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Friday, May 12, 2017

Lesson Learned

Written by  Rev. Kelly Crenshaw

If you’ve followed this column over time, you realize that my kids come in all ages. And, you probably realize that some of my kids face challenges of mental health, cognitive issues, or physical disabilities. While having a family with special-needs kids is certainly not unique, by any means, my experiences have given me an interesting viewpoint into how kids mature and develop.

For example, we have our toddler Cassandra. She’s not quite 18 months old, so we have to watch her to make sure she doesn’t wander off and get lost. This is a normal parenting reality for anyone who has had a little child. They don’t know enough to stay close. So, you hold their hand or pick them up.

I remember years ago when our son Alex was about three. We were in Ocean City and had the kids’ pictures taken by the roaming beach photographers. You know the ones. They take pictures, give you a flyer, and you show up to pick your prints or even those little viewer things. This was an annual tradition for our family. We don’t do a lot of formal pictures, so this was an opportunity to get shots of everyone, at the same time, in the same place. And, we didn’t even have to worry about dressing everyone up. It was so us.

So anyway, we had our pictures taken and, a few hours later, headed into the store to see which prints we wanted to buy. The older girls and I were standing around discussing our options when it suddenly occurred to us that Alex was nowhere to be found. I panicked.

We were in a mall. There were lots of people. Someone had to know where my child was. The teenagers scattered. Two went out into the mall itself to see if he had wandered out there. One began to help me to search the store. About 15 minutes passed and we were sure he’d been kidnapped. And then, we found him. He had gone into an empty display area where he hid himself under the counter. He thought it was funny. The rest of us were not amused. We were terribly relieved, but definitely not amused.

As Alex grew up, he became well known for his ability to get lost. He was the kid who would head to the restroom just as the rest of the family was heading to get into the cars. We learned to count heads and ask for him by name to make sure he was with the family. Now, as an adult, he usually drives himself. It works for him.

But, with special needs kids, we never get past the point of counting heads and taking roll. Just this week, Brent took the trash out. Brent loves to help around the house and usually does a good job. He’s 22 and has multiple disabilities. The language center of his brain is damaged, so he can’t speak, read, or write. His vision is slowly deteriorating. And, his cognitive level is low. So, when Brent wasn’t back in the house within a couple of minutes, the other kids got worried. Alex and Austin rushed outside to find him.

He wasn’t near the trash cans. They searched our property and didn’t find him. Finally, as they were returning to the house to report in, they saw him standing at the neighbor’s fence watching them. They had looked there. He wasn’t there when they first came outside. He would have been seen. We’re not sure where he was hiding, but we know that for about 15 minutes, our world turned upside down, just like it did almost 20 years ago when Alex disappeared in that store.

We can’t trust that Brent understands the seriousness of wandering off like he did. We would love to believe that he will never do it again, but we can’t take that chance. So now, he has to have a buddy when he goes outside.

Parenting children, even adult children, evolves as time goes on. We no longer have to supervise Alex, but now, we have to supervise Brent more closely than before. And, our little crisis is, thankfully, in the past. Lesson learned.

Rev. Kelly Crenshaw is the mom of 16 adopted kids, two biological kids, guardian of one baby girl and foster mom of dozens. Some are lesbian, some gay, some straight, and some bisexual. Kelly founded a K-12 day school where kids could have a safe, bully-free environment for learning. She is co-owner of a counseling agency that works with children and their families. Send your parenting questions to her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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