When parents talk about the impact their child with special needs has had on their lives, they often talk about learning the true meaning of love, patience, and respect.
Miss Z has taught me all of those things. However, she’s also made me decide to learn to play the ukulele.
Now, most of you readers don’t know me so I should probably explain the importance of that sentence.
And those of you that do know me – stop laughing!
The extent of my experience with music was three years of playing the flute in the middle school band.
When I got to high school, I begged to quit, and my parents – realizing that I was musically talentless and that allowing me to quit would free them from the relentless high pitched squawking they had to endure when I practiced – agreed.
And so I went from high school to university to my working adult life, focusing on the things I’m good at – writing, running, researching, travelling.
That isn’t to say that my life was absent of music. I love listening to music, sometimes even singing, dancing or waving my arms like a conductor – usually in the privacy of my own home or a large group of people (think of a crowded dance floor or concert).
But while I appreciated music, I focused mainly on activities in which I was confident of my skills. My comfort zone.
My comfort zone not only includes doing things that I’m confident I can do well, but also avoiding things where I might look foolish, incompetent or weird.
When my first daughter was born, it did challenge my comfort zone – but not that much, since she was a happy and easy-going and charmed everyone she met.
And then Miss Z arrived and everything changed. My comfort zone was a thing of the past.
I had always claimed that I was no good with medical things – blood made me queasy, I had to look away from needles or injections (even on TV), and I never knew what to do in an emergency situation.
But suddenly, I had a medically fragile child with uncontrolled seizures and “no good with medical things” was no longer an option.
My proudest moment was when an emergency services operator asked me if I was a doctor when I calmly recited all the vital information on Miss Z when calling for an ambulance.
And as time has gone on, I’ve had to learn to deal with being stared at and judged in public, too.
Being stretchered out of a large grocery store with Miss Z in my arms was probably the crowning moment of my “everyone really is staring at you” fear.
But to be honest, I wasn’t thinking about who was staring at me because I was focused on my daughter who was having a prolonged seizure.
Less dramatically, Miss Z has an uncanny ability to cough, gag, retch and vomit at the least convenient times – but I’ve learned to deal with that too, including giving any gawking or concerned passerby a pleasant smile and saying “she’s fine, its all under control”.
The strange part is, by pushing me out of my comfort zone in this way, Miss Z has also made me more willing to try new things that might not fall within my conventional idea of what I’m good at.
It started with knitting. I’m not artistic or crafty. But last year, Miss Z spent a lot of time in hospital and I needed something to do while I sat beside her bed, day after day.
Someone suggested knitting. So, I went out and bought some yarn and needles and watched a few YouTube how-to videos.
I wasn’t particularly good at it, but it filled that gap in the hospital and was an excellent conversation starter with other parents, nurses and doctors.
For Christmas, my family all received dodgy homemade knitted scarves – which they were all very gracious about – and I was pretty proud of my achievement.
It was during another visit to the hospital that I fell in love with the ukulele.
There were two hospital clowns visiting kids and they suddenly appeared at Miss Z’s bedside.
I was skeptical and about to send them away – Miss Z doesn’t interact well with strangers (let alone strangers with multi-coloured hair and red noses) and it always gets a bit awkward when entertainers expect her to respond and she doesn’t…
But then one of the clowns pulled out a ukulele and started singing a lullaby while the other blew bubbles around the bed. Miss Z immediately relaxed and smiled.
And when it was over I wanted to hug both clowns for giving us such a magical moment.
Since then, I’ve wanted to learn to play the ukulele. After all, if I can learn to knit from YouTube, why can’t I learn the ukulele?
My wedding anniversary is coming up and I (accidentally) discovered that my husband has bought me a ukulele as a gift.
Not a traditional gift – and I suspect he will regret it when he has to listen to me try to play – but exciting!
If I can learn just one song, it will be a huge accomplishment.
And that is something I never would have tried if it hadn’t been for Miss Z.
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