Yesterday was Roo's first official field trip: the local zoo. Our family loves trips to the zoo, and we have had a membership there since Lamb was only a year old. It is not a new place for Roo--in fact, the two of us took a spontaneous trip there just last week! I was so excited when I got the paper that his class would be heading there. For Roo, the more familiar the surroundings, the better. Or so I thought.
Let's just say that the trip didn't go quite as planned. Roo was clingy and crying at first, and I finally decided that it wasn't worth the stress--I would just take him home. (We had driven separately and met his class there.) But about the time we got to the exit, I realized that he had been asking to ride the carousel (Apparently he calls it, "ding, ding, ding!" because they ring a bell at the beginning and ending of each ride. Don't ask me how I figured it out. I think an angel was whispering in my ear or something.), and that seemed to solve everything. After the ride, though, he still seemed agitated and became upset easily if I redirected him or walked to a different display than he had expected. It was frustrating and confusing and so very stressful, for both of us. (We ended up spending most of our time on our own and left early.)
Once I was able to get a little distance from the situation, it left just one thought looping in my head: What we have here is a failure to communicate. (It's from "Cool Hand Luke"... and a Guns 'n' Roses song, but I only know that because of Google.)
This. Communication. My goodness, it's complicated, isn't it? In friendships, in families, in marriages. Good communication is hard.
Communication is the source of some of my greatest joy with Roo. And some of my greatest frustration. When Roo learns a new word or says a whole sentence... oh.my.word. It's a party at my house! Recently he has launched a mission to coin his own catchphrase: "Wow, pancakes!" He says it randomly and regularly. And it is starting to catch on. So.hilarious.
But when we can't communicate... I can't think of much that is more frustrating. I can't ask him about his day. He can't tell me what he learned in church. I constantly have to infer whether he is disobeying out of orneriness or lack of understanding. When he wakes up in the middle of the night, I don't know if he had a nightmare or if he's too cold or too hot or needs a drink or... what. I just know that we both would rather be asleep.
And when I know that he is trying to communicate something but I just can't figure it out, my heart breaks. At the zoo, I just couldn't make him happy--he didn't want to stay, he didn't want to leave, he didn't want to be put down--until I figured out that "ding, ding, ding!" meant "I want to ride the carousel, please, Mommy dear." It's a rush to figure it out, but the work that it takes to get there is oh.so.draining.
Mr. Fantastic and I have a regular exchange--call it an "inside joke", maybe, but it's not necessarily meant to be funny. I'll say, "What am I going to do with this boy?" Sometimes as a joke, other times out of frustration. But always, the answer is the same: My wonderful hubby says, "Just love him."
Just love him. When we have a breakthrough. When we're both getting teary out of frustration. When he says something that sounds like "banana", and I give him one, and he actually eats it! When we're up in the night again. (He'll sleep through the night eventually, right? He's only FIVE, after all...) When I ask him a question and he actually gives me an answer. When I ask him a question and he cries. When I can't tell defiance from misunderstanding. Just love him.
Wouldn't it be lovely if we could apply this to all of our communication issues? When your spouse takes your words the wrong way. Just love him. When your daughter rolls her eyes because you dared to suggest that you might actually know something. Just love her. When your friend pulls away because of her own poor life choices. Just love her. When your coworker just.doesn't.get.it. Just love him.
I've said it before and I will say it again: This Down syndrome journey isn't always easy, but it is so worth it. I am learning so very much... about him, about me, about life.
And also, it's a good thing he's so cute.