I had breakfast with my friend Andrea last Friday morning after an exhausting week of making decisions. Not all of them were critical, but there were enough of them stacked together for an already indecisive person like me to nearly crumble at the end of the week when my Starbucks barista asked me if I wanted whole, 2% or skim milk. I don’t know, okay? I don’t have the energy to contemplate the pros and cons of milk fat right now, so please, for the love of God, pour something hot into a cup and hand it to me. But I didn’t say that, of course. I smiled, said “2%” and complimented the barista on her adorable haircut because I overcompensate.
I sat with my friend as we talked about light-hearted things that quickly transformed to heavy-hearted things. Heavy-hearted things for us usually sounds something like: Our kids. We love them. We worry. How do we do this? This is hard. And last week was hard—a week I dedicated to worrying about Nella. I’m realizing we are getting there, that place we knew would eventually come when “Aw, what a cute little baby” shifts into “Fly, little bird, fly.” We’re feeling more the communication delays which transfer to challenges with expectations at home and following directions; and some new experiences (like moving her up an age group in ballet) bring those challenges to the surface. With preschool on the horizon and my girl at the edge of the nest, it snowballed together to feel like a looming cloud.
It all came out at the table last week—my worries about her future challenges, preparing for school, thinking about middle school and high school, feeling the weight of all that still needs to be done in the world of awareness and acceptance. “We have to think about this stuff, Brett. We have to prepare for her future. We have to talk about these choices.” Like always, Brett says, “We don’t have to decide everything right this second, babe.” Because my worry quickly translates to urgency, and someone needs to reel me in. He’s good at that.
I like to think of these worry periods as pit stops. I’m getting gas and new wheels, and while that’s happening, I unload. It’s amazing how quickly you refuel and hit the gas again when you realize your kid’s out there on the track.
For us, it’s difficult defining what behaviors of Nella’s are attributed to Down syndrome and what’s just manifestations of her own personality and growing pains. How much do we push her and how much do we let her be who she is? How do we balance high expectations with accommodations? As we made some decisions for her last week and talked about how to continue to nurture her toward more independence, I felt the frustration and the sadness that comes with this additional stuff. More roadblocks, more work, more thinking outside the box, more taming emotions because the sad demons love to use these decisions as an opportunity to lurk and make you feel bad. Deciding what’s best for Nella right now is challenging us. “It’s like putting a square peg in a round hole,” I told Brett.
But then, (Don’t you love “but thens”?!) I remembered Apollo 13. Have you seen it? The astronauts’ lives literally depended on fitting a square peg in a round hole. Technically speaking, the lunar module’s round receptacles didn’t fit the command module’s square filters for carbon dioxide disposal, and CO2 levels were near toxic. There’s this scene where these NASA engineers go into a room, dump everything to which the astronauts have access on the table, and are given the challenge of using what’s on the table to transform the round receptacle to fit the square filter. It’s an impossible task, but these people are solution-based thinkers and their friends’ lives are at stake. And they figured it out. They walked out victoriously an hour later carrying a contraption that was once a non-existent solution. They used duct tape and cardboard and creativity and determination and never once said “we can’t do this.” They did it because they had to.
Being sad and venting is important in acknowledging our feelings, but it’s a very unproductive place for me to stay. I want to focus on solution-based thinking—transforming round holes to square ones when we can. Using resources to change the outcome. Looking around and ripping things off walls, if necessary, to build what we need. We’ll do it because we have to. Because we love our kids, and when you love your kid, there’s no square peg you won’t take on.
And as if fitting a square peg into a round hole wasn’t problem enough, you know what else happened on Apollo 13? They had to conserve power on the shuttle to get it home, so they cut all their resources down. No cabin heaters, no instrument display, no guidance computer, no ground control. No map of where to go and no one to tell them how to do it. Sound familiar? It’s called parenting.
But they still did it. In radio silence, they navigated that spaceship home by manually locking their focus on where they wanted to go while the universe seemed to spin out of control around them. And that’s exactly how I deal with worrying about my kids’ future. Where do we want to go? Lock focus. Go ahead, universe–spin, spin.
I ended my week at the Valentine’s Day dance Saturday evening, a welcoming place for all that I was feeling. That gym became my sanctuary and its people, my church.
I took all my angst from the week and channeled it into dancing and clapping and allowing myself to feel everything. It’s very easy to feel everything when you walk in the door to the Valentine’s dance.
There’s a small group of tables on the side of the gym where most of the parents sit, and I watched these moms and dads the other night as they made small talk and occasionally stepped out to the dance floor to join the crowd. They’re the Square Peg Veterans. I thought about how many hard decisions they’ve made, how many worries they’ve combatted, how many once non-existent solutions they’ve invented. And talk about radio silence—these people did it without the Internet for years. And they’re here. Smiling. Happy. Shaking a leg to Billy Jean.
We’re taking one decision at a time.
As powerful as that universe spinning out of control around us seems to be sometimes, it can never compete with the greater power of loving your child.
Lock that focus, and you will always, always make it home.