Parenting: “You think you know, but you have NO idea!”
Forgive me for using a lame MTV catch phrase, but it is completely applicable here. For those who have kids, remember BEFORE you had kids, when you were convinced that every other parent was doing it wrong and that your children would be angels because you were just THAT good and actually raised right?! If you don’t have kids and you think that…well, you will learn someday.
We ALL had it figured out once upon a time, and then we actually had kids and every parenting philosophy you thought was surefire just flew out the window. If parenting has taught me anything, it’s that I knew nothing until my kids came along. And let me tell you, it’s different with every. single. kid! After Aileen was born, I thought I had everything down pat. She was a pretty “easy” baby and didn’t really give me a whole lot of problems…until she started school. Oy vey! I’m not so sure I even know what I’m doing anymore! Then, when I learned I was pregnant with Braxton, I was fully armed with all my tricks that had worked for Aileen, I knew what to do and what not to do since it didn’t work with Aileen….and then bam! I have a child with special needs. What. the. heck am I supposed to do now!? I’ve absolutely been a parent before, but let me tell you, I’ve had to re-learn so many things that I actually feel like a first time parent most days.
I know how to feed a baby. I had to learn how to use a feeding tube to feed my child. I was determined not to let my 2nd child sleep in bed with me or even in the same room. His crib was all set up in the other room. Then we brought him home from the hospital and he HAD to be in the bassinet right next to me so I could make sure he was still breathing and change his feed every few hours. I knew all these wonderful fun games to play with my child and couldn’t wait to get started. He did absolutely nothing the first few months of his life, didn’t make much eye contact, no smiles, no laughs, and he rarely cried. Yes, we still played and sang to him, but the interaction was missing. I wasn’t prepared for that. Every step of the way has been something new I’ve had to learn a different way of doing than I had originally planned/expected/assumed. Obviously, all of the major tenets of care had to be re-examined and I had to learn the proper way to care for Braxton. One thing I didn’t expect to have to learn was how to communicate with my child.
Just because a child doesn’t say words, doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to communicate! It’s not that I thought he had no communication skills, I just didn’t know what to look for or how to understand the ways he was communicating. I’m a Communications Major, but in his two years, I have learned so much more about communication than I ever did in school. I took several courses in non-verbal communication and body language; and I’ve used some of that knowledge with Braxton, but he could write his own book. As an infant (this goes for ANY infant), he communicated with his cries. Infants cry when they are upset, need to be changed, need to be fed, are in pain or just want to be held. Yes, there are different cries for each and as a parent, you learn to listen for each one. This is a very early form of communication and essential in teaching skills that are needed later in life. NO, not to cry when you want something, but the importance of using your voice to indicate a need/want. In toddlerhood, those cries are transformed in to pointing, grunting, and even words. I can recall several instances where Aileen tried to just cry to get her way and I had to re-direct her and tell her to “use your words.” Braxton is in his toddler stages, but obviously, he has no words yet. But he definitely has some communication skills.
Braxton still uses his cry as his primary form of communication. He uses it more and more now to tell us when he is upset or doesn’t like something. For example, if he is playing with a toy and we take it away, he will sit back and start to cry, well whine actually, but where most people would see a spoiled child, I see him telling me that he wasn’t done playing with that toy. After all, it’s his ONLY way to truly get his point across at this time. His cry let’s me know that I did something that he didn’t like. Sometimes, we can re-direct him and get his attention on another toy and he’s happy again. The important thing is that he has an opinion and he’s learned to use his voice despite not having the words. His cry is different than when he is truly upset or in pain. We’ve had to learn how to tell the difference to address his needs. And like any toddler, he’s used his cry to trick us in to letting him stay up a little longer or he especially gets his grandmas because they can’t stand to see him cry. He absolutely knows this, so he will cry and undoubtedly he will get picked up and he starts laughing or has a goofy grin as if to say “haha I got her!” When he is happy, he smiles or laughs, of course.
Braxton isn’t really pointing, but he will crawl up to me and pat me to get my attention. It’s usually when I’m cooking and he will come up behind me, pat my legs, and when I turn around he looks up at me with a big smile and lifts his arms up to me. As I scoop him up he laughs and will nuzzle his head in to my neck or put his lips on my cheek. It is the sweetest moment ever! In that one moment, he speaks so much louder than his words ever could. I feel so much love and happiness. When I arrive at daycare to pick him up and he spots me from across the room, he crawls as fast as his little legs will go and comes right up to me and does the same. So he knows how to get your attention and make you feel loved.
He is even waving goodbye! When I pick him up from daycare he lifts his little hand and gives a quick wave to his friends. It’s so interesting because he will not do it on command and he will usually do it just the one time. But, it’s always at the appropriate time. I’ve noticed it as we leave other places as well, so it’s clear that he understand what he’s doing, but just doesn’t have the ‘command’ down yet.
We have been very active in learning sign language, and I definitely know more than I think I do. It’s still a little difficult to practice, because we don’t need to use it regularly just yet. Braxton has yet to pick up any signs, but we try to sign with him to give him at least the exposure. We are making more of an effort to commit many of the signs to memory and have done pretty well. Aileen has surely been the best. She loves to learn new signs and is often asking for the sign to different objects. It’s awesome to see her take to it and see the pride she has when she uses a sign correctly. I’m certain Braxton will learn soon too, but until then, we are working very hard to learn and understand the ways in which he is communicating with us NOW.
There are days where I just have no idea what’s going on. It’s frustrating for us and for him. He will just cry about everything and we offer his favorite toy, change him, feed him, try to cuddle, try to put him to sleep, and just nothing works. Braxton is usually very happy, but just like any other kid, he has days where he is just a grump. Just imagine not being able to express yourself or get your need addressed. I had laryngitis pretty bad a while back and absolutely could not speak for about 3 days. I was miserable. Miserable after only THREE days! Couldn’t imagine being without words every day of my life! It’s a tough road ahead, but I know we will get through it. Braxton has taught us so much and continues to do so each and every day. He definitely reminds me to keep an open mind when it comes to new milestones and new methods of teaching him. Just because “I’ve done this before,” or read a book once, does NOT at ALL mean I know what I’m doing. We learn something new every day. I notice new ways that Braxton communicates with us all the time.
If you are a new parent, new to parenting a child with special needs, or just having a day where you don’t understand your child, take a deep breath and relax! Allow them to teach you! If you just sit back and watch, you will see their communication skills come out in ways you never imagined. They will show you exactly what they need if you give them a little time. If it’s just a grumpy day, it’s ok to leave the room for a few moments, you can both use the space to clear your head. Just forget what you thought you knew before you had kids, all that matters is what they are going to teach you every day for the rest of your life.