By Tammy Perlmutter
A writing assignment for the fall 2014 Sleeping Ink Workshop was to write about what triumph looks like in a special-needs family. For me, this word conjures up images of warriors with their feet on the necks of their defeated foe, shouting, holding a bloody sword aloft.
I don’t use triumph often—it feels too foreign to me, too big for me living a life, which requires no pillaging, no battle to the death over a well or a throne.
The phrase pick your battles comes to mind, that piece of parenting wisdom that has actually worked for us. So if there are battles, there must be victors and vanquished.
These are small battles over how many toothbrushes a person actually needs, over who sits where on the couch, over disciplines that include the taking away of screen time.
There are also battles that matter more, tiny skirmishes about behavior in school, including not collecting ants in the gym, not sneaking off to the basement to look for ghosts, not calling attention to your unzipped fly and telling everyone, “The barn is open!”
Battles that matter more. The ones that are about compliance at school and at home, addressing basic social skills like returning a direct greeting, not picking your nose in front of people, not putting bugs down your friend’s back at recess.
My daughter is not going to be picked first in gym, mainly because she is too busy running around it rather than joining in and too distracted picking up live cicadas that have come in through the window and releasing them back into nature. She was a hero that day. That was a triumph. She was able to use her passion and attention deficit to serve others.
My daughter, Phoenix, is not going to bring home trophies for team sports participation because she can’t follow though with directions for that long. And she would be a terrible forward because she would keep dropping to the ground to dig for worms. And she would also be a very unreliable goalie since there would be so many bugs stuck to the net for her to catch.
Phoenix won’t bring home a perfect attendance medal from the awards assembly because there are mornings that are so hard for her that she cannot handle school, since she had a terrible time the night before due to a long tantrum of shrieking, sobbing, demanding what she wants but will not get. Her chest hurts from hyperventilating. Her throat hurts from screaming. It is an emotional, mental, physical exhaustion few people will experience or even understand.
Where do I find the triumph in that? My child’s mental health keeps her home from school occasionally. It feels like a defeat. But we did not give in, we didn’t relent, we didn’t let her manipulate us with her meltdown. We were consistent.
That concept in parenting touted as the secret to bringing up a well-behaved, responsible, compliant child. We were consistent. It was a hard-won battle. We were exhausted too. We were victorious. Until next time when we will be facing off again over not having string cheese in the house, or her deafening, adamant refusal to do the Common Core math homework.
Triumph can be hard won and short lived.
How do I pick through the rubble of these moments and find something to treasure? Our triumphs look so different than parents of typical children. Phoenix went a day without spitting on anyone. One time she asked me how my day was after I asked about hers. She dressed herself for school one morning. All. By. Herself. What would it look like if I saw Phoenix’s good choices as triumphs, however insignificant they may look to others?
I don’t know yet. I’m still learning. And digging. Phoenix doesn’t mind the rubble. She would find the beauty and wonder in it, so I will too.
About the Author
Tammy Perlmutter writes about unabridged life, fragmented faith, and investing in the mess at her blog Raggle-Taggle. She lives in Chicago with her husband and daughter, Phoenix, who is equal parts exasperating and endearing. You will find Tammy on most forms of social media telling stories about Phoenix with subtitles like: “Things you only hear in our house.” She loves collecting bugs with Phoenix, watching Netflix with her husband, and taking stealthy candid photographs of strangers. She will have an essay included in the forthcoming book Soul Bare: Reflections on Becoming Human, being published in the winter by Civitas Press.