As a writer, I’m constantly asking my fictional characters about their motives, backstories, hopes, dreams, and fears. Over the years, I’ve become more empathetic to the choices we make in our own lives.
In the segment, Walking in Their Shoes, I’ll talk with real people in an effort to learn about their personal journeys. I’m sure I’ll find inspiration through their stories.
This week, I talk with Patricia. This working mom of Will (23), Maggie (11), and Patrick (6) is going back to college for a degree in accounting. She, her husband, and their youngest children live on the family farm. She’s one of the most selfless people I know.
Christina: So how do you balance it all?
Patricia: Well, I don’t think about it. I run on autopilot some days and do what I gotta do. My phone calendar is linked with my husband’s, so that helps. I schedule meals, homework, and school with as much detail as possible. Then, we review the schedule weekly adjusting for those issues that come up out of the blue.
Christina: Your youngest son, Patrick, was born with heart and liver problems. You found out soon after that he has Down Syndrome. How has your family adjusted to his needs?
Patricia: At the time, we didn’t know what Down Syndrome meant until we went to genetic counseling. Getting help early for him with physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy was vital. He’s a regular kid with cognitive issues. He doesn’t talk much, but he understands, so communication is important. We’ve learned sign language that he’s become adept at. He also has an iPad with assisted speech technology that talks for him. Our church and school system are supportive as well, and we attend seminars through the Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan.
Christina: What’s the toughest aspect within your family?
Patricia: I’d say balancing a special needs child with the others. Patrick takes up more of our time and attention. We don’t want Will and Maggie to feel left out.
Christina: How have you changed since Patrick was born?
Patricia: I have more patience now. For as much as I plan, I also have to go with the flow. Messes and dirty clothes don’t bother me. They’re a part of life. I embrace those moments of jumping in the mud puddles with the kids. It’s more fun than trying to prevent it.
Christina: What’s a guilty pleasure you do just for you?
Patricia: I just started going to the gym, I enjoy hanging out with my friends, and I drink a glass of wine in the evening.
Christina: What would you like people to know about raising a special needs child?
Patricia: Although I have family support, I’ve gotten a wide range of response from other people. For example, at a child’s party, the kids may ask why Patrick doesn’t talk. After my brief explanation, they nod then continue to play with him. I wish more adults would stop asking, “What’s wrong with him?” Nothing! Nothing is wrong with him! I’d rather they say something more on the line of “I notice he acts differently …” or “I notice he doesn’t talk …” I appreciate when someone is inquisitive and wants to learn.
Christina: Thanks, Patricia, for joining me today. To learn more about Down Syndrome, check out these sources: