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Lily Pads

Today, I have a brief message specifically for the parents of kids with special needs. It’s a message that parents of typical kids probably need to hear, too, but I kind of feel like they’ve got supports in place, strong ones with foundations rooted deep within our social structure. Of late, I’ve been watching as one special needs parent after another falters, and I’ve seen how tenuous their supports really can be. Their supports; OUR supports. I suppose my message to them is a message to myself as well.

A few weeks after September 11, 2001, I was fortunate to hear Former President Bill Clinton give a speech at Yale, where I worked at the time. He said that Hillary’s friends kept asking him the same thing. They wanted to know if everything was going to be okay. President Clinton looked out over the crowd gathered on that autumn day in Connecticut, and he told us all what we needed to hear, the same simple message I want to give to the frayed parents of special needs kids for whom hope is hard to find.

“It’s going to be okay.”

The thing is, I don’t know for certain if that’s true. I’m certainly not here to hand out empty platitudes about your vacation in Holland, or how God never gives you more than you can handle. If anything, I think we’ve all become all too aware that God gives some parents far more than they can cope with, and then sits back silently as their worlds collapse. I can’t tell you that you’re all going to make good choices; we all make poor ones at some point, and sometimes those terrible choices have monstrous consequences. I can’t tell you that your kids are going to be okay and that their stories will have endings that are both happy and far into the future. I can’t actually make any promises, as I can’t depend on any for my own daughter. In some ways, my message is meaningless, and I know it.

And yet, when things become uncertain in my own life with Schuyler, or when Julie loses her nerve and questions our decisions or even just the viability of Schuyler’s future, I come back to that simple thought. Everything is going to be okay. I say it without knowing what it looks like, which is part of how it works, I guess. I can’t say “Schuyler is going to meet with success at school” or “She’s going to navigate being a teenager without hurting herself or being cruelly hurt by someone else” or “Her seizures are never going to eat her up”. I can’t even say I’m not going to screw up tremendously at being a father. I can’t deal with specifics, and I can’t ward off disaster with happy thoughts.

But I can have faith in a simple idea, that no matter what happens, we’ll find our way. It’ll be okay because we’re stronger than we know, and when we need to be clever, we find paths that will get us not necessarily to the happy ending, but at least to the next safe spot. We’re frogs crossing a pond, and we don’t need to reach the shore right now. We just need to find the next lily pad. We just need to plan our next jump.

I don’t have the power or certainty of religion, although I’m happy for those who find solace and inspiration that way. It’s going to be okay, I tell myself and those who can hear me, because I have the faith of a frog. Lily pads aren’t much, but they might just be enough.

Special needs parents don’t want things to be perfect; I don’t think most of us can even imagine what that looks like anymore. But okay? We’ll take okay. We just sort of need to hear it every so often, that it might be so.

It might. I believe it will.


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