Over the last twelve years, I've kept a running record in my head of events and celebrations I will miss out on as a parent of two special needs kids. If I'm not careful, that record will consume me and overwhelm me. Recognizing this, I try to focus on the positive and I've kept an equally long list of events and celebrations that I've been able to experience because I'm the parent of two special needs kids. I know I have mentioned them from time to time on this blog. Mark and I will always have Santa... We greatly appreciate milestones like new words, first steps, learning to kick a soccer ball, memorizing bus numbers, and other "little things". I know these milestones make all parents smile, but they make Mark and I do the happy dance!
My boys are involved with Special Olympics and we live in an area that has an average age somewhere in the high 60's. So there aren't that many kids around - much less those with developmental delays. And of that subset with delays, very few are involved with Special Olympics. So up until the last two years, Zach was pretty much the only kid under the age of 18. (Fortunately, Zach's best friend, Andy and his brother have started participating.) Anyway, we are used to Zach "competing" against adults and Zach doesn't care, he just likes having fun!
Swimming was the first sport we tried and for the first five years, he was in the flotation division. At the swim meets, he was competed in a small indoor pool away from the rest of the athletes. Zach had fun and enjoyed himself, but I always felt like we were missing out on the main action. I didn't really care about the competitions and if we missed them because something better came up, then I was ok with it! We usually dropped out of the practices by late July anyway.
Well, this year, we took our family trip in early July and while we were away, the coaches decided that Zach was ready for the big leagues... the big pool... with the big kids! Last year, we were told he was ready, but then he ended up in flotation anyway. To say I was proud and excited about Zach's advancements was an understatement!
And this is what you're missing: the camaraderie and excitement of the parents, athletes and coaches over little achievements and baby steps is inspiring. I played sports as a kid, but I've never seen this much excitement over an athlete's accomplishments. And it wasn't just Zach's achievement. Anytime an athlete swims faster than before or farther than before, the pool erupts into cheers and high fives. These athletes don't feel jealous. They don't say, "Man, I never get better." No! They genuinely want to celebrate their friend. I don't ever recall those true sentiments when I played sports! I wish I could feel that way now when one of my friends shares a record or accomplishment. I hate to admit it, but part of me is jealous. If someone runs really fast, or loses weight, or gets a raise, or a new house, I'm not 100% thrilled - I'm definitely in the 90's but it's not 100% like I've witnessed with Special Olympics! Those athletes are inspiring and I want more of the joy they have!