Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"You're Such a Good Mom"

There’s an ongoing joke among my group of mothers of special needs adults. Whenever one of us does something to volunteer our time and effort, we say, “You’re such a good mom.” I mean it when I say this. I tell them when I notice that they bring water for our athletes, are in charge of a sport, or take their kids across town in the freezing weather to play flag football for an hour. I tell them this because I am far from one of these good moms when it comes to giving of my time.

When Drew was born almost 27 years ago, I became an expert on Down syndrome. I went to early intervention, to therapies (speech, physical, occupational), and to doctors. I even returned to college and got certified in Specific Learning Disabilities to learn more about special education. Inclusion was the buzzword in education, so we included Drew in community t-ball, church activities, and other “typical” events. During his first ten or so years, I had lots of enthusiasm and desire.

A young volunteer at Special Olympics tennis on Apr. 5, 2014
While on my journey, I met some very generous people -- volunteers. These people gave up their Saturdays to coach a kid who may never hit a tennis ball or get a ball in a basket. They spent their entire weekend taking kids on camping trips, and these volunteers kept coming back. They organized the book fair, Mother’s Day tea, and dances. These people are truly gifts from God.

When Drew was young, I wanted to be one of these people so I volunteered. I worked with little devils during Bible school; taught Sunday school; and sold candy, magazines, and wrapping paper. I rallied the troops by getting my high school students to volunteer at fall festivals and Special Olympics.

I was a good volunteer but definitely not a great one. I always felt lacking compared to some of the awesome ones I dealt with. When Drew was about 15 or so, I figured out why I wasn’t a great volunteer – I was tired. I realized that many of the volunteers usually helped with only one sport a year, one prom, or one or two Bible schools.  Because I had a special needs child, these activities continued for a longer time. For example, Drew started going to the annual prom when he was 16. Since he stayed in school until he was 22, he went to six proms. He is still invited to his school’s prom until he’s 30. Most typical kids are lucky if they go to one prom.

Drew with his gold medal for Special Olympics state
tennis competition in 2013.  This is one of approximately
 30 medals he has won in the past 15+ years.
Drew is a natural athlete and loves sports. Through Special Olympics, he is involved throughout the year in bowling, basketball, and tennis and has been since he was 9. Through the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association, he plays baseball and basketball during the fall and summer. I am proud of my son because he is passionate about sports and has won many ribbons and medals, and I take him to all of these events; therefore, I have been a soccer mom for almost 20 years.

For better or worse, I have learned to limit my involvement. I am never in charge of anything, but I’ll do something if asked. I don’t volunteer to organize a social event, but they can have it at my house. I sit in my car during most sporting events grading papers or taking a nap, and we usually leave before ribbons are given out.

I admire all of the volunteers. I never leave an event without thanking them. I never complain about the way one of these people organizes an event because I know that I don’t want his or her job. I also respect the other moms because of their love and commitment for their child. 

I used to feel guilty about not being a good mom or a great volunteer, but I rationalized it by telling myself that I had a job, other kids at home, a house to clean, etc. Now, I tell myself that I’ll give more of my time and talents when I retire, but I’m not sure if I will.  I accept that I am ok with not being one of these good moms or great volunteers. I’m the best one I can or want to be, and that seems to be good enough for Drew.