How many times have you heard “They grow so fast”? In my almost fifteen years of being a parent, I’ve heard it a lot. I’m sure most of us have. And all the times I heard it I would smile and nod; I wanted to seem wistful, like other parents. But inside I was thinking that it didn’t seem fast to me.
Looking back, I always wanted to get through my children’s various stages. When they were babies, I couldn’t wait for them to sit up, become mobile. I figured they would be happier when they could do those things. I figured they wouldn’t cry for hours on end. I figured I could get some sleep then. I figured things would be a little easier. Then I couldn’t wait for them to start talking. I figured they wouldn’t get so frustrated. I figured they would stop screaming. Of course, I had to wait many years for that (both the start of the talking and the end of the screaming).
Then there was all of the “extra” stuff. Two sets of IEP meetings, specialist doctor appointments, tests, and therapy sessions. I wanted to get through all of that, too. I was so busy trying to get through everything I perceived as stressful that I developed tunnel vision. And while tunnel vision is great for finishing college or being apart from loved ones for a long time, it’s not the best way to be a parent – whether you believe they grow fast or not.
And now my younger son is 13, in middle school. The older one, almost 15, just started high school. I catch myself thinking “if he can make it through this first year, he’ll be okay,” or “as soon as he’s finished with middle school, things will be easier.” But what about the time in between? Why do I still want to get through it? Some of it is still stressful, yes, but not all of it. And sometimes when I least expect it.
Take, for example, my son’s appointment with his psychiatrist today. I rushed home from work, picked him up, and rushed to the doctor’s office. On the way, I realized that I had forgotten the book I wanted to bring to read in the waiting room. Then I started thinking about what the blazes I would make for dinner, wondering whether the pharmacy would still be open after the appointment, and hoping that the DVDs that were due today were all in the cases that I had tossed on the back seat of the car. We arrived barely on time, signed in, and sat down to fill out the half-page form that must be filled out for all appointments. It requires a few checkmarks and about six written words. I have started having my son do it so that he learns these things. This is the third time I have instructed him to do it, and for the third time, he balks. “Why do I have to do it?” he demands. “I don’t like writing,” he growls, and then, when he is almost finished, he fumes, “Just because it says ‘signature’ doesn’t mean it has to be in cursive!” “Why are you being so argumentative?” I ask, trying not to smirk. “I’m not being argumentative!” he retorts. And then I start to laugh. I try to hide it, try to turn it into a cough, but he calls me on it. “You did that because you’re laughing,” he says in a low voice.
After assuring him that I’m not laughing at him, I try to explain the concept of stress release, that sometimes I just start laughing when something’s not really that funny. What I feel like telling him, but can’t, is that I realize I’m also laughing in relief. I look at my beautiful, argumentative son and it hits me. He’s talking now. He’s not screaming. He’s not bolting away or writhing on the floor in sensory overload. All this time that I’d been trying to get through all of that, I never realized that I did get through it. Yes, more issues have come up. Different sources of stress. Just because he started talking and stopped screaming doesn’t mean that all of my stress is gone. But that stress is gone. The stress of dealing with a bolting, screaming, nonverbal child is now gone. We didn’t get here by magic, but still, we finally got here. For years I didn’t know if we could. And I am laughing, wondering why I hadn’t stopped to realize it before.
I need to turn off the tunnel vision, open my eyes, and look around at what’s happening now. I have a few years left with my children before they become adults. And even though at least one of them will still be home with me for an indefinite amount of time, things will not be the same. Even though, to me, they don’t grow fast, they still grow. And I don’t want to miss any of it because I’m too busy trying to get through it.