Letting Special Needs Kids Grow Up

Parked at a crowded curb in front of the middle school, I watch as my girls get out of the van, tie shoes, check hair in the side window, glance to see if anyone they know is nearby.

I should drive away, I think. I should leave and make space for another family to unload their kids.

But it's not just the parking spot. It's the admission my girls are growing up.

They walk away from the minivan. The younger is just starting 6th grade. She's reticent but wants to venture out more than she needs my assurance. The older walks more confidently as she begins her final middle school year.

My heart goes with them both.

These two girls, I think to myself. Has it really been eleven years since that first night when they sat in diapers on my kitchen floor---pasta sauce on faces, bellies, and in whisps of their still-baby hair? Eleven years since my husband and I sat wide-eyed on the floor with them, thinking how did we just become parents overnight?

It has. Eleven years full of long-seeming days—of assessments, therapies, behavioral and medical struggles. Of IEP negotiations, homework battles, trying to make friends.

Many long days, gone in the blink of an eye.

My oldest walks tall on campus. Even with her speech delays, she’s elated to start her first Spanish class this year. Even amidst challenges from Aspergers and mood disorders and fading flickers of reactive attachment disorder, she looks forward to seeing her friends.

My younger daughter carries a large backpack full of school supplies, and supplies she’ll need to care for her hygiene if enuresis or encopresis make a scene. She grasps a book in one hand, a favorite she’s brought to help her anchor in what she knows when attachment disorder, anxiety and moods make the knowing harder.

Nobody sees the struggles they face as they walk on campus.

They slip into the stream of kids who all feel like outsiders, awkward in their changing bodies. They are tadpoles finding their way to who they are and who they will be.

How do we get to a place of letting our kids grow up?

I look in my rearview mirror as I inch away from the curb, watch the last glimpse of them joining the stream of bodies. Tears fill eyes and I smile for my girls. So grown up, so beautiful, so strong, even in the days that feel long and exhaust everything I have as a parent with their special needs.

Words pour quiet and earnest from lips:

Lord, they flow with their crowd now. Keep them above water, show them your power and presence. Pull them into the rhythm of your heartbeat, not the rhythm of a world who sees them as the disabled ones. Be their lifeboat, their rudder, their anchor, their sail full of Spirit. I’m afraid, Lord. I don’t know how to be this new parent, this parent guide, this compass instead of the one at the helm. I need your courage to drive away and let them flow into your good plans.

I pull into the stream of cars driving by, and leave a bit of my heart with two sisters who began my journey as a mother. I drive home as they begin to discover their own flow this school year.