How to Treat Kids Who Are Different: Part I

This blog post is in honor of Finn, on his 5th BIRTHDAY! I cannot believe it.

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You may be one of those people who want to be different. March to the beat of your own drum kind-of-person. Most of us, however, just want to fit in. I was the “new girl” every two years of my life, as my family moved around the country for my dad’s job. All I wanted was to blend in as quickly and seamlessly as possible, make friends, and become “popular.” Finding a cute boyfriend was a plus.

My son, Finn, however, cannot just “blend in.” Nor, do I believe, he wants to. He sits happily between two wheels, zooming through the lobby at church, holding back the urge to pop a wheelie in line at school, and eager to help me “treasure hunt” for groceries at Whole Foods.

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Finn’s 5th birthday party: bowling and pizza with 19 buddies from school and the cousins!

He is obviously different from the average five year old…and he seems okay with that.

When Finn was born, OU Children’s Hospital hooked us up with another family for emotional support. This child was several years older than Finn and also had Spina Bifida. I got up the courage one morning to call his mom, Debbie. I asked her what her son was currently struggling with. “Well, he’s really ornery and lately he’s been in trouble for annoying his big sister.” Her answer took me off guard! It was a relief, honestly. I expected something medical and tragic in nature, but her wisdom assured me that Finn will likely be like any other boy–mischievous and annoying, just on wheels. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Spina Bifida will be a part of his life. It will not define his life.

Your differences will be a part of your life. But don’t let them define your life.

When you are unique or have a child who is unique in some outwardly obvious way, it is common to get stares, double-takes, sweet and curious questions, rude statements, unsolicited advice, and oftentimes unwanted attention.

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I hated this for the first two years of Finn’s life. I avoided birthday parties, crowded doctor’s offices, playgrounds…anywhere some child or parent might ask or say something I didn’t know how to answer. Now, though, I love to share Finn with the world; it just took some maturing, prayer, and preparation on my part.

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Cousin Ev, Tucker and Sully came all the way from Missouri to celebrate!

Today a sweet college friend messaged me and told me she took the initiative to tell her son all about Finn recently. She showed him videos of him wheeling up ramps and being silly. They laughed together and had a good conversation about being different. Her kindness and intentional parenting prompted me to finally write this post I’ve thought about for years. Her words: “My prayer is that God will continue working in his already sensitive heart…and that he will have eyes to see and a desire to befriend kids who are different than him.” Thank you, Claire.

I’ve had several friends ask great questions in confidence, “How do you like Finn to be treated?” “What should we say when our kids ask questions?” “Do you like to be approached or would you rather be left alone?”

These are all valid questions, and ones I will answer with the help of a few other moms of uniquely awesome children. That info will be in PART II of this blog post and I hope to post that late Wednesday night or Thursday.

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My mom and Finn share a birthday (today!). We celebrated my mom’s 60th in Dallas this weekend! She’s the cute one holding Paisley on the right. Check out Finn at the head of the table. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’ll leave you with this tonight. One of the best quotes I’ve heard on this topic is:

“If you want to know how to treat a child with special needs, watch their sibling. They will show you.” (simplyrealmoms)

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Hotel giggles and shenanigans…TOOK THREE STINKIN’ HOURS to fall asleep!

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SO GRATEFUL for their friendship. Thank you, Jesus.

Come back Wednesday night (or Thursday if I don’t get to it) for some more insight (and other opinions) on this topic!

Present Over Perfect

Shauna Niequist is my favorite Christian author for her raw vulnerability, her transparency, expert story-telling skills and her love for good food. I cook recipes from her book, Bread and Wine, weekly.

I knew her most recent book, Present Over Perfect, would rock my busy little world, so I put off reading it for several months. It would slow me down, settle my heart and convict my soul, and I wasn’t ready to be reigned in. The title speaks for itself–stop trying to be and just be.

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All my life I’ve been an achiever, a doer. I value efficiency, honesty and follow-through. In job interviews, I take pride in the fact that I’m responsible–I do what I say I’m going to do–and I’m efficient–I can do more work in less time than most people. I am goal-driven and feel incomplete until my goals are met. Even then I feel like I could have probably done more, been better.

These things, of course, matter very little in the Kingdom of God. At the end of my life, Jesus is not going to ask me about my work ethic. He’ll ask me how I treated people. He’ll lift my chin with His calloused hand and ask, “Ashley Dawn, were you kind? Did you obey me? Did you love the least of these? Did you give generously? Were you loving and slow to anger with your family behind closed doors? Did you share My love with my children who were hurting?”

