Tuesday, January 14, 2014
First comes love, then comes a child with special needs, then....
"Max, tomorrow is the day when Mommy and Daddy got married!" I announced to Max after dinner last night. Today is our wedding anniversary, 13 years of better and some worse that got better.
Max jutted out his bottom lip. Tears welled up in his eyes.
"Sweetie, what's wrong?" I asked.
Max gestured to me, to Dave, to himself, then made a gesture like he was cradling a baby.
I instantly realized what was up: Max did not like thinking about a time in life when we were around but he wasn't.
"Max," I said, hugging him and trying not to laugh, "we've always been your mommy and daddy, and we love you!"
Max wailed. I tried again:
"Max, you were in my belly, and then you came out, and you were our baby!" I said.
"Max, you were here even before Sabrina was!" Dave added.
Max wailed louder. Tears flowed down his face.
Sabrina tried to make things right: "MAX!" she shouted over his cries. "THERE WERE PEOPLE LIVING BEFORE YOU WERE BORN!"
Our sitter was there. Dave and I were heading out to have coffee and see American Hustle. I think this little scene says a lot about our marriage, our parenthood and how the two mix.
Dave and I are a team, more than we ever have been. When Max is upset, together we soothe him. We figure out ways to enable him, whether it's programming his speech app or encouraging him to grasp the stair rail and climb down on his own. We own our strengths: I'm more of the researcher and scheduler, Dave makes things happen whether he's driving Max to a program or picking up his meds from the pharmacy.
I'm a worrier, Dave is rooted in the here and now. In Max's early years, when I struggled with sadness over what had happened and I'd imagine the worst, Dave would bring me back to reality. "Look at him, he's beautiful," he'd say. He refused to let me wallow in grief because Max needed me, and I needed to see that Max wasn't a tragedy. Sometimes, I resented that he wasn't suffering like I was. Sometimes, I was grateful.
We no longer have that tension, because the grief has receded. Of course we fight; it's not necessarily a special needs parents thing, it's a parents thing. I sometimes think Dave is too permissive with the kids (you might recall his nickname, Marshmallow Daddy), and that he doesn't listen well enough. He thinks I get too tough on them and him. We argue. We pout. (OK, that's mostly me.) We work it out. We find together time, to regroup and reconnect.
Tuesday nights, we have a standing date to sit at the kitchen table and talk about stuff in our calendars and on our minds—practical stuff, dream stuff. On vacation, we're fine with dropping off Max and Sabrina in the kids' club so we can get some R&R. We try to regularly go out Saturday nights or during weekdays, even more fun because of that illicit school-night feeling. We also spend time apart doing things we each enjoy; Dave will go off skiing, I'll go to book club or see a show with friends.
We have no special secrets to a good marriage; we just go with the flow. There are days when we are better parents than we are partners. Some nights we end up sitting in the living room on separate couches, me typing and him watching TV, too wiped out to talk. But we respect each other's strengths, we deal with each other's weaknesses, we laugh, we love. I'm not sure the challenges we've faced with Max have made us stronger, but they are a history and a bond only we share and there is comfort and connection in that.
Max was still sniveling when we headed out the door. "We love you—you're our boy," I said. I kissed his wet cheek, then Sabrina. We knew Max would be fine. It was our time, an evening to celebrate us and celebrate life.
Happy Anniversary, love.
(Don't tell Max I said that.)
Posted by Ellen Seidman at 6:40 AM