“But How Are You- Really?”

While I’m sure this probably isn’t just a southern thing, my whole life I’ve followed, my greeting of choice- “Hey,” -with, “How are you?” It just sort of runs together and people usually answer with the obligatory, “Fine, thanks,” or “I’m good. How are you?”

We all say it, because let’s face it – do people really want to know how we are? Does the acquaintance I see in the restroom really want to hear the whole, sorted story of my life at the moment? Does the cashier at the grocery store really care what my typical day is like?

True friends love us through our snark and are woman (or man) enough to tell us to get off our pity pot or conversely lend us that shoulder to cry on at just the right time.

The friends that ask, “But how are you – really?” and really want to know. My momma was that kind of friend. I’m so grateful for those friends.

Now, I don’t want to be that special-needs mom who just writes to complain how hard and constant it is,  how different or dependent, or sick my child is.  I have written such things at times because I think those who don’t live our kind of life need a glimpse in order to give parents and families of those with special-needs the understanding that is so needed and desired at times.

I also have three neuro-typical children and as much as I’ve tried to treat Joshua the same, his needs are different, his development is different, and parenting him is just, well, different.

Parenting any child – babies to young adults and in between, special-needs or not- is one tough job. But it’s the one I love with everything I am.

But some days, dang it, I just want to say, “I’m tired. I’m over adulting and want to just do something fun. I don’t always feel like the “strong mom.” But I have to be to because I am the mom and there is no break, no vacation because even if I were able to get away, my mind would never rest.

But I tell myself when I’m not good that things could be worse and I’m very blessed. Others would love what many of us complain about and that thought flips my gripe into grateful.

When it comes to “those” days with my son, I remember that he is worth every hard thing I must do.

Recently I was asked at church and I responded, “I’m doing very well,” and I truly was at that specific moment.

But then there is today.

And I’m not really sure how I am. I’m doing the daily, but it lingers somewhere behind, creeping up and in as I plan.

Because in one week from today, even at this very moment as I write, my son- the one with Down syndrome, heart condition, non-verbal autism who can’t tell me his pain level or express his fears – will be having a six to seven- hour surgery to fuse rods into his back in order to fix his 60-degree spinal curve.

Preparing by list-making for the week-long stay, coordinating with my older kids about who wants to be there and determining what to do with my youngest distracts me and I welcome the distraction.

This journey to next week should have been over a year ago. A hump/bump I noticed on his back started in motion a roller-coaster I didn’t see coming. We set a tentative date, and then were hit with another challenge that put the spinal surgery on hold.

Joshua had started at a new school after nine-years at his elementary school (he started at age three and we held him back in 5th grade) and he simultaneously started regurgitating his food. We thought it to be adjustment issues – not liking the cafeteria, the noise, the food. We packed his lunch and tried to figure what made it happen.

Finally, we concluded it must be physical and he had endoscopic surgery. He received a diagnosis of severe inflammation of the esophagus and reflux, with a stricture which inhibited his food from going down.  After several months of medicine, three endoscopies and seeing a nutritionist to help with weight-gain, we returned to the orthopedic surgeon to reassess.

While the reflux was remarkably better, the scoliosis had worsened and surgery became inevitable.

Joshua is never a “typical” case.  Normally, bloodwork and heart tests (EKG and echocardiogram) are done under anesthesia when he has other surgeries. But this time we had to hold him down for them to do these pre-operative tests and he doesn’t understand why and it takes much physical strength (on my husband and teenage son’s part to hold him) and emotional strength because, it honestly breaks my heart to watch.

Surgeries are not new for Joshua. In addition to the  endoscopies, he has numerous dental procedures done under anesthesia, ear tubes, tonsils out, adenoids removed, hearing test (because he can’t respond to the typical ones), ear canals cleaned, tear-duct probe, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something because surgeries and illnesses and hospital stays all run together after a while.

But one I will never forget. Open- heart surgery.  The first and most daunting.

October 30, 2002 is branded in my mind. The anticipatory feelings occasionally rise up and overtake me even almost 14 years later.

I hesitate to say I’m more “used to” him having surgery, but while it doesn’t get easier, it does get familiar.

I remember my daughter having a tear-duct probe as a toddler (same as Joshua) and thinking it was monumental.

Everything is monumental when it comes to our children.

During one meeting with the surgeon, my husband had to leave as he described what he would be doing to fix our precious son’s back.

I listened.

In the car on the way home, I looked at my husband and said, “I’m going to have to cry for a little bit.”

And while spinal surgery isn’t open-heart, it’s still major and while I am honestly okay this very minute, I’m not sure about the next.

I’m pretty certain that the feelings I had turning over my six-month old to a surgeon to fix his broken heart while mine broke too will most likely resurface as I watch my 14 year-old young man-child be wheeled away as I put  my trust in my God and a highly-skilled surgeon.

And I will wait.

And pray.

And cry.

I really haven’t yet cried the ugly cry. Tears have come, but not the real, the body-shaking, tear-streaking, contact-lens fogging, “God, please protect my baby” cry.

There’s something cathartic about weeping. I will let myself at the proper time because I know I will because I know me and I am a mama and I love that boy with every bit of my breath and will fight for him for everything that is in the deepest parts of my soul.

And I know God is listening and will put those tears in a bottle and hold them and hold me and most of all hold Joshua.

So, how am I?

I’m good.


I honestly don’t know.

I’m busy and distracted and putting off the thinking too much. I’m Scarlett O’ Hara and will think about that tomorrow.

I’m grateful as I hear him in the other room making his noises and knowing that when I walk in to check on him, he will smile at me and I will tell him how much I love his face and he will pull it to mine.

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And then I may not be okay.

But he will be, and that is all I need.