I Wish I Hadn't Judged, Now I Understand

 I wish before my youngest child was born that I knew what parents of children with disabilites were going through, not because I could take away your pain, frustration or sadness but because I could be there like my own village was today.

You see, years ago, I thought I got parenting. I had a child with sensory issues. I thought I knew it all. In reality, I knew nothing. In reality, I still don't. I know the reality of my daughters disabilities and her struggles. I can tell you when she is going to melt down and why. Sometimes I can even prevent her meltdowns or struggles in life. I don't pretend to know the struggle it is to walk in your shoes, because I put on a different pair. We all do as parents. We all have shoes that are filled with struggles. Is it our child's physical, mental, spiritual growth? Does our child not fit in? Is our child the child the school bully? We all wear shoes that have the opportunity to allow us to be more understanding, more open, more loving to those around us. While I used to wish I put on my old shoes, the ones that seemed heavy with sensory processing disorder, I am beginning to accept the weight of my new shoes with a different path to follow while I raise my youngest with a host of diagnosis including autism. I know I am blessed. I am blessed to have a husband who makes me laugh on days when my kids are at each other, feeling I can't meet their needs and my little one is in an autism rage. I am blessed to have four older children who on most days adore their little sister finding joy and laughter in her moments of difficulty. I am blessed to have my parents willing to relieve us for a few hours for a week or so every other month so my marriage can stay in tact. I am blessed to have a village that has grown up around me in the last year despite my daughters disabilities and taken our family in with their arms and hearts open.

Today I saw looks that would have sent me over the edge a year ago or maybe even a few months ago. I saw parents sitting in the stands, they were judging. Its okay. I probably would have judged too. My child was in a weird space. She was running up and down the sideline hoping she would have a chance to play on the court her older sister was playing on. She squealed when people chased her and I saw the looks as I hustled quickly hoping she would give up and give in and sit peacefully in her stroller. I used to wear those shoes, the ones where a person feels they could and would do it better. I was THAT person. My how times have changed. I know those who looked, didn't know that the mom who jumped off the stands to help me with my running toddler was actually someone who my child asks for by name. I know as those around us giggled and delighted in her joy for life you wondered why they were not admonishing her or me for that matter as I tried to get her under control. You didn't know I didn't run to chase her as quickly as you would have liked because that may have scared her onto the court. I have done that before. You didn't know that all the moms, dads, grandparents and siblings sitting by us knew my daughter didn't just have bad behavior, she had autism. You also didn't know how we considered not all going to my daughters last game as a family because Seraphina may do exactly what she did. Run. Scream. Yell. You didn't know when you told us that she had to put shoes we couldn't. We weren't ignoring you nor would we ever hold you accountable, we knew the very thought to her was so overwhelming because being in that gym was already a sensory overload.

I get it. I get that people come to watch their children, just like I used to without a care in the world. Now planning for those 40 minutes is something I begin doing the moment I open my eyes. I wish more than you that my daughter could sit and play, color or amuse herself with a little toy, but truth is she can't and truth is, I long for these family days when we go together to watch a game or visit a store more than you know. Usually we split up. Its easier. Its more convenient for everyone involved however it doesn't teach her and it doesn't teach others.

When my child was diagnosed I went through a host of emotions. I won't lie, I still am. I find my most recent one jealousy. Perhaps its the summer jaunts I miss so much or those quick hop in the car and go moments that I took for granted that I miss terribly. I knew from a young age she had autism but it took me months to get others to see what I saw. I knew that we weren't given this burden to crush us and make us crumble. We were given this disability to reach others and teach others. It was a rocky road at first. It still is on most days. My oldest children often felt ostracized and felt they couldn't be accepted because of their sister. My children made a lot of sacrifices. They still do. We split up often to make sure that Seraphina isn't too much of a bother but sometimes in her "bothering" others, people learn. They become more tolerant, they understand that disabilities happen to so many and that children with disabilities are a gift.

I won't pretend that I wasn't the parent who judges years ago, that I didn't get annoyed when a child ran up or down or a parent seemed like they were not in control. I will however tell you that each day with my daughter I am learning. I am understanding and I am becoming a better person.

To all those parents looking on, thank you for not saying anything. You had a quiet grace about your presence which some parents just don't have. Thank you for watching and seeing all of my daughters village support her, from that teacher who bounded down the bleachers to help, to my friend who moved up the bleachers to watch her to her dad who took her out of the gym. I hope you know my daughter wasn't there to detract from your game experience. She was there to watch her own sister and begin to learn and maybe, just maybe you learned too.


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