As a parent of four special needs children, life is anything but normal compared to families with typical children. Or is it? Do we really know what goes on behind closed doors? Does anyone have a clean house all the time. Are routines followed every day? What does normal look like?
Each morning I wake up at 8 AM to the sound of Sunshine yelling my name or screaming hysterically. I wake up to this because I just don't have the energy to wake up 60 minutes before she does, to get my day started in a positive way. (Sunshine is never pleasant in the morning.)
Once the whole crew is rounded up, and downstairs, it's our intent to read scriptures as a family together. Does this happen every day? No. There are some days I just forget, as I'm flying by the seat of my pants to meet the needs of the kiddos.
I make breakfast each morning. Each day of the month I try to make something different, just to provide variety. Does it happen all the time? No. If there are appointments or other obligations, forget it.
I have tried a million times to stick to my preferred morning routine. However, there are many days my kiddos end up staying in pjs all day and I don't even go upstairs until bedtime. There are just some battles I choose not to fight, despite how neglected our house looks.
The kiddos are great at doing their morning work, despite meltdowns and rigidity about the order they feel they must do their work. No matter how many times I remind them I can only do one thing at a time, they just don't seem to get it.
I always hope our morning work will only take an hour to get through, but Dinomite takes about 90 minutes all on his own. Princess can't seem to work if there are other people at the table. She waits until the boys are done. My morning is gone.
As each of the kiddos take turns on the computer, I prep lunch. Meanwhile Sunshine screams and gets into trouble. Sunshine goes down for her nap. I quickly clean up and we dive into our afternoon learning activities.
Dinomite and Princess work mostly on their own. I only have to check their work before they move onto another activity, unless one of them isn't functioning. Then the afternoon is a little bit harder. Bulldozer requires a one-to-one with him 90% of the time.
Sunshine wakes up screaming from her nap. Usually by this time the older kiddos have finished their "work" shelves and have moved on to "fun" shelf activities, where all three can work independently most of the time. If Sunshine is in the mood, I can take time to do tot school with her. When Sunshine doesn't want to do activities, she has her afternoon snack and waits until the kiddos are finished.
It's our goal to go outside each day after learning time, or at times, go to the library. However, this does not happen everyday. Winter has been awful this year. Snow and cold are two of Princess' worst PTSD triggers. There are definitely days where the kiddos just watch movies until dinner.
My husband usually takes the kiddos outside to play if he's home in the afternoon. I stay inside to take a quick break for myself and prepare dinner. This usually involves doing some dishes too. We try to eat dinner by 5 or 5:30, however, there are some nights where we don't sit down until 6:30 PM.
Bedtime routine is supposed to start at 6:30 PM. Princess turns into the most horrible version of herself if her head does not hit the pillow by 7 PM. Sunshine hates bedtime, almost as much as she hates meal times, screaming, throwing herself, etc. Dinomite just relaxes and takes care of himself.
Bulldozer, at the age of five, still can't fall asleep by himself. Either my husband or myself lay with him until he falls asleep. Most days it takes him anywhere from an hour to two hours to unwind. This always occurs in our bed, as he won't fall asleep in his own bed.
On any given night, anywhere from one to three kiddos are up for at least two hours at a time. If Bulldozer isn't in our bed when he starts the night, he usually ends up there. (We take him back to his bed when we go to bed.)
Sunshine is usually up for about two hours during the night, unable to be consoled. Sometimes she can be up for 4 to 6 hours. Princess has been up a lot at night this winter too. She's afraid to sleep because of nightmares she has, due to her traumatic past.
It's rare I'm able to get any cleaning in during the day and evening, besides the basic pick up and morning run through. My house is rarely picked up before bed. All of the energy has been zapped out of me by the time the kiddos go to bed. I always hope I'll have time over the weekend to do it, but that doesn't happen very often.
Most weekends, I'm trying to finish up activities for the next week of learning time, because I didn't finish them during the week. This doesn't even take into consideration the home repair projects left undone or the outdoor maintenance on the house.
I don't answer my phone, unless it's about an appointment or extremely important, except for when I'm preparing lunch, preparing dinner, or after 9 PM. My kiddos seem to go nuts when I'm on the phone.
Sunshine's screaming fits are unreal. Princess doesn't have my full attention and feels the need to create chaos in a negative way. I can never predict when Dinomite or Bulldozer are going to have one of their meltdowns.
Every week day is the same, except for when it's not, because of an appointment. Appointments always throw off the kiddos. I find myself having to make up learning time hours because once their morning has been thrown, they can't function for the afternoon. There's even a routine for Saturday and Sunday. I could change things up, but I choose not to deal with any more meltdowns than I already do.
It's a very rare occasion that we invite others over to our home. I work hard to incorporate play dates etc. But truth be told. I'm just not good at it. And frankly, the kiddos don't enjoy them (with the exception of a couple friends). They'd rather play with each other. I'm okay with that.
Every day I say I'm going to eat better and exercise, but I literally don't have the brain power to think about one more thing. Unless I exercise with my kiddos, it isn't going to happen. I do try to stop eating after they go to bed though.
A Friend's Normal
One of my closest friends has lived in the hospital for the last 15 months with her baby girl who's just gone through her second bone marrow transplant. It is hoped this will extend her short life just a little longer.
This friend has already lost one child to this same unknown disease, after living with him in the hospital for 18 months. Her husband remains at home (five hours away), working full time, caring for their other two children who are around the same ages as my two oldest children.
My Sister's Normal
My sister has just finished college. She is a teacher. Her husband has a full time job. They have one beautiful little boy. Everyone is happy and healthy.
It is so hard not to compare ourselves to others. Rarely a day goes by that I don't feel completed defeated by all that I'm not able to do, how my house looks, how I look, or the lack of time there is to get everything done I feel I need to get done.
This goes even deeper when I compare my children to other children, especially "typical children," or when I think of the goals and plans I had as a single woman before marriage and a family.
Everybody's Normal is Different
I was speaking with a friend last week. She shared with me some advice and counsel she had been given.
What's "normal" for one person, isn't always "normal" for another.
Sure there are transitions and bumps in the way at times, that may take adjustment, but ultimately, each of us has a "normal." When we can define what that is for ourselves, life seems just a little bit easier. We can start to accept ourselves for who we are and understand others in a whole new light. Remember too, "normal" can change over time.
Sometimes it can be hard to accept what our "normal" is for ourselves, as it may not be what we had planned. Certainly, my normal is not what I had intended for myself. But when we finally do accept it, the peace that comes is amazing.
Sometimes it can be hard to accept what "normal" is for others. We have expectations of our extended family members, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, bosses, etc. If they are different than us, it can be so hard to understand them and have a positive relationship.
I challenge you to examine your individual life, your marriage, your family, and identify your "normal."
Let go of what you wish could be. Let go of unreasonable expectations of yourself, your spouse, and your family. You will find peace and happiness. It is then that you'll be able to grow into what's meant to be. Most likely the person you become will be so much more extraordinary than you could have ever anticipated.