My kids did something bad yesterday. Really bad. Patrick made some really bad choices. Caroline helped instigate it and Mary Kate got in on it a little too late. All the way around it was bad, with a capital B. There were a lot of tears...some yelling and the ever present, awkward intruder who always makes his presence known as the unwanted houseguest he is, blame.
There was no getting around it. Patrick had the choice between right and wrong and he chose wrong. When I asked him why he would choose wrong he told me an honest truth: "Because I wanted to." Since that is usually the reason we all choose wrong I wasn't surprised by his motivation -- just a little bit stunned at his candor. I had my lecture all ready for being honest and telling the truth...he beat me to it and spoke the truth. I had to change it up and talk about why we must stop ourselves and choose right and refuse to do the things we want to -- especially when they are wrong. I had to hold up the mirror to his moment and help him see how it was wrong...had to help him see the dark side within himself...and those of you who think people with Down Syndrome are "angels" who are "happy all the time" and are "pure" and can never make wrong choices well...you might want to rethink that.
I have seen Patrick be sneaky, dishonest, and even a little mean. It's not very often, but it's not an impossibility. I remember the first time he tried to manipulate me, he was only five. I smiled and cheered inwardly...it was age appropriate and fantastic! He was trying to find a way to get his needs met and he knew I was going to shut him down. Like any ordinary kid, he tried the sneaky way. It didn't work but I was proud of the effort.
As Patrick begins to navigate the older world, the stakes are higher. Like all teenagers, he can mess it up big time. But just because he has Down Syndrome doesn't mean that he should be protected and prevented from blowing it.
My tolerance for my kids making mistakes has grown. When my kids were younger I wanted to be the buffer between any misfortune and my child. I wanted to point out the obvious pitfalls and have them avoid them. Now I know that this is where the real learning takes place. This terrible time, between the tears, the apologetic hugs, in the thick of feeling forgiveness and regret is where the character building happens and where kids decide what kind of person they want to be.
We had a long conversation about making the hard decisions...about choosing right even when no one is watching...about knowing the differences and following through. It was sad and bad and pit-in-the-stomach queasy but that is what parenting is about. It's about seeing the dark side and facing it head on. It's about confronting a problem and not sweeping it under the rug. It's about holding up a mirror to our children and ourselves. It's a hard, hard road but one I'd never miss.
Caroline's take away from that hard day was both heart-warming and heart-wrenching. No, moms and dads are not going to run away. We're here to stay and yes, we will not let you choose wrong. We're here to make it clear and help you become the person you are meant to be. We're sticking around and seeing this through. We love you, mistakes and all.
So today I'm grateful that I get to be here, day in and day out, helping my kids learn how to be good, kind people...even when they are learning it the hard way.