Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Every Parent's Nightmare

I'd be lying if I said what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary isn't something that every parent has nightmares about. Not just parents like the parents of the 20 innocent children who died that day. Parents like those of Adam Lanza, the shooter. Parents like those of Nancy Lanza, the shooter's mother. Parents like those of Rachel D'Avino, behavioral therapist; Dawn Hochsprung, principal; Anne Marie Murphy, special education teacher; Lauren Rousseau, teacher's aide; Mary Sherlach, school psychologist; and Victoria Soto, first grade teacher.

We all have hopes and dreams for our children. Those hopes and dreams evolve over time, and don't always end up the same as they start off. You look at the innocent babe lying in your arms and dream for her to be happy and healthy and bring joy and love to your home. You look at your active and curious toddler and dream for him to be smart and athletic and make you proud to be his parent. You look at your scared, yet excited young child entering preschool or kindergarten and dream for her to find friends and for her to be a good friend to others. You look into your child's eyes and just know that her teacher will find her just as incredible and fascinating and special as you do.

Sometimes those things happen, and sometimes they don't. When they don't, your hopes and dreams for your child change. Hopefully there is a positive spin on those changes. Like the day I realized that the qualities that drove me the craziest in my youngest child would be the qualities that would take her far in life. Not quite so endearing in a 3 year old, but as a 23 year old she was going to rule the world. So while I tried to curb those qualities to help her with day to day living, I still fostered and encouraged them.

Sometimes you have to keep your dreams for your child quiet, or your child will rebel against those dreams and do something totally different. I have known since my oldest daughter was 3 years old that she would be a teacher. I didn't know what age level or in what subject matter she would excel, but as a mother, I knew. She had many interests over the years, ones that I knew would be wonderful hobbies and pastimes for her to enjoy as an adult. Soccer, cross country and other sports would keep her active and healthy. Photography would be an outlet for her creative side. But I knew neither of those were her destiny. As a freshman in high school, she had to formulate a "4-year plan" that would help her toward her eventual career path. She had to state what she wished to go to college for and what classes would help her along the way. She said she wanted to be a photo-journalist, so art, photography and English classes would help her toward her goal.

Due to a less-than-pleasant experience showing livestock at the state fair as a 4-H member, she reluctantly joined FFA in hopes of a more organized livestock show. Joining FFA was the catalyst for her eventual career path change. After meeting some people who have become long-term friends, as well as enjoying herself in FFA activities and showing a natural aptitude toward many of the areas of FFA, she made the decision that she wanted to become an Agriculture Education teacher and an FFA instructor. It was a proud moment as a mom, knowing that my gut feeling when she was a 3-year-old was right; she was a born teacher! 

Had my daughter never come to this decision on her own, I would still have been proud of whatever she would become. My dream was for her to become a teacher, but if she had been flying across the globe to take photos in beautiful or dangerous or solitary surroundings, I would still have been proud of her. Proud of her for doing what she loved. 

What do we do if we find out there is a medical issue with our child that will probably alter their life path and change our hopes and dreams all together? We roll with it. There is a reason for it, whether we know what that reason is or not. We may never know that reason. It honestly doesn't matter if you find out your child has cystic fibrosis or is diagnosed on the autism spectrum. You still love your children and you still have hopes and dreams for them. 

Too often I hear about parents who are overly dramatic about a curve in the road of their children's lives. They receive a diagnosis and say, "All of my hopes and dreams for my child are completely shattered!" My first thought is, "Really? Shattered? At most there might be a crack or two, but shattered?" To me that indicates that a parent's hopes and dreams were too specific and too self-centered for that child. Hope differently! Change the outcome of your dream! 

Or there are parents of children who come out to their families as gay or lesbian, and those parents shut that child out of their lives. Sometimes not totally, but it is obvious that they have shut that child out of their hearts. How heartbreaking for that child! Each comment from those parents is like another knife in the heart! "It isn't what I dreamed for him." "I always hoped for my daughter to marry the man of her dreams and settle down to give me grandchildren." "I wanted him to become a great and successful businessman." "Since she is living with another woman she will never know the joy of being pregnant, being a mother."

I hear these hurtful and completely thoughtless comments and I am amazed humans seem to live in such a black and white world. No, it might not be what you dreamed for him, but didn't you ever dream he would be happy? No, your daughter might not settle down with the man of her dreams, but couldn't it be the woman of her dreams? Your son can be a great and successful businessman no matter his sexual orientation. Many women living as a couple or as spouses know the joys of pregnancy and the joy of being a mother. 

Which brings me to my original point; there are parents of 20 children in Connecticut whose hopes and dreams for their children are truly shattered. There are gifts under a tree that will not be opened as planned. There are closets full of clothing that will no longer be worn. There are toy chests full of toys that won't be played with anymore. And there are hopes and dreams that will never come true. They won't ever have the joy of watching their children grow up. Those children will forever be six and seven years old. 

Think about those parents when you overreact to something your child tells you. The conversation your child will have with you about their latest issue or problem (being pregnant, dropping out of college, dating someone of a different race, getting in a car wreck, failing a class, not making the honor roll, telling you about his/her sexual orientation) is nothing compared to the conversation 27 sets of parents had with the police last week in Connecticut.