March 19, 2010

Did I miss Alex?

Every March I try to get away from the snow and cold for a few days. For the last four years I have escaped to Palm Springs for the Indian Wells Tennis Tournament.

Something about the heat and the professional tennis players rejuvenates me. I am better able to get through the last few months of winter. Sometimes winter can last until June in our pretty valley.

This year the dates coincided with Courtney’s 18th birthday, so I asked her to join me. Courtney, who is a high school tennis player, jumped at the chance to watch the pros play. We also decided to spend a couple of days in LA to visit my niece, Courtney’s cousin, and her beautiful baby boy.

This extra detour extended my time away to six days. The usual four day limit to John's single parenting was pushed to the max. Luckily and happily, everyone survived and we are home safe and sound!

We had a great time, and the remedy worked. Today, I am able to smile despite the cold and six new inches of snow. Courtney’s birthday was a big success and we had a great time together. I hope I created memories that will last her a life time. Soon she is off to college, and I fear our time together will be limited.

Each year I meet some of my Chicago gang at the tournament. One of the girls who came this year (I use girls euphemistically) is an avid reader of Alex’s story. V. (name abbreviated to protect the innocent) also has a child with challenges, and has always been a great friend when I need encouragement and/or compassion around our struggles.

V. suggested I write a blog about missing Alex, specifically “do I miss Alex?” My immediate reaction was no, I do not miss Alex. How could I write about my happiness in being away from her? But then a day later, after I thought this through, I realized yes, I do miss Alex too. It is a yes and no answer. Thanks V. for the great idea!

I did not miss Alex. I did not have to get up to make breakfast for Alex or get her up for school. I did not listen to her whine about food, showering or clothing. I did not have to deal with her homework, sports issues or obsession with the Disney channel. It was quiet and peaceful for me.

But I did not forget about Alex either; as the parent of a disabled child it is really hard to not think about your child. I thought about Alex’s school, her soccer practice, and her skiing practice. I thought about her weight, and the food sneaking. I wondered if she was behaving at school, or writing notes to cute boys.

Alex called or texted me every day with the “I miss you message”. Did this make me feel guilty? Absolutely not. I enjoyed my independence and my friends. I loved being with Courtney in an environment that was about her, not her sister. I felt free and alive.

I missed Alex. I yearned for her smile, and her sense of humor. I missed her daily notes, and pride in her work. I missed her joy in the world. Her hugs and I love yous cannot be replaced by anyone. I felt I was missing part of myself and my identity.

In all this missing and not missing, one thing I have learned was reinforced. It is absolutely necessary for parents to leave their children for short periods of time. I believe this is particularly true if the child has special needs; my sanity is at risk.

I do not think I could be a good parent if I did not remove myself from parenting every once in awhile. Having a disabled child can be all consuming, and one can get lost in the disability. Our kids have so many challenges, as well as triumphs; taking a break minimizes the bad and maximizes the good. It is a needed respite for every parent.

Leaving brings reality back into my life, and renews my humor. It was quiet and peaceful, but today I feel free and alive. I am whole. Am I ready to leave again? No, not for awhile.

I love my family and I love the joy Alex brings to our lives.Courtney, Alex and Tom are the magic in my life.

I guess that means I did miss Alex after all!

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