By Tracy Moisan
I remember being at an amusement park when I was a kid, clenching the bar of the roller coaster cart tightly in my hands, my entire body tensed and my heart pounding in my chest as that old wooden roller coaster creaked and groaned its way to the top of the seemingly shaky coaster track. The breathless anticipation as we crept higher and higher, knowing that at any second we’d drop over the peak and go hurtling down in a stomach-turning drop, screaming every second of the way. Then the brief pause, catch your breath, and start the next creaky, shaky climb.
Fast forward to today, and I find myself thinking of that old wooden coaster more often than you’d think. Together with my husband, we’re raising three children by adoption, including two young boys who live with FASD (as well as developmental trauma and a myriad of co-existing diagnoses). And with that, we all live with FASD and the roller coaster feelings that it brings to our lives. Those ultra-high highs: the crazy, silly, funny, giggling, exciting moments when everything comes together and I see wonderful glimpses of the essence of who our boys are. And the extreme lows: the moments when they’re struggling, when everything is hard, when the taxing behaviours are in full force, and all your hopes and expectations sink. Often my guys move between the highs and lows with breath-taking speed, leaving me with that whirlwind roller coaster feeling all over again and slightly envious of how quickly they move on to whatever’s next.
Our life--and our family--can be difficult for others to understand, particularly those not walking this path. I think that’s true for many special needs families, and social media only amplifies that effect. We choose to share only the good stuff, both to celebrate those family memories and out of respect for our children and their privacy. On the dark days, it can feel like a lie…looking back at happy, smiling pictures and posts, and thinking of the angry meltdown or violent outburst that came a few minutes later but didn’t make it to Instagram or Facebook. We try to flow through the hard stuff with as much patience and grace as possible--accepting what is, and working to not let ourselves or our kids get stuck there.
Here’s what I’ve come to know…our highs and lows are both equally real. Every twist and turn in this crazy roller coaster we’re on. The exhilarating climbs, and the stomach-churning drops. Like many other parents who are on a similar path, we often feel the pressing need to be hyper-vigilant, trying to look ahead and anticipate the next drop so it can be avoided if possible. That apprehensive waiting is draining for parents like us who are on this wild ride. We learn everything that we can; stay informed of new research and interventions; try everything that may help make things easier or plays to our kids’ strengths; and try to remember to give ourselves a break as often as possible (which is not nearly enough).
FASD is woven into the depth of our lives. We take things day by day. Sometimes, it’s hour by hour. When we need to, it’s minute by minute by minute…and on the really rough days, it can be breath by breath. This life together is not like anything I thought it would be. But it’s all normal. Our normal. So I take a breath, hold on to everyone tight, and start the next climb.