***Disclaimer: I didn’t write this to get sympathy at all. I didn’t write this so I could get a bunch of “she could be homecoming queen, you never know!” comments. I also don’t want any of my IRL friends to feel guilty, etc., because of this post. Please! I wrote this because I know there are SO many people out there who are feeling the exact same way and I know it feels good to not be alone.***
I felt it starting in fourth grade. The gradual pulling away of Olivia’s friends. Sure, there were still a couple of birthday invitations each year. I was never 100% sure if it was truly that the girl wanted Olivia invited or if the Mom encouraged it, but I was pleased by it nonetheless. But I could still feel it. The other girls were growing up. They were interested in One Direction and playing sports and iphones and cute boys and less interested in trying to play with Olivia. She was also in class with them for fewer hours each day. The gap between them academically and socially continued to grow. It made my heart hurt. I missed hearing about the girls playing games with Olivia at recess. I missed having girls stop by to jump with her on the trampoline or watch a movie in her room. I ached when I walked into the cafeteria and saw her eating alone. There might have been kids physically next to her at the lunch table, but she was still alone.
I understood it. I knew it would happen. But it still hurt. Olivia didn’t seem to notice or mind, but then I’m never 100% sure if that’s true. She has decent verbal skills but I know she has trouble expressing her emotions. What if it really was bothering her but she couldn’t find the words to express that emotion to me? Isn’t feeling lonely when you’re not alone difficult to describe as a grown-up? Isn’t feeling left-out a pretty abstract emotion?
I was really hoping junior high would be a kickstart to rekindling some old friendships and making some new ones. So far, that hasn’t happened. I know, even as kind-hearted and wonderful as some of them may be, junior high kids are very self-centered. It doesn’t make them wrong, it doesn’t make them bad, it just makes them adolescents. Olivia sits with her aide and the other kids with special needs at lunch. She’s only in two regular education classes. She goes to Spirit Club after school once a month and hangs out with…her aide and the other kids with special needs. The “typical” kids say hi but they don’t go out of their way to include her. I’m not sure why I was hoping they would, because honestly it would be unusual if they did, but I did any way. And I’ve been disappointed.
I’ve been trying to think of ways I can help. But there aren’t any. I could invite girl after girl after girl over to our house and do the most fun things and have the best snacks, but that still wouldn’t make them think to go sit by Olivia at lunch or ask her over to play or hang out with her at Spirit Club. And that’s ok. That’s normal. I was just hoping for more.
But as I reflect on it, I have to focus on Olivia. Does she seem happy? 100% yes. She LOVES going to school each day. In fact, we’ve never seen her so excited for school. Each and every single day she says her day was “terrific” and “fantastical” and “GRRRRREEEAAAAT!!!”. So who the hell cares if she sits by herself at lunch? Who the hell cares if she doesn’t hang out with friends ever? Who the hell cares if she hangs with her aide and other friends who have special needs at Spirit Club? If she’s happy, who the hell cares??
I did. But now I don’t as much. Does it bother me still? Of course. Do I wish she was typical so she could text on her iphone and beg me to wear those short shorts everyone is wearing and go to football games on Friday nights with friends? You betcha. But the reality is, she’s not. Those things aren’t going to happen. And I need to be OK with the fact that she’s happy. She loves her friends at school who have special needs. I’m trying to figure out ways to foster those relationships outside of school, but, again, isn’t it just fine if they’re just friends at school? What’s wrong with that? Nothing at all.
You know who Olivia’s best friends are? Me, Matt, my Mom, Gabe and Matthew. You know who she’d pick to hang out with on any given night? Us. You know who she’d rather watch a movie with or eat dinner with or go to a football game with? Us. I’m 99.999% sure she is 150% happy with her life. So why am I so worried about it? Because, even after 12.5 years, it’s still a damn hard pill to swallow.
These realizations have really helped me cope. It’s so damn difficult to watch your child with special needs be excluded. Whether they care about it or not, it’s hard to digest. But it’s reality. It is what it is, as Matt always says. And he’s right. She has special needs. She has friends at school and us at home. She’s happy. And that has got to be enough.
Just so you know, it never ever sounds like you are writing for sympathy, for a guilt trip, for praise, or anything at all. You are a great writer and your words stand for themselves. Powerful post!
I love all of your posts. You are 100% right, if our kids….any of them are happy then we should be happy. But dammit it’s hard.
So true and us other parents can relate
It is hard but I would say treasure her happiness, and long may it continue.
We have the opposite – M hates school (as she is away from me) and is beginning to realise just how different she is in lots of ways.
Sorry, not a pity party for us here! But if Olivia is happy then there is little more to wish for at school, that is wonderful. You’ve done a fine job with your girl 🙂
I think all parents struggle with these feelings on a much smaller scale. I can’t imagine how hard it is to try to put these feelings into perspective every. single. day. You do an amazing job! If she is happy. Then be happy too. Her normal is way different than what you imagined & hoped for, but she is happy. She has a great family. She has changed all of you in so many ways for the better. Made your family closer. She is a gift :o)
Exactly, Cyd!Have a great day!!Tiffanywww.elastamom.com
This is totally and completely about us – the adults – needing to let go of our expectations and dreams, isn’t it? I think the same thing – my little one is so happy. I’m the one who carries the sadness for him sometimes. Thank you for spilling your soul.
I really needed this post. I’ve been struggling with this lately and needed to hear it voiced out loud. Thanks Tiffany!
I hope that as Olivia’s old friends mature, they will come back around. Adolescents are funny creatures. Olivia is lucky to have all of you, and her brothers are awesome.
I get this. I get this so much. My Olivia is only in kindergarten and I’m already trying to figure out how to put her happiness before my own hopes and dreams for her. Like you, I want her to have friends and be social and yet…she isn’t. She doesn’t want to be. She loves school too, especially days that include music class. I am trying to hard to tell myself that it’s enough that she’s so, so happy, that she love us, her family more than anything else in the world.
Thank you for this, for letting us all know we’re not alone.
For you and for Olivia, as she is happy, then it is enough.
But from reading your words each day, for over a year now I think there is more.
It’s not enough for the average kids. They can stand to be enlightened perhaps?
Could there not be an assembly on inclusion?
For all the younger children that will follow in your daughter’s footsteps- push now! Trailblaze now!
Olivia is a firecracker! Those typical kids are missing out. It’s not good enough.
The school can do more to promote these relationships so they may naturally evolve to friendships.
Maybe a “student aide/ buddy” program where a new student volunteers on a monthly basis to assist petsonally with inclusion?
Just a suggestion.
I feel sad for the classmates that will not get to know your extraordinary daughter. They may be hesitant but with the right invitation something wonderful could happen 🙂
Olivia is so blessed. She is surrounded by a family who truly loves her to the “nth” degree- each of whom love her totally, completely, and honestly UNCONDITIONALLY. Can you imagine what that type of love, from so many people would really feel like- how it would lift your being and make your life fantastic, brilliant, happy (I could keep this list going, but I think you get it). And to start each day looking forward to school- and return from it even happier? And to be loved by the perfect mother, that she was oh so lucky to have born to? So blessed this sunshine beaming girl is! Love-
Tiffany, I won’t be able to relate as I don’t have special needs kids, but thank you for shedding some light on Olivia. I would hope that if my sons were in school with a special needs child, that I’d like to teach him to reach out. And yes she does seem absolutely blessed with having her amazing family and aides and friends nearby 🙂
Thank you for your honesty.