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Parenting the Extraordinary: Always Look for the Helpers

Parenting the Extraordinary: Always Look for the Helpers

by Lisa Thompson

We call them advocates at our house. Champions, warriors, friends, heroes. I’ve noticed time and time again through the 12 years I’ve been a parent that everywhere Porter goes, I’m looking for the people who will step up and help him navigate daily life.

When Brad and I bought our first house in 2010, we were young and naïve and didn’t know a lot about anything. We had a six-month-old, and the whole reason we were moving out of our rent house and into a quiet cul-de-sac neighborhood in our hometown was to give him a better environment and a healthier start.

He’d been sick basically since we brought him home in October, and as first-time parents, we were beside ourselves with fear. The first week there were a few scary moments where he seemed to be in a deep sleep, his eyes would roll to the back of his head, and we couldn’t see his chest rising and falling. Sleep apnea? Normal newborn stuff? Long-lasting brain damage? We weren’t sure. We took him in, and he underwent an EKG and a bunch of other tests.

Everything came back normal, and we were left with more questions. This was in 2009, before the owlet sock or other newborn technology was available. I don’t think I slept at all for the first year—I was constantly watching his chest rise and fall and checking his eyes.

Then came the respiratory issues out of nowhere, which we eventually decided stemmed from the black moldy gunk growing on the wall in the master bathroom of the gorgeous house we were renting in the historic district. The first three days we lived in our newly purchased home, our baby was suddenly breathing easier, and the green snot cleared right up. No more coughing. I felt like we were given a second chance. I realized sometime during that first week in our new home that my kid needed advocates. There were no warning labels on our child, no doctor telling us about environmental dangers, and no instruction manual for raising him. His dad and I were his first­—and many times his only—level of defense.

It was up to us to recognize health issues and remedy the situation. But more than that, over and over again in his life, we’ve had to fight for our kid to have the same level of access, regardless of his challenges. When he needed a left-handed mouse in the computer lab in elementary. When he needed to take his spelling tests one-on-one with an iPad instead of listening to words called out in a classroom setting. When he needed help scoring his archery shots and tallying up his score. Sometimes—no, a lot of times­—kids need a voice larger than their own to speak up and help them.

We once had a neighbor, a retired reading interventionist, who recognized that Porter needed help learning to read. We tried everything and were at our wit’s end. We’d sit at the kitchen table for hours every day after school crying, screaming and pleading. He wasn’t learning it in school, and he absolutely wasn’t learning it at home. So she offered to help. She met with him three times a week after school for 30-45 minutes. Not only was she an encouragement to us, but she was a true hero for Porter.

She loved on him, fed him, encouraged him, prayed for him, never winced at his awkwardness, and eventually, after many hours, she taught him to read. She never accepted a single payment from us, even though we tried. She is still, to this day, one of his favorite people on the planet. The gift of reading that she gave him will forever be one of the most valuable things that anyone has ever given him. And for what? She didn’t get a thing out of it, other than filling her calling to help others. We finally bought her an insta-pot as a “thank you”, much to her chagrin, but I’d gladly buy her a million kitchen gadgets if it would repay her for her work as a warrior in my child’s life.

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There are so many other examples of people who have stepped up to be the hero in Porter’s story. Whether it be the soccer commissioner who recognized his needs and drafted him first every season, or the friends at church who pause and listen to his sometimes painful stories, or the ones who make him chocolate cake for his birthday when I forget he doesn’t like vanilla. I am always so moved by the people who seem to get him.

Of course, there will always be those who don’t. We’ve encountered our share of mean, nasty, hasty and unbothered people, some whom are, unfortunately, part of our daily lives. I tell him all the time, “There will always be haters, but for every hater we come across, there will be a helper somewhere. We just have to look for them.”

On the hard, impossible days, I take comfort in the fact that Brad and I aren’t parenting this child alone. We have a whole community of people who have championed Porter to where he’s at today—friends, family, neighbors and strangers. He still has challenges. There are still cringy moments, and we have a long way to go to producing an independent, productive adult.

The good news is that, just like Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

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