This photo collage represents a culmination of efforts over the last 20+ years. Last week, our family flew from Phoenix, Arizona, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to see my oldest son fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a major league baseball player.
At first glance, you may only see the part of the story that celebrates Blake’s accomplishment of making it to the MLB. When I tell you he was drafted in 2015 out of high school and that it has taken him eight years grinding in the minor leagues with four different teams to reach this goal, you may think about all the hard work and tenacity it took him to finally reach his goal.
But this photo collage actually tells a much deeper story.
It tells a story of how everyone in our family matters. That we don’t leave anyone behind when we work together as a family unit for the benefit of us all.
What you don’t necessarily see in this photo collage or think about is the 19 years that Liam has spent learning how to best support his big brother’s dreams and goals while learning how to simply navigate in a world that is challenging for him.
You don’t see the thousands and thousands of hours it took to work with Liam so that he is able to tolerate learning one day that the next day we are completely turning his schedule upside down to fly across the country to support his brother for four days – in an unfamiliar place, with an unfamiliar routine, without all his creature comforts of home, living in a hotel, spending many hours each day at the ballpark and when it’s all over, flying home to try to re-engage in his usual routine after the next week has already started.
You also don’t see all the hours Blake spent generously and faithfully supporting Liam while he learned how to do these things. How there were times I wasn’t able to be in the stands to support him because of Liam’s services, the kind of day he was having, or because he was not able to stay calm and engaged for an entire game. How sometimes he had to catch rides with teammates or only have one parent with him or communicate at a more mature level with coaches because of challenges that had arisen with Liam.
It’s so easy as a parent of a child with a disability, special needs or just extra needs to put the focus and emphasis on the child who needs more practical support . It’s easy to say to yourself that you and your other family members just have to accept the reality that one needs more. And sometimes they really do. But it is critical that you find a way to make sure no one in your family is left behind or left out. That you work as a team. That you find ways to prioritize each person’s time and attention. That may mean that sometimes you may have to choose to skip or cancel some therapy sessions. You may have to choose to accept less services to free up time in your schedule. You may need to prioritize how many extra activities your family is involved in or if it’s necessary to miss a day of school in order to support another family member that really needs it. You may need to figure out how to get outside help. Or like us, you may need to work on the skills needed for thousands of hours to be able to successfully navigate four exciting, amazing and life-changing days for someone in our family.
I was not always good at this. In fact I really sucked at this in the early years of Liam’s diagnosis. But there is no way I could have supported, encouraged and advocated for what Blake needed to have a chance to fulfill his childhood dream of being a professional baseball player if I did not make conscious choices that sometimes were not the most beneficial for Liam in the moment (like missing a therapy session or taking a day off school or spending more time watching movies or playing longer on his tablet). I found it was critical to look at all the needs of the family and find the best option as a whole instead of making Liam’s needs the priority and fitting everyone else around that.
Let me tell you, it is no easy feat being the parent of an elite athlete and a child with disabilities at the same time. But I will never regret teaching both my boys that everyone in our family matters. So, when I got the call in the middle of the night that Blake was being promoted to the MLB, it was no question whatsoever. Liam and I were going to be there to support him during his debut weekend. We have all worked very hard to get where we are as a family. I am so grateful for both my boys and I am extremely proud of both their accomplishments that were on full display during this momentous occasion.
I hope you consider what this looks like in your family and how you can either celebrate that you are working as a well-oiled machine together or consider what changes you might need to make going forward. Yesterday is in the past, today is halfway gone, but tomorrow you can choose to make sure no one in your family is left behind or left out and start making small changes that will help you reach that bigger goal. If we can do it, so can you!