Seven years ago, to the day, I was lying in a hospital bed, staring straight into the eyes of my brand-new life: Kellan Robert Gaudelli. A nurse named Alina walked in and said with her thick Russian accent, “How’s my genius boy doing?”
I replied, “He’s good, we were having a staring contest.”
Alina began to take Kellan’s vitals and said to me, “I see many babies, but he is special…genius boy.”
I smiled, thinking about how she probably said that to all the new moms. But, seven years later, I believe she saw something in Kellan that was different, something special and unique.
Kellan turned seven years old a few days ago. Every year on the night before his birthday I re-read my journals from the previous years [with him]. I watch the YouTube video I made for him a few hours before he entered the world. And I continue to marvel at how much this little human has taught his 46-year-old mom in seven short years. You have all heard me refer to him as my greatest professor, and there is no one better equipped for the role. As a parent, you think you’re the one teaching and instructing your child. But do you ever think about what your child has taught you? I do. Through this reflection, I’ve come to believe that it is no coincidence that I was gifted with this amazing little boy. For the past seven years, Kellan has granted me a gift. These gifts entail all that he has taught me about parenthood, myself, and life. As he grows older, with each priceless gift, I grow more into my best self.
*40 weeks prego, ready to pop
Today, I story-tell about the seven gifts Kellan has presented me with in each of his magnificent years of life. I hope this share encourages you to think about what gifts your children have bestowed upon you…I am sure there are many.
Year 1: The Gift of…
I am fully aware of how blessed I was to get pregnant as easily as I did at 39 years old, and in the most non-traditional way (Intrauterine insemination) at that. To then have a healthy pregnancy where I felt great every step of the way isn’t something I took for granted. It was during the first trimester, when Kellan was basically the size of a grape, that my gratitude practice began. Every day since then, I have kept a gratitude journal, writing each day what I am thankful for. Cultivating gratitude has been scientifically linked to better health, less anxiety and depression, a higher satisfaction with life, and a greater sense of joy. What I have found in practicing gratitude, is it amplifies all the good – and who doesn’t want more of that in their life?
Year 2: The Gift of…
Never underestimate a woman’s intuition. It truly is a female superpower. I didn’t activate mine until I became a Mom. As moms, we are so in tune with our children, and it was around Kellan’s 2nd birthday that I started to identify his difference, when it became clear that his needs were unique and special. He had missed many of the childhood milestones (walking/talking/pointing). My motherly instincts kicked in and I started to assemble the arsenal of doctors/therapists/caregivers/diet/etc. that would help him thrive in his own time. To all the mom’s out there who are second-guessing themselves: don’t. You know your kid best. You have the power to give them what they need. If something doesn’t feel right, activate those magical intuitive superpowers because they’ll never lead you wrong.
Year 3: The Gift of…
When Kellan turned three, I was awakened to parenting a child with Autism. Kellan was diagnosed with ASD that year, and I had to learn all there was to know about Autism. I am a researcher by trade, so I was able to weed through the alarming data and digest only what I needed to know to give Kellan what he required to reach his fullest potential. I connected with resourceful special needs online communities (Special Moms Network of Westchester, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) Support, etc. ), I found an incredible tribe of specialists/therapists/advocates, and I surrounded myself with supportive people. The rest was purely Intuition (gift #2). This year awoke the grizzly within, knowing the challenges/obstacles/barriers Kellan and I would face in this less-than-compassionate, accepting, and aware world. However, we forged ahead, eyes & heart wide open.
Year 4: The Gift of…
If you know me, you know they skipped over me when they were handing out patience. My reservoir of patience is reserved for parenting, and I work hard to increase that supply regularly. Patience is a fundamental skill that needs to be cultivated when you’re a parent, because kids test it on the daily. When you’re a parent of a child with special needs…well let’s just say the tests are a bit more difficult and the answers aren’t found in any parenting book. In Kellan’s fourth year, my patience had taken a beaten and I felt like I was failing out of parenting school. I remember sitting on my bed one day with my head in my hands, short of breath, on the brink of losing my mind. I took a deep breath, and then another – and I continued doing that for 10 counts. Deep inhales followed by strong, vocal exhales. That process not only helped immensely at the time, but it has become my go-to when my reservoir is nearing empty. When I have little to give. I breathe. And then I breathe some more. That breathing has led to a meditation practice (apps i love: headspace/calm/insight timer). And that my friends, has not only increased my level of patience but lessens the weight when it gets too heavy to carry. Breathe.
