Tina Szymczak

My husband and I tried for years to conceive a baby of our own. When it didn’t happen we moved easily to pursuing adoption. We had heard horror stories of waiting for years to be chosen to adopt. We decided early on that we wouldn’t ask for a baby or even a toddler. We would open our hearts and home to a preschooler and we took the required course, filled out piles of paperwork and completed several hours of interviews. We then were quickly matched with a little boy. We were given full disclosure through several meetings and reviewing his file. We decided that despite his rough start to life we wanted to become his parents. 

We met him and fell hopelessly in love with the little boy with the big tummy from eating celebratory fries at childcare in celebration of his new family. The transition was fairly painless though each night that we returned him to the foster home I cried as we pulled away and we fell in to bed exhausted from entertaining a 3 year old all day. What we didn’t realize was that our new son’s energy wasn’t just high because he was new to our family but rather that he was hardwired that way. Once he came home forever it dawned on us that we were way in over our heads. 

That enigmatic little boy was constantly on the go. He got into everything, demanded attention every waking hour and threw tantrums the likes we had never seen before (and I work with children with behavioural needs). We were in over our heads from day one but we persevered and sought assistance and hung on for dear life. We just kept waiting for our lives to get back to normal. I remember about a week after I returned to work after parental leave, I was in the file room at work and I just stopped still as a thought hit me – my life would never be “normal” again. That normal no longer existed. We had to make a new normal. 

The years both inched and flew by. Our son went through crisis after crisis and we walked down those difficult paths with him. It seemed it would never end. His mental health struggles coloured our whole lives and we waited and waited to find a “new normal” that didn’t include rages and holing up in our home, afraid to venture out for fear of what would happen. In that waiting we lost something – we lost years of living typical lives – play dates, summer camp, sleepovers and us adults being invited to friends houses since we had the uncontrollable child who was a bad influence on their precious innocent children. I spent hour after hour on the phone advocating for my son. I spent hour after hour in meetings trying to get our son the help he needed. Days wasted in him being suspended from school. Jobs lost because it is hard to hold one down when I was constantly being called to go pick him up. Throughout it all I battled my own depression, deep seeded but fueled by the stress and lack of sleep from being a mother to children with high needs. I faltered several times and had to be hospitalized on a few occasions.  

We missed out on so much that it took awhile for us to realize that the children were older, stable and that we had slipped into a new normal that we could all live with.  Where we were once again being invited to people’s homes and parties. We bought a trailer and began to camp, arranging to meet up with friends from long ago. We began to create good memories. Sadly our children were older and it is just the hard truth that we have lost things that can never be recovered. I can’t rewrite history. I can’t forget that my youngest at 4 years old asked me from the back of the van if he could have a meeting with us, his parents, because that was the only way he could think of to get attention from us. All I can do now is move forward and hope that the new memories can somehow make up for years of lost ones. That both my boys can forgive me. People are quick to tell me I am too hard on myself but the truth is I wasn’t able to be there for them both the way they needed. It’s momma guilt that I have to reckon with on my own. 

Momma to momma – cherish those early days. I know it seems easy for me to say and you don’t have to have children with special needs to take something from these words I write here. The tantrums will one day be over. They will begin to sleep through the night.One day you will be able to leave the room without them destroying the house. You will be able to use the washroom by yourself. They will no longer ask you to play with them. Hold them, kiss them and play with them now. The dishes, the phone calls and the internet will wait for another time. Let them crawl into bed with you when they have a nightmare and watch endless shows with them when they are sick. It’s okay that you are not perfect, just be there. One day they will put themselves to sleep and take a shower on their own (though it may take a week to get them into the shower). One day they will begin to go to friends houses to play and sleep over. They will get part time jobs and you will start to make dinner just for you (or eat cereal for dinner cause it is easier). One day the most you see of them will be as they take your keys and head out the door. Cherish the early days and do not put so much pressure on yourself. They don’t need the latest things or the best clothes. They don’t need endless sports and activities. They need you. Just you. 

My husband and I tried for years to conceive a baby of our own. When it didn’t happen we moved easily to pursuing adoption. We had heard horror stories of waiting for years to be chosen to adopt. We decided early on that we wouldn’t ask for a baby or even a toddler. We would open our hearts and home to a preschooler and we took the required course, filled out piles of paperwork and completed several hours of interviews. We then were quickly matched with a little boy. We were given full disclosure through several meetings and reviewing his file. We decided that despite his rough start to life we wanted to become his parents. 

We met him and fell hopelessly in love with the little boy with the big tummy from eating a ton of fries at childcare in celebration of his new family. The transition was fairly painless though each night that we returned him to the foster home I cried as we pulled away and we fell in to bed exhausted from entertaining a 3 year old all day. What we didn’t realize was that our new son’s energy wasn’t just high because he was new to our family but rather that he was hardwired that way. Once he came home forever it dawned on us that we were way in over our heads. 

That enigmatic little boy was constantly on the go. He got into everything, demanded attention every waking hour and threw tantrums the likes we had never seen before (and I work with children with behavioural needs). We were in over our heads from day one but we persevered and sought assistance and hung on for dear life. We just kept waiting for our lives to get back to normal. I remember about a week after I returned to work after parental leave, I was in the file room at work and I just stopped still as a thought hit me – my life would never be “normal” again. That normal no longer existed. We had to make a new normal. 

