But there's something that happens when you raise a child with special needs that I try so hard to avoid. In fact, I hardly admit to myself that I'm doing it, but today it feels like it's very much at the forefront of my mind.
I compare him to other kids his age. I compare him to his brother. I compare him to other children with Down syndrome. It's not fair, I know. But I do it anyway.
Here's Atticus on his second birthday. He's standing on a chair next to his cupcake. He blew the
candle out all by himself and even sang the words to "Happy Birthday." I remember how he carefully licked the icing from his cupcake and then peeled the liner away to take little bites before he tore from the table toward his pile of presents, impatiently awaiting permission to rip each one open. When he did, he thanked the giver before turning to the next one. These were gifts like toy golf clubs and remote-control cars, art supplies and soccer balls. In other words, typical gifts for a typical two-year-old. And I was blissfully unaware that the celebration would ever be different.
Yesterday I brought cupcakes to Quinn's class to help celebrate his special day. We had so much fun stuffing sugar-laden icing into our mouths and singing "Happy Birthday." But I also can't help but feel a twinge of sadness that Quinn really didn't know it was his birthday. He couldn't walk to the sink to wash the chocolate from his face without someone's help. He couldn't sing the words to the songs. Instead of daintily dissecting his cupcake, he shoved the whole thing, wrapper and all, into his mouth. To be honest, it looked more like a first birthday than a second one. And when we open presents this weekend, the gifts will be toys from the baby aisle that light up and whir and sing songs.
I'm far enough in to this special needs parenting gig to let those differences roll off my back. I can take it. And Quinn is downright awesome. But even the twinge of sadness at his development makes me feel guilty, which makes me feel ungrateful, which makes me feel even more guilty. That damn guilt is stronger than anything, really, and it seems to be a prevalent theme amongst my mom friends walking similar paths. We want our children to be the exception, and when we're disappointed that they're not, we struggle with the accompanying guilt. Or worse, we always feel like we aren't doing enough.
And it's at the moment when I'm reeling that my mom sends me a copy of the Houston Chronicle's article on Ezra Roy, a young man with Down syndrome who just graduated Magna Cum Laude from Texas Southern University with a Bachelor's degree in art. I've read quite a few stories about individuals with Down syndrome attending special programs on college campuses, but this is the first time I've read about someone with Trisomy 21 earning a true bachelor's degree. And I smiled to myself (ok, I also cried
So, yes, Quinn is behind most two-year-olds. He's not walking or talking yet, but I'm going to spend the rest of his birthday thinking about all the things he CAN do, and the list is quite impressive:
- Quinn can light up the whole room with his smile.
- Quinn can bang his chest and grunt when he sees a picture of a gorilla.
- Quinn can shove an entire cupcake in his mouth in one swift maneuver. But he can also use his pincher grasp to pick up individual cheerios and eat them one-by-one.
- Quinn can communicate using sign language to let us know when he's hungry, thirsty, tired, or just plain over it.
- Quinn can crawl on his butt faster than most grown men can run. Trust me; I've seen my husband try and fail to catch him when he's on his way somewhere dangerous/important/forbidden
- Quinn can give the best hugs and will pat your back with his little hand when he does. And he can make you melt in that one move.
- Quinn can tickle his brother to the point of uncontrollable laughter.
- Quinn can point to his nose, toes, eyes and mouth. He can sneeze on cue.
- Quinn can say, "dada," "dog," "all done," and "more."
- Quinn can make me slow down and enjoy the moment.
- Quinn can build a tower of blocks for the sheer enjoyment of toppling them over.
- Quinn can stand up on his own and take 4 steps at a time.
- Quinn can steal the remote and use it to turn the TV on and off repeatedly.
- Quinn can throw one helluva tantrum.
- Quinn can entertain himself for hours if he has a tall stack of books.
- Quinn can make people realize that different is good.
- Quinn can forgive faster than any child I know.
- Quinn can make our family happier than I ever thought possible.