Fall 2006

Dear Friends

My 14-year-old daughter, Kathryn, has ''special needs,'' aka cerebral palsy and autism. My parenting journey has mainly revolved around understanding her needs so I can help her be all she can be. This path has led me to see specialists, attend conferences, join support groups, and try every diet du jour. After running the gamut of emotions upon hearing my daughter's diagnosis -- feelings of grief, isolation, and longing for a child without ''special'' needs -- I ended up experiencing a most unlikely epiphany. One day, it dawned on me that as parents we all have children with special needs. Take my niece Jessica and her exceptionally gifted 5-year-old son, for example. This little guy reads at a middle school level and is more articulate than most teenagers I know. When I put myself in Jessica's shoes as she drops her son off at kindergarten this fall, the playing field seems amazingly level.

The truth is that from the time our ''At Home Pregnancy Strips'' read ''positive,'' we never know who's preparing his or her entrance into our lives. The key is that we listen, observe, and do all we can to nurture and accept these individuals -- whether they're the world's next Pulitzer Prize winner, local barista, or longshoreman.

I recently chatted with a prima ballerina from my high school. She couldn't help but harbor a desire for her daughter to follow in her footsteps (no pun intended). But wouldn't you know, her soccer-loving daughter took to ballet like a duck to the desert. And then there's the father of my children, whose birth announcement predicted him to be the 2004 President of the United States under the Democrat ticket. The closest this man ever involved himself in 2004 politics was to head to the polls -- as a card-carrying Republican! Ahh, our children's outcome seems as predictable as a rainstorm in July -- despite our best (or worst) efforts.

While it's really not our job to produce ballerinas or U.S. Presidents, it is our job to pay attention to our children’s needs -- those subtle and not-so-subtle signals that help our children feel valued and understood. Does he shut down in large crowds, break out in a rash every time he eats strawberries, or write his name in pretzels instead of using a writing utensil? Regardless of our child's ability, he will communicate his needs, and if we're receptive enough, his cues will educate us far more than any parenting manual or well-meaning friend.

Getting back to my epiphany, the term ''special needs'' is no longer a tragic designation to me. It's something that brings all of us parents together -- that desire to identify the unique needs of our child, whether his I.Q. is 50 or 150. It's about parenting in such a way that whatever your child's ''abilities,'' he will use them to make a contribution on this earth. While I will never see Kathryn dressed up for the school prom or head off for college, I'll also never worry about her coming in late from a date or anguish over her not making the cheerleading team. Besides, it's not about me anyway. It's about her. And as her mom, I celebrate all that makes her my one-of-a-kind girl.

This season, I wish you all happy and healthy celebrations with your one-of-a-kind families. May you and yours feel loved and ''gotten.''

Other Issues:
From our archives -- Offering Wisdom to New Moms

From our archives -- The Best Good Deed

From our archives -- Embracing the Wonder of Children

From our archives -- Encouraging children to live their bliss

From our archives

Holiday 2013 -- Embracing the World of Wonder

Winter 2013 -- Recipe for a Happy Thanksgiving

Fall 2013 -- Finding Beauty in the Everyday Tasks

Late Summer 2013 - Taking Our Own Advice

Midsummer 2013 -- Appreciating Nature's Bounty

Early Summer 2013 -- Being Prepared

Late Spring 2013 -- Having Realistic Expectations

Spring 2013 -- Offering Mothering Wisdom

Early Spring 2013 -- Being True to Our Nature

Holiday 2012 -- Appreciate the Goodness

Winter 2012 -- Enjoying the Anticipation

Early Fall 2012 -- Looking Back to Appreciate Now

Summer 2012 -- Chinaberry's History & Future

Early Summer 2012 -- My Dad

Late Spring 2012 -- My Satisfying Yet Untraditional Upbringing

Spring 2012 - The Consequences of Our Actions

Early Spring 2012 - Learning From Experience

Winter 2011 - The Small Moments

Holiday 2011 - The Good Deed

Fall 2011 - Gratitude

Late Summer 2011 - Overwhelmed? You're Not Alone.

Midsummer 2011 - Louise's Gallery

Early Summer 2011 - Flying 101: Giving Them Wings

Late Spring 2011 - Letting Them Fail

Spring 2011

Early Spring 2011 - Encouraging Your Kids to Live Their Bliss

Fall 2010 - The Chinaberry Commitment

Late Summer 2010 - In the Blink of an Eye

Midsummer 2010 - It's Her Story

Early Summer 2010 - Weathering the Storm

Gifts From My Mother

Spring 2010 - Enjoy the Ride

Early Spring 2010 - Enter the Land of Dirt and Bugs

Winter 2009 - Less Cleaning, More Meaning

Holiday 2009 - Finding Gratitude Every Day

Fall 2009 - Teaching Children Through Our Actions

Late Summer 2009 - A Spoonful of Sugar

Midsummer 2009 - Give Your Kids the Gift of Boredom this Summer

Early Summer 2009 - Who's the Kid and Who's the Parent?

Late Spring 2009 - Making Connections

Spring 2009 - Fully Engaging With Our Children

Early Spring 2009 - Building Character While Playing Characters

Winter 2008 - Never Underestimate the Value of a Good Hello

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