Print   |   Back
November 19, 2012
We the Parents
Thrive
by Melissa Howell

Somewhere in the paper files that are my oldest son’s history is a diagnostic sheet of paper, on which a health-care provider had written the words "failure to thrive."

As a stay-at-home mom, I have chosen to sacrifice such things as big paychecks and performance reviews. But life has taken on a new sort of performance review, and it's through my children. So being told your child is failure to anything is like a jab through the heart, a demotion, a pay cut and anything else that could suggest you aren't succeeding as a parent.

Not that I could totally disagree with the diagnosis. Connor had a kidney disorder called renal tubular acidosis that prevented him from growing, and he had to be on medication for a year and a half until the kidneys decided to fully function on their own. At age 2, he wasn't speaking or communicating much at all, wasn’t pointing, wasn’t waving, wasn’t engaged in much of anything save for a few obsessive and fixated behaviors.

He was locked in his own world in pretty much every way. And I was terrified that we'd never find the magic key to unlock his autistic door.

So imagine, if you will, what it was like to sit at his fourth grade parent-teacher conference recently and have his teacher call him "wonderful, smart, pretty much like all the other kids except that he’s nice." His strengths, said his teacher, include reading, good self-esteem, coping well in class and being kind and respectful. I would say we have blasted failure to thrive into oblivion. Which is right where it belongs.

We can chalk it up to a whole bunch of factors: early intervention therapies, preschool, extra support in elementary school, some great teachers, and simply maturing and growing up. Connor's brain just has to figure out what to do and then do it — and he always manages to find a way to make that happen.

And maybe to some small extent my husband and I, as his parents, have helped him. There certainly are things we do wrong, but hopefully some things we have done right. This parenting stuff surely doesn't come with "do-this-and-things-will-be-perfect" instructions. So we bump along.

I ran into the principal when I was recently in the school, and he commented to me on “what a great young man” Connor was becoming. It hadn’t been too many years before Connor made some visits to the principal’s office for some negative behaviors. And now, I was in the school because Connor was receiving an award for “expressing himself respectfully.”

And last year, the music teacher who had been Connor's music teacher since kindergarten, stopped me in the hall and exuberantly said, "Do you know how proud I am of your son? I am just bursting with joy over the progress he has made! He used to not participate, and now he sings, moves, everything!" I got misty — because that's how I roll — and told her she's making a mama melt, then kissed Connor on the cheek; she asked me to kiss the other cheek for her. And don't you for one second think I didn't just soak up that moment.

It doesn't mean we are free from struggle (is any of us, ever?). He is so literal that he prefers non-fiction books and has a bit of a struggle with fiction reading comprehension, so we try to work on this. He is sometimes rigid in his thinking, and his teacher wants to work on increasing his flexibility in thinking. He has struggled with social interaction and friendships, and sometimes prefers to be alone, a fact that has troubled me until his third grade teacher pointed out that he interacts beautifully in the classroom and contributes much, and if he prefers some down time at recess, why should it matter?

A light bulb went on for me. Yes. He is capable of interaction. If he chooses times he'd rather be on his own, it's OK. This I have fought against for years, and have now accepted. That's how he rolls. We have much to learn from one another.

As I look at my other children, I see that they, too, are thriving in their own ways. My seven-year-old excels at school, loves reading, finds joy in every homework assignment, every project, loves her friends, pretty much loves life in general. That's how she rolls.

My five-year-old is learning to read and takes great pride in learning new sounds and putting them together to create words. He's kind of my middle child, as much as one can be a middle child in a family of four children. He’s kind, confident, helpful, thoughtful, laid-back and easygoing unless his temper flares. He takes things at his own pace. Because that's how he rolls.

My two-year-old has mastered potty training. That alone has me doing the happy dance. He’s strong-willed, feisty, determined and never misses a beat in keeping up with the rest of us. That’s how he rolls.

So there we have it: thriving. Each of them, in their own ways. Doesn't mean they're without fault, or the best at everything. Doesn't mean they don't have their own challenges. But to me, it does mean that they are happy for the most part and advancing and contributing in positive ways to their worlds. A more rewarding experience I have not known.

Can I please get a raise?


Copyright © 2021 by Melissa Howell Printed from NauvooTimes.com