(Please welcome back Cathy Jameson, who had a baby girl just a few weeks ago.)
By Cathy Jameson
We fit the mold of that old traditional Irish Catholic family with tons of children underfoot. We’ve outgrown the nuclear family of 2 kids and a dog as we have just added a fifth child to the mix a few weeks ago. I am finding that life won’t slow down no matter how desperately I want it to. When you have several children running your life, including one with special needs, the parent’s wants get tossed aside for good. Welcome to life in the fast lane.
Several years ago we knew our family size had potential to fill a hockey team. It was then that we decided sell the old fixer-upper house we’d bought on a lake and searched for a bigger, newer one off the water. Children like our son Ronan are attracted to the water not realizing the danger. Thankfully, we found the perfect home in the same neighborhood for our then family of 5. The house was larger, needed no do-it-yourself projects and was far enough from the lake so Ronan couldn’t see it or be drawn to it.
Over the weekend during the children’s naptime, my husband and I usually take turns doing our own errands in town sans the kids at least one day. One afternoon, I found Steve getting ready to take a nap instead of heading out. I had too much energy to sleep so I started chatting to my incredibly tired husband about our new house. I loved how we had arranged the furniture, the fact that the kids had transitioned to new rooms without fears and we were able to play in the new backyard. The kids missed out on outside playtime at the old house since it was right on the lake and Ronan had no concept of water safety.
We talked about how much safer we felt the house was for Ronan and how we had extra bedrooms in case we had any extra kids one day. I mentioned that although the house was nice, it was certainly not a home I thought we’d retire in. We long to return north when we’re old and gray with the kids long kicked out when they go to college.
Steve perked up a bit when I mentioned returning to the beaches to retire and we imagined what kind of cottage we would have. I wanted something just the right size for us and for the kids to come home for visits. Steve said the house would have to be big enough for the three of us. My eyes got big. I wondered who he meant when he said the three of us since our three young ones were snoozing away on the other side of the house for naps. I wasn’t pregnant again (yet) so I asked him just who he thought the third one would be and why would this person be part of our retirement?
Without missing a beat, Steve said, “It would be you, me and Ronan.” I laughed. I laughed again until I realized Steve was serious. He’d already come to accept the fact that Ronan may not be able to leave our home, our care or our constant supervision. He may not get the maternal boot at age 18 as I’d planned for our other children. I stopped mid-laugh and said, “Really? You think Ronan will stay with us?” Steve said, “He may need us. Where else would he go?” I agreed with my husband and said, “Well, if you want Ronan to live with us forever, I guess he would have to retire to the beaches too. He’d love it since he could flick sand all day by the water.”
I felt a bit foolish because here I am for the last three years thinking, praying, living, believing and knowing in my heart and soul that my son will recover. Not a day goes by that I do not truly believe and even picture Ronan returning to his typically developing self. My husband on the other hand, thinks, prays, lives, believes and knows that there is a possibility of Ronan not being able to recover. Steve lives every day with the here and now Ronan, not the future Ronan I see. Having to change my old and gray days to sharing it with my husband and my son took me by surprise. When we both imagined our golden years together with Ronan and his current behaviors, wants and needs, we chuckled and said, we’d have to Ronan-proof a lovely cottage by the sea. That may mean safety gates in the kitchen, locks on the bathrooms, alarms on the outside doors and a cabinet full of gluten-free snacks. We also giggled thinking about sending Ronan to live with his siblings every few months so we can get a break. At least Ronan has several siblings to choose from now!
When I stress out about Ronan’s obsessive behavior or his lack of understanding, Steve calms me down and reminds me it’s usually a phase Ronan goes through. They’ll be something new to react to in a week. When I cry because of the horrible pooping accident I didn’t expect to clean, Steve assures me there are carpet cleaning businesses we can call. When I panic because Ronan slipped away from me in our house and I can’t find him in his usual places, Steve tells me to peek in the playroom—Ronan is actually playing. When I think I just can’t do this anymore, I fall into my husband’s arms for a reassuring hug that tells me things have and will get better for all of us.
All too often special needs parents hear, “God knew what He was doing when He sent (insert child’s name here) to you.” I used to hate that expression. I would feel guilty for having those freak-out moments full of tears, anger, regret and sadness about the unexpected parenting of a special needs child. More often than not though, Ronan fills our days with wonder and excitement. He teaches his brother and sister lessons about compassion we’d never thought about. Ronan brightens a room with his inquisitive eyes telling us we need to slow down and appreciate the very simple things that we overlook.
I have come to see that while I have different expectations for Ronan, Steve’s acceptance of the present Ronan compared to the future Ronan, balances us in just the right way. Steve works with his strong loving arms trying to be one step ahead of a sneaky but very aware five-year old. Ronan makes slow but steady progress while learning to use the sign language his Daddy teaches him. Steve sees that raising a vaccine-injured child like Ronan is not just a challenge, but a privilege. No other job reaps rewards or payment with a soft kiss from a non-verbal boy emerging right in front of us.
Fathers like Steve make mothers like me stop and take a breath so that we can see each moment is a gift. Living in the present as Steve does helps me know that the future doesn’t have to be so scary. In twenty or thirty years, if I’m sharing a beach house with Steve and Ronan, I’ll be reminded that no other Daddy could do what was needed for Ronan. Steve is the ideal Daddy living for and with his child. This child has molded a man into the best father he could ever be.
Cathy Jameson and her five children will be celebrating Steve this Father’s Day. Their son Ronan has been instrumental in reminding his family how to be thankful for all that life brings.