The years both inched and flew by. Our son went through crisis after crisis and we walked down those difficult paths with him. It seemed it would never end. His mental health struggles coloured our whole lives and we waited and waited to find a “new normal” that didn’t include rages and holing up in our home, afraid to venture out for fear of what would happen. In that waiting we lost something – we lost years of living typical lives – play dates, summer camp, sleepovers and us adults being invited to friends houses since we had the uncontrollable child who was a bad influence on their precious innocent children. I spent hour after hour on the phone advocating for my son. I spent hour after hour in meetings trying to get our son the help he needed. Days wasted in him being suspended from school. Jobs lost because it is hard to hold one down when I was constantly being called to go pick him up. Throughout it all I battled my own depression, deep seeded but fueled by the stress and lack of sleep from being a mother to children with high needs. I faltered several times and had to be hospitalized on a few occasions.  

We missed out on so much that it took awhile for us to realize that the children were older, stable and that we had slipped into a new normal that we could all live with.  Where we were once again being invited to people’s homes and parties. We bought a trailer and began to camp, arranging to meet up with friends from long ago. We began to create good memories. Sadly our children were older and it is just the hard truth that we have lost things that can never be recovered. I can’t rewrite history. I can’t forget that my youngest at 4 years old asked me from the back of the van if he could have a meeting with us, his parents, because that was the only way he could think of to get attention from us. All I can do now is move forward and hope that the new memories can somehow make up for years of lost ones. That both my boys can forgive me. People are quick to tell me I am too hard on myself but the truth is I wasn’t able to be there for them both the way they needed. It’s momma guilt that I have to reckon with on my own. 

Momma to momma – cherish those early days. I know it seems easy for me to say and you don’t have to have children with special needs to take something from these words I write here. The tantrums will one day be over. They will begin to sleep through the night.One day you will be able to leave the room without them destroying the house. You will be able to use the washroom by yourself. They will no longer ask you to play with them. Hold them, kiss them and play with them now. The dishes, the phone calls and the internet will wait for another time. Let them crawl into bed with you when they have a nightmare and watch endless shows with them when they are sick. It’s okay that you are not perfect, just be there. One day they will put themselves to sleep and take a shower on their own (though it may take a week to get them into the shower). One day they will begin to go to friends houses to play and sleep over. They will get part time jobs and you will start to make dinner just for you (or eat cereal for dinner cause it is easier). One day the most you see of them will be as they take your keys and head out the door. Cherish the early days and do not put so much pressure on yourself. They don’t need the latest things or the best clothes. They don’t need endless sports and activities. They need you. Just you. 

May 20, 2019

All They Need Is You

My husband and I tried for years to conceive a baby of our own. When it didn’t happen we moved easily to pursuing adoption. We had heard horror stories of waiting for years to be chosen to adopt. We decided early on that we wouldn’t ask for a baby or even a toddler. We would open our hearts and home to a preschooler and we took the required course, filled out piles of paperwork and completed several hours of interviews. We then were quickly matched with a little boy. We were given full disclosure through several meetings and reviewing his file. We decided that despite his rough start to life we wanted to become his parents.  We met him and […]
January 5, 2019

Trying New Things

I just found this unpublished on my posts page. I guess I got so busy I forgot to post it. I’m trying something new lately where I get out of my comfort zone to do something that ultimately makes me happy no matter how much anxiety happens beforehand. Today the boys and I (and Jeremy’s) friend drove 5 hours to pick a puppy. There were four to choose from and I had carefully chosen this breeder. (For anyone that wants to admonish me and cheer for rescue adoptions I agree but in this case after a year of unsuccessful trying I moved onto a very reputable breeder). Now back to happy puppy story. We expected to choose from 3 so […]
June 24, 2018

An Open Letter to Mental Health Services in My Community

On June 14 and 15, 2018 I took part in ASSIST put on by CMHA Windsor-Essex . It is a suicide prevention program and I will forever be thankful to my employer for supporting me in giving me the two days off to take part in such important training that everyone in every community should take. In the training were mental health workers, first responders, clergy, students and blue collar workers. It was an intense couple of days and really brought painful memories to the forefront but I was absolutely ready to take this next step in my efforts to bring about mental health awareness and improve services. During the first day of training I broke into a cold sweat […]
June 8, 2018

When You Don’t Know What to Say

 The past few days have been a struggle . . . first Kate Spade and now Anthony Bourdain . They both fell into despair so deep they saw no way out . . . and they completed suicide. The struggle for me is such a deeply personal one and their actions bring back my past actions and what could have been. Both of these very accomplished individuals had family and friends who loved them deeply and they each had a pre-teen daughter that now has to live without one of their parents. I have been struggling because I feel like I should be able to raise awareness as I always try to do but here is the thing – I don’t […]
May 13, 2018

Lessons From My Mother

Growing up I knew without a doubt that my mother loved me. I also knew that my mother was easily agitated, had high anxiety and suffered from debilitating migraines that could last days, even weeks. I learned early on how to take care of her, to try to keep stress to a minimum. I can’t say my brother and I always succeeded, we were children after all, but I think I did a fair amount of care giving at a very young age. It was difficult for my mother to go into social situations. She would worry obsessively in the days leading up to any event, even those she genuinely was excited to attend (such as a family gathering). Once […]
May 11, 2018

Finding What Matters

The last few years I have been on a path of self-reflection and discovery. Many hours in therapy, in silent contemplation, in writing, in conversing with family, friends and co-workers. One of the things I have grappled with is my health – over the years I truly let myself go and often cancelled doctor and dentist appointments over and over. Case in point: after focusing on overall mental and physical well being all week at work I decided it was time to finally make my 3 month follow up diabetes wellness appointment with my doctor. I keep cancelling it because I say I am busy but really it is because I don’t want to do the blood test because I […]