Year 5: The Gift of…
I have always been strong-minded and decisive. These are traits of mine that I am most proud of, and they serve a great purpose when it comes to parenting a child with Autism. My son has specific needs and I will slay dragons to get him what he requires. It was during this year that I saw the education system fail him (or at least try to):
First, his school informed me that they didn’t have any more room for outside district children, and that I would need to find another school. Here’s the thing: I liked this school. Kellan liked this school. So, what does an awoken grizzly mom do in this situation? She moves. Kellan and I packed up our lives and moved into that district, just so he could have a spot in his Kindergarten class.
Second, I realized just how on top of your child’s educational development a parent must be. My goal for Kellan is for one day to be mainstreamed. I know where Kellan currently belongs, and that is within a structured special ed program. But I also know where his potential lies, and that is eventually in a mainstream classroom, learning alongside neuro-typical kids. So, I advocate, and persist, and go to battle not just for what he needs, but also for him to strive and surpass what is expected of him, today and in the future. I realized in his 5th year, that this gift of determination would come in handy.
Year 6: The Gift of…
I have always considered myself a kind and thoughtful person but raising a child with special needs increased by empathy towards others. Kellan has taught me to lead with kindness, and to stand in compassion with those struggling. This was the year I had to stand in my son’s shoes and peer through his lens, to better understand what he was going through. It was in this year that Kellan’s anxiety reared its ugly head. Some days it debilitated him, and I felt that I was to blame (as I spoke about in one of my earlier blogs). I felt like I had handed my struggle with anxiety down to him and the shame was real. At the time, I hired a well-known special education advocate to help put a plan together at school, and as we were talking one day I expressed my shame to her. She turned to me and said, “Do you see the love and kindness and compassion you have for your son and others like him? You need to share some of that with yourself. You’re not to blame for this. You need to give yourself a break. Children with Autism often suffer from anxiety – anything can set it off, but it’s common. So, please stop beating yourself up and put into place a self-compassion practice.” Whereas I still closely monitor the ebbs and flows of Kellan’s anxiety, I still reflect back on her thoughtful advice and I no longer go down the rabbit-hole of shame/blame.
Year 7: The Gift of…
Hey Moms, when are we ever going to learn? Why do we sacrifice our own wellbeing for a to-do list? We suffer because of it. As Kellan’s birthday approached, the seventh gift began to emerge. As I grow into parenthood, and what It means to be a good mother, I recognize that self-care is non-negotiable. To be the mom that Kellan is so deserving of, I need to show up more for myself. With that said, Kellan has become more tolerable and accepting of me, doing me, without him. I believe he began to understand, as he reaped the rewards of a Mom who was refueled, refreshed and ready to Mom-hard! So, in his 7th year, I’m implementing self-care rituals as part of my daily practice (meditating, exercising, reading, journaling, friend-outings, vacations, etc.), plus I plan a weekly date with me, myself & I. I used to think that this was selfish, or that I would feel guilty for needing time away from my son, but in this brand-spankin’ new year, I realize that self-care is the life vest that keeps Kellan and I afloat.
So, thank you, Kellan, for giving your Mom such beautiful gifts and allowing her to celebrate the greatest among them: YOU.
Janis Gaudelli is The Founder of The Daily Feels. She started this passion project to reveal the magic behind storytelling, and how truth-based narratives bring people together in the most heart-warming of ways. Fascinated by soul, depth, intellect, raw truths and rebellion with a cause. Often captivated by the awe of nature. Fiercely curious about the inner-workings of the human psyche, as she professionally studies human behavior for a living. Forever proud and grateful for being a mom to the force that fuels her life: her 7-year-old son, and greatest professor, Kellan.