Last Sunday was Mother’s Day here in England. As many mothers were treated to fancy restaurants, theater trips and walks in the park, we had a very different kind of celebration. And it was perhaps one of the best ever. So what was different about my Mother’s Day you ask?
My Mother’s Day meant me shopping, cleaning and cooking for the family. That might not seem like much of a celebration or break to some of you. But look at how the ‘normal’ celebration might have gone for my special needs child…
Because of her sensory processing issues just getting to a restaurant would present issues. If we took a bus, then she would likely be overstimulated before we even got there. Even if we walked, the sounds of busy traffic, the smell of exhaust and the bright sun light would have been overwhelming. If we rented a car or took a taxi things would be better perhaps, but those are additional expenses.
Then there is the question of waiting. For a child with ADHD, this is virtually impossible. Even with reservations or for buffets there would likely be long waits on Mother’s Day. As I write this, vivid pictures pop into my head. The last time that my older daughter and I took Emily to the Chinese buffet at the mall, she ran out the front door when she was finished. Thankfully it is a courtyard type setting so no traffic to worry about. And when her dad and I took her out for Italian the other week, it took every single trick in my arsenal to manage…and she ended up having a minor meltdown after about forty-five minutes.
The only thing that reasonably works is take-out/away. But pizza is not exactly what you want to serve for Mother’s Day. We did have a real success the other week at that same restaurant where her dad and I took her. We walked down and then we explained to the manager that we wanted to eat our ice cream there and take our pizza to go. I also asked if I could pay when I ordered instead of at the end…one less thing for her to be patient about. But even then, she wanted a soda after her ice cream. She was fascinated with a couple of babies that were there…and their parents were very nice about having their dinners interrupted with a million questions. But at the end, she insisted that she just had to spin on the bar stool…ten times. So here I am spinning her while holding a pizza box and her leftover ice cream.
In contrast, this Sunday her dad came over early so I could do a bit of shopping. I made a nice lamb roast with rice, potatoes and salad. I even made a carrot cake. Then my oldest son and new ‘adopted’ daughter (an American young woman who is here volunteering for a year) joined us for dinner. Not saying that Emily was a little darling. She bounced around. She talked incessantly. She interrupted everyone’s conversations. But she made it through over two hours without a single melt-down…no temper tantrums. And because it was just us (family) there were no nasty stares, no rude comments, nothing to spoil my day.
The parents of special needs children learn quickly that holidays can be especially challenging to them and their children. Whether it is a long car trip to grandparents, a huge family gathering with well-meaning but uninformed relatives, or eating out at a fancy restaurant, all are problematic for children with low social skills. They get stressed out by too many sensations. Other adults have unrealistic expectations of children, especially special needs children. And you are likely to blow it all out of proportion as you try to fit your child’s behaviors to those expectations. How many joyous family occasions have ended in tears and heated words because we ask more of our children and ourselves can is reasonable?
But as our story shows with a realistic look at what our children can manage we can make these special days enjoyable for ourselves and them. Maybe it is not what some people would call ‘ideal’ but if it works for you and your family then who cares? And besides one little success often leads to another…and another…and another. Who knows one day we might just be able to manage that fancy restaurant in a couple of years? If it even matters by then.
On Tuesday, we review another life-saving book The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz. Then on Friday, I look at how ‘unschooling’ has taken the pressure off of my child and fostered a love of learning that offers hope of success for her and many other special needs children.