As a parent, I felt I knew my kids and could guess their reactions to new experiences. As a mom to a child with special needs, I thought I could anticipate his every challenge. Um, not quite.

Finally, our beach vacation was going to include the actual beach. After four straight days of downpours, thunderstorms and a steady refrain of croaking frogs that sound like ducks, the skies had yielded to a grayish white overcast pall, with no rain clouds in sight.

The Husband and I decided to make a quick beach trip-slash-photo op: we'd bring bathing suits for the kids, but really it would be a run-and-play-in-the-sand mission. Only one towel needed, and since there was no sun, we needed no umbrella. Right?

We have two toddlers: Charlie is 3 and has Down syndrome, which means he has one extra chromosome than the rest of us. Mary Emma is 19 months and has springy curly-Q's atop her head, which means she has a tad extra cuteness than the rest of us. (Charlie's gorgeous blond hair evens the score for the siblings.)

Charlie and Emma in a box

Children with Down syndrome typically have developmental and intellectual delays, and sometimes a sensory processing disorder (SPD) issue or two accompanies those challenges. I fully expected my son to be wary of the sand, fearful of the crashing waves and relatively uneasy with the whole beach thing. I fully expected my fearless, defiant, tough little girl to charge toward the Atlantic Ocean like a storm chaser.

Man, was I wrong

From the moment The Husband plopped them both in the soft, slightly damp, brown-sugary sand, Charlie stretched toward the ocean. He doesn't yet run, but I suspected if we let go of his hand, today would have been his virgin run.

I forced the child to take a few more steps before mentally pushing past the confusion and realizing she was genuinely repulsed by the sand and wanted up!

From the moment of first plopping, Mary Emma was a victim, pleading with her eyes for us to rescue her. Within milliseconds of the sand engulfing her toes, she screeched. Within steps of leaving the boardwalk, she was standing with uplifted arms, tears in her eyes and a look of pure disgust and horror.

Parenthood requires quick reflexes, particularly when faced with confusion. I forced the child to take a few more steps before mentally pushing past the confusion and realizing she was genuinely repulsed by the sand and wanted up!

Quick, Mommy. Think!

We huddled in the beach chair, her head pressed against my chest as I watched Charlie frolic in the surf with The Husband and Mary Emma warily eyed the sand, as if it might sneak up to bite her toes. I kissed her humid curls and whispered how much she would one day love the beach, we would sit side by side with our books and together we would lavishly smoosh our toes in the warm, toasty sand.

I kissed her humid curls and whispered how much she would one day love the beach, we would sit side by side with our books and together we would lavishly smoosh our toes in the warm, toasty sand.

As if God were mocking my words, the skies darkened and storm clouds rolled in. In no time, needles of rain drops pelted our heads as we wrapped that one beach towel around us and jointly, silently begged The Husband and Charlie to give up on the beach day.

In retreat to the car, we juggled children: pinning one in safety so he wouldn't race for the shore and supporting the other, traumatized child who felt us lowering her to the sand just once and immediately folded her legs in protest while shrieking bloody murder.

Welcome to the beach, Mary Emma. I'm sorry I missed the parenting memo on unpredictability!

More about parenting a child with special needs

My child's very first teacher thinks I'm crazy
3 Best lessons from my 3-year-old with Down syndrome
The stunning reality of giving birth to twins, months apart

Topics: