I love my work. I am a physical therapist, and I work in Early Intervention. E.I. is—for those who aren’t familiar—a program that provides home-based services for children 0-3, who qualify based on either diagnosis or developmental delays. The days vary, there is joy, and there is sadness. On my best days, I think, “I can’t believe I get paid for this!” And on my hardest days, it’s more like, “You couldn’t pay me any amount of money to live this day again.” Not unlike many moments and days of motherhood—but I digress.
In my work, I see incredible highs and devastating lows. I’ve seen children’s first steps dozens of times, I’ve seen children beat cancer, survive heart failures, and finally be able to keep up with their siblings—I’ve watched babies that were never supposed to walk get up and RUN away from me. I’ve watched micro-preemies lapping their preschool classmates and sick babies growing up to play baseball. There are so many victories.
Then there are other times. When the doctors tell a parent there’s nothing else they can do. When a child slowly deteriorates instead of getting better. When a parent realizes their child may never walk, run, or even sit independently. Help to comfort a baby while an orthopedist cuts his Achilles tendon (which they do awake—with anesthetic), or—embracing a parent who has just lost their child.
I’ve often heard from friends, “I don’t think I could do that. It would be too upsetting.”
Well, it can be upsetting. That’s true. But what’s more upsetting is the idea of doing nothing. These sweet kids will be here—whether I choose to do this job or not—and maybe I have the power to make things a fraction easier. As a parent, I have started to empathize and imagine the parents’ perspective more and more. Being a mother has made me more able to put myself in their shoes. I am a more patient, adaptable, and helpful therapist since I’ve become a parent. I try to be a bright spot in a really hard time.
I think the greatest gift it gives me is perspective. The upside to these experiences—including watching parents lose their children—is that it helps me weather the storms of parenting in my own life. When my child has said “Mommy!” for the hundredth time in 5 minutes, I try to remember the parents who would do anything to hear that one more time—or who have children who can’t say it at all. When my son runs away from me, I’m reminded that not all children get to do that, and not all parents get to experience it. It doesn’t mean parenting is easy, and it doesn’t mean I don’t have my moments. But it does offer some perspective. Parents of children with special needs have day-to-day stressors just like I do—and they still have the same run-of-the-hill parenting nonsense. “We have no clean clothes—all we have in the house is salsa and two hot dogs—this kid is making me absolutely nuts today!” We’re more alike than different, and their children are perfect the way they are. But can you imagine hearing someone complain about how her child won’t stop talking when yours is non-verbal? I’d want to punch someone. You can’t and won’t enjoy every moment of parenting—but we can find gratitude and happiness regularly.
So that’s what this job gives me. Pause. Gratitude. Gratitude that most of my stressors involve realizing we have two hot dogs in the house, not wondering whether my child will ever walk. I might not need the help now, but tomorrow it could be me that needs the support. So today, I am grateful.
Don’t get me wrong here—I’m allowed to complain when I’ve had a tough day… and so are you! I think that parenting is tough sometimes and that we’re all just doing the best we can with the hand we’ve been dealt. That’s why I work in Early Intervention, and it’s why I drink wine in the shower—because there’s always another day to make it better, to dust myself off and try again. Isn’t that what parenting is for many of us? Trial and error, rolling with the punches, and trying to find joy amidst the chaos? At least in my house, there’s no lack of craziness—and I don’t see it letting up anytime soon. So if we can’t try to find joy in it, we’re missing out. I don’t subscribe to that advice we always get WAY too often—“ENJOY EVERY MOMENT!”
No, Karen, I’m not going to enjoy every moment.
But I will find JOY, every day.