When you were born, you were already special. With your chunky 10-pound body, your thick shock of black hair, tipped with gold at the ends, wild bumps on your umbilical cord—you were already set apart from “normal.”
When you were a baby, you squirmed in my arms while all the other babies in the Mother Goose class sat quietly in their mommas’ laps, gurgling and cooing over nursery rhymes and songs. You were the Mother Goose delinquent.
When you were one, bruises kept appearing on your face—a face somehow perpetually attracted to the sharp edges of furniture. Bumps and bruises abounded as you learned how to walk. When one bruise finally healed, another would pop up. Strangers on the street would look at us suspiciously, your dad and I, toting around this black-haired toddler with the perpetual black eye.
When you were two, you went on strike. You refused to stay by yourself in your 2-year-olds’ Bible class. We waged war over this one class every week. You and I both— we dreaded the weekly battle.
When you were three, I knew you wouldn’t thrive in the strict preschool where you older sister had done so well. So I enrolled you in a play-based preschool. Less structure. More play. That’s what you could handle.
When you were five, your Kindergarten teacher sent you to the resource room for extra coaching. Your fine-motor skills were lagging. I kept second-guessing my parenting ability. Why couldn’t I teach you to hold a crayon? To use scissors?
In your school-age years, I constantly worried about your development. You had to see a speech pathologist. You were a hypochondriac. Accident-prone. Restless.
And now, you’re growing into your preteen self. I often find myself at my wits’ end. How do I coach you through your homework, your grades, your responsibilities, your fits of rebellion? How do we juggle screen-time, social time, and learning time? Why does it seem like we need to come up with creative parenting solutions at every age, at every stage?
Are you special? Do you need medication? Extra educational resources? Do I have to consider homeschooling you?
Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions.
Because normalcy is a spectrum. You may fall close the middle in some areas of development, but you will always hover close to the periphery in other areas too. That’s how God made us—dizzyingly diverse. Unique. We can’t be put in boxes.
You’re you. And I guess you are special, even if no doctor says you are.
And so, as these pictures of your childhood flit through my mind, I can piece together similarities between the way I must raise you and the way I would raise a child with a special needs diagnosis. The lessons are the same. The differences are a matter of intensity and degree only.
I know many other parents who have had greater worries, longer nights, more unknowns to tangle with. They encounter serious and life-altering obstacles that shake their parenting worlds. A diagnosis makes nothing the same ever again. By no means do I belittle their struggle. But I begin to glimpse the supernatural and heroic love and courage that must gird those parents, and I realize, these must gird me, too.
And so, through the embers of a decade of mishaps and of successes—of failures and of victories, I tentatively craft together five promises to you, my child. Tentative because they are impossible to keep. But crafted nonetheless.
As your mother, I promise to:
1. Respect your development
I will ask God to help me understand the rate at which you grow. Sometimes you will be a late-bloomer. Sometimes you will be an early-bloomer. But I need to remember that you are learning to be a man. You are learning to socialize, to emote, to feel, to love, to play, to work, to learn. And you’ll reach each stage at your own rate.
2. Be patient with you
You will spill milk. You will be rushed and clumsy. You will knock over glass, break furniture, catch colds, make poor choices. I cannot control whether or not you do these things. I can only guide you so that you won’t repeat your mistakes. I can pray for patience to love you through those mistakes — regardless of the cost on my own comfort and pleasure.
3. Stop comparing you
You are not me. You are not your sister. You are not your father. You are not “all the other kids”. You are you. Forgive me for expecting you to be someone other than who you are. Forgive me for trying to make you into any other image than the one that God gave you.
4. Believe in you
And yet I know you will mature. You will grow strong. You will find your God-given gifts and abilities. The tantrums and the rebellion will pass. God will form your character through them and convict you of your selfishness in His perfect timing. My job is not to change you, but to pray ceaselessly for your change.
5. Remember my own “special” needs
I am weak too. I falter and I stumble. I cry and I rail at God. I am a temperamental, stubborn, entitled child. Slow to learn the same lessons. Slow to listen to my good Father’s instruction. So when you chafe at my discipline or insult my gifts of love, I will forgive you. I will forgive you because I will remember that I, too, have been forgiven.
As I type these words, you race through the house on your next great pursuit, laughter and energy trailing you in an invisible wake. You are oblivious to the heart-ache and to the heart-joy that you cause your mother. You are boyhood incarnate, a tumble of runny nose and sweaty hands at one moment, a jumble of tears and angst at another, of sullen rebellion and boiling restraint at the next.
I already know that life will happen. We will collide wills. I will break one of my promises—out of fear or out of my need to control.
But I offer these promises nonetheless. For God will give me the strength to stand up again every time that I fall. Because I, too, am a one-of-a-kind child.
Julia Cheung is a cultural analyst and journalist of relationships, always on the lookout for stories of beautiful misfits. She lives in Vancouver BC with the loveable motley crew of her pastor husband and two preteen children. She is a bundle of antitheses, a lover of truth, a teller of tales, a too often emotional egoist and a fervently curious anti-narcissist. You can find her online at wifeinredemption.com.