both have depth and love to share with those who will sit with them and listen to their spirits. They are both perfect as they are. So are your perfect little ones.