Although the pace of my life hasn’t changed since I read this book over Christmas break, my mindset has. I’m consciously asking my mind to rest, to be fully present with the people I love, and to give myself grace.

Some of Shauna’s truths from this book that…changed me, quite frankly:

“I believed it was better to measure my life by metrics out there, instead of values deeply held in my own soul and spirit.”

Production values. Promotions. Credentials. Grade point average. Body fat percentage.

“The very thing that makes you you, that makes you great…is also the very thing that, unchecked, will ruin you.”

For me this is efficiency, commitment and drive.

Women often do what Niequist calls, “fake-resting. I’m wearing pajamas…It looks like I’m resting, too. But I’m not. I’m ticking down an endless list, sometimes written, always mental, getting things back into their right spots, changing laundry, wiping down countertops. Some might say this is being a mother, a homemaker, or this is what women have been doing for generations.”

For me, this behavior is handed down from a long line of strong, independent, capable, and restless women. My grandma Mary, at 80-something, has a hard time sitting still. My mom never does. If I am, my mind is somewhere else…I’m distracted by everything left undone.

Saturday morning, though, I was so proud of myself: Paisley snuggled up to me on the couch in her jammies and I held her tight, smelling the sweetness of her neck. I couldn’t put my feet on the coffee table because it was stacked high with laundry.ย  Dirty dishes lined the countertop, and my laptop was open with a business production number that was far from my lofty goal for February. I held my cold mug of coffee in one hand, and my tiny baby girl in the other. I closed my eyes and soaked up the long minutes she let me snuggle, truly resting.

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Paisley Dawn loves to do dishes!

“Busyness is an illness of the spirit.” -Eugene Peterson

“Loving one’s work is a gift. And loving one’s work makes it really easy to neglect other parts of life…Being good at something feels great. Playing ninja turtles with two little boys for hours is sometimes less great.”

I love my job. I get to coach people (mostly women) toward their best self through fitness and healthy living. I’m good at it.

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I oftentimes feel less good, however, at being a mom–and sometimes a wife. I can get more easily frustrated with my kids than my clients. I have better customer service with strangers (WHO COULD CARE LESS ABOUT ME) than I do with Joey, the love of my life. Ugh. Holy conviction.

“This is what I know for sure: along the way you will disappoint someone. You will not meet someone’s needs or expectations…These are basically sharp blades into the hearts of people like me, who depend very heavily on meeting people’s expectations.”

Disappointing people terrifies me. My greatest fears are to let someone down and to be misunderstood. I’ve lost sleep this past year over feeling misunderstood by people I cared about and for feeling like I’ve let people down.

“But here’s the good news: you get to decide who you’re going to disappoint, who you’re going to say no to…What you need along the way: a sense of God’s deep, unconditional love and strong sense of your own purpose…Aim to disappoint the people at the center of your circle [family] as rarely as possible.”

Ah, my purpose. I know my purpose, my “chazown”: helping people live life to the fullest through healthy living. Inspiring people to reach their God-given potential.

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Our relationships are like concentric circles, with those closest to us at the very center. Then our most trusted friends and extended family. Then more friends. Acquaintances and co-workers. Strangers. I chose “servant” as my word for 2017 because I want to be a servant FIRST to those people God has entrusted to me at the center of my circle: Joey. Finn. Paisley. If I can’t be really really good to them, nothing else matters.

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Here’s where I’ll leave you (and I’m only on page 55 of 234 of incredible wisdom, but I’m going to play Nertz with Joey):

“We disappoint people because we are limited. We have to accept the idea of our own limitations in order to accept the idea that we’ll disappoint people. I only have this much time. This much energy. This much relational capacity.”

I don’t like to feel limited. Do you? I like to feel powerful and unbridled. But it’s so incredibly freeing to me to accept the fact that I can’t do it all.

I need Joey’s help around the house. I can’t remember everyone’s birthday. I’ll forget some clients’ squat weight. I can’t remember to pray for everyone I want to pray for. I need my mom’s tenderness. I need my dad’s wisdom. I need grace from my kids. I need a committed team to help me reach my goals in Arbonne. I need my training clients to show up to get paid. I need my long-distance girl-friends to check up on me. I need people, and I deeply need God.

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I will disappoint people. I may have disappointed you. And that’s okay, because I am imperfect; an intrinsically flawed, yet redeemed daughter of God, doing my very best. And it’s enough. It’s not perfect, but it’s enough.