Coming to Colorado for a month was, as I’ve mentioned, no small undertaking. The cost, planning and logistics aside, we all had to make some sacrifices to be here: the comfort of our own beds, proximity to family and friends, abandoning our gardens, the absence of a familiar routine.
The one person who probably felt this the most, because she had the least to say about it, was Sara. And she has really been pretty amazing through it all. It was asking a whole lot of an eleven year old girl to move two time zones away from her best friends and her beloved riding lessons, in the middle of summer, just so her parents could spend a disproportionate amount of time and attention on one of her siblings. Although we’ve tried to do our best to make sure that there were some adventures for her along the way – manning an ATV and scaling a peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, to name just two – this has absolutely, positively been The Becca Show.
Make no mistake, there is no way we could have done this without Sara. That’s no exaggeration. She became the de facto babysitter for hours upon hours upon hours of therapy time. Sometimes, she not only had Libby to wrangle but Bex, too. And as I sit here and really think on it, I can honestly say that she never once complained about it. I mean, her eyes may have said “I’m pretty much over this,” but she soldiered on. It’s really remarkable.
On Day One the five of us walked into STAR, not knowing what to expect. Rob and Becca and I had a two hour eval block that day, which left Sara to manage Libby while we were back in the gym. We checked on her a time or two, and things were well in hand; the waiting area in a clinic that caters to the SPD crowd has plenty of things for little kids to do to stay occupied while they wait for their appointments, so Libby had lots of toys to distract her. The next day, Juay, the receptionist, commented on how fantastically Sara handled Libby while we were gone. I think she expect to have to manage a train wreck in our absence; instead, Juay couldn’t say enough good things about how well Sara talked, played with, and redirected her baby sister. When we said she was only eleven Juay was shocked – she had assumed she was at least 16.
Sara has always been an old soul, born at a time when there was a fair amount of stress and heartache in our lives, then followed by a few years of recalculating a route which had been blown irretrievably off course. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t that way, but I think she wears it well.
During our follow-up with Mim after the initial assessment she asked us about our concerns and goals for Becca. One of the first that I had was how we could include Sara in this plan. Sara loves being a big sister, and she’s a good one. But like her Papa and baby sister, Sara likes to play hard and fast and because of this Bex has always held her just a little bit at arm’s length. It’s hard to see what appears to be a three year old rejecting her big sister, but as we’ve come to learn “hard and fast” are just way too overwhelming for Bex. Sara has never said anything explicitly, but I suspect she feels Becca’s flight from this kind of play as rejection, too. So for me, finding a way to repair that connection was important.
When we first got here we talked with Sara about why we made this trip – how we needed help trying to unravel the mystery that is Becca, how we hoped it would help her grow in all of her skills, and how we were thinking long term about how she would do in school, or even where she would go to school. These are big thoughts for a young mind, but it seemed important to give Sara a framework for understanding the chaos that we had opened ourselves up to this summer. In typical Sara fashion she took it all in without really providing us any insight to how she felt about it.
Because of the type of program this is, therapy time has always been limited to just me, Rob and Bex. Rob and I have talked to Sara about what we are doing and learning, in as much as we can communicate what we ourselves are struggling to process. But today, after three and a half weeks of waiting in the wings, Sara got to participate, too. While Rob wrangled Libby I played with Becca, bouncing around the gym as we do, trying my best to model all of the things that we have been learning: follow her lead; slow down; get down at her level; support – not too little, not too much; give her time to decompress; connect, connect, connect. At the same time Mim was explaining to Sara, my amazing, wise, tender-hearted eleven year old, what I was doing and why. And pretty soon Mim had Sara get in on the play, too. She did her very best to slow down, to wait, to follow Becca’s lead. And I could tell: IT WAS HARD. So hard for my adventure girl who loves to run and climb and jump and twirl through life. But she did it. She got in the ball pit and pretended to be asleep so Becca could wake her up. She climbed up the tower and helped Becca onto the zip line – never once asking if she could do it herself (although I am absolutely certain she was dying inside). She followed Bex over to the exercise balls and went, slowly, from ball to ball until she got the one that Becca wanted. And I couldn’t have done it better myself, to tell you the truth.
As the appointment started to wind down Mim and I talked about what she had shared with Sara and how I hoped we could work on doing more things at home. At the same time I spied Sara, across the gym, helping Bex up the climbing wall – because, of course she is. But something different was happening here. Sara wasn’t egging Becca on to climb like she usually does, because it’s something she would want to do; this time Sara was standing behind, supporting Bex for as long as she wanted to climb. And when she was done, she turned to Sara and reached for her and hugged her. A big, bear hug around the neck.
I was over the moon. Sara was, too.
Sara really is the unsung hero in our little story. We asked so much of her and she got comparatively little in return. But maybe, just maybe, in addition to scaling that Rocky Mountain peak and wheeling around on the ATV, maybe that hug today made a lot of her efforts worthwhile.
My kids. I tell you, every single one of them makes me a better person. It’s a hard job, but being a mother worthy of knowing and raising these girls is the best gig in the world. I’m so lucky I got it and I’m so honored to do it. It’s a job that won’t last forever though, and I need to make sure I get it right – for all of them.