I’ve written letters to myself and I’ve written letters to Calvin. Now, on your first birthday, it is time to write to you. I have looked forward to writing this letter for months and I have dreaded it all the same. You see, every time I add words, tears follow closely behind. I have so much to say to you and so much I’d like to leave unsaid. I’d like you to always know now. Now you are my prized possession. Now you are faith personified and right now, the love I have for you could swallow me whole.
But sadly my son there is more I need to say. There are “I’m sorry’s” to be said and there are “thank you’s ” to be thanked. There is advice to give to you and more endearments to dispense. I cannot leave it at what I feel now. I cannot make you wear glasses tinted the color of rose. I cannot because I owe you the truth and because I owe myself forgiveness.
We always wanted you. We knew it the minute your brother was born. We wanted to bring even more love into our family and selfishly I wanted to, again, feel the special gift of a baby growing within me.
What I didn’t bargain for was the worry I held onto while you were waxing. I hope you didn’t feel it. Dear Lord, I hope my anxiety didn’t make its way through the umbilical cord. I didn’t bank on you being born with a little something extra. Yes I assumed it, yes I was pretty sure you would have Down syndrome but when it actually happened; it stunned me. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I stared at you and tried to will it untrue. I’m sorry I cried about you. I’m sorry I said “I didn’t want this.” I’m sorry my love was sandwiched in between slices of grief and unknown. I still cringe with shame. It still makes me physically ill….especially since we have quite the love affair these days. Somehow, the way we love to snuggle, stare at each other, giggle, kiss and cuddle makes “then” even more painful. What I wouldn’t give for the men in black to zap that memory from me. I’d even let them take some of my good ones as payment. The logical me knows that is impossible. The sensible me knows I didn’t mean it. The part of me that is a realist knows the sadness is microscopic compared to the tremendous love I have now…but I hate that I felt it. The guilt consumes me. I have to wonder, as birthdays pass, will regret ever fade into the fog? Or, will I forever stare into those almonds, wish you happy birthday, and immediately feel the stab that only disgrace can bring? Will remorse always be served with my cake? The truth is that I am a wistful and nostalgic person so, I’ll probably forever remember the day of your birth. I most likely will never be able to let go of what I felt back then. So, I apologize in advance for all excessive adoration you’ll receive on your birthdays… I vow to forever try and make decadence eclipse the dishonor.
More importantly, emphatically, and in shouty capitals: THANK YOU!!!! Thank you so much for being you. Thank you for letting me see what true beauty is. Thank you for opening my disillusioned eyes and showing me that beauty is not a symmetrical face, or a face at all really. You have taught me that the beauty lies within. It’s what you are, what you will be and in the way that you carry yourself. You are beautiful because you are you. People are beautiful because of gifts they give to this world. Gifts of kindness, acceptance, selflessness,sincerity, empathy and compassion. I see more clearly now than I have seen in all 40 years before you. One short year has held for me a lifetime of growth and it is all because you were born. I live a happier existence because of yours. You actually saved my life. Do you know that? Before you, little things that stung made me swollen with the allergy of pain. They consumed me. Anxiety of past pain and fear of future pain made living scary. I was afraid to do it; I numbed it. You made a laden life possible. After you almost died on us, I started really living. Every breath I inhale, I know is a gift, never to be taken for granted. I treasure every sympathetic ear and smile and I dismiss absurdity like fuzz on a sweater. I live every moment with gratitude that urges me to be present. Your past illness causes me current worry ( most times, unnecessarily) but it also allows me to relish worry-free moments incredibly. You, in your short little life, have fixed everything that was wrong with me. Impatience,pettiness, self consciousness. You have healed me. And you have healed so many more people you have met. Our families and our friends are all better people because they know you! It takes my breath away to think about what you have done. I thank God everyday for letting me be your momma and now I thank you. Thank you for picking me, showing me the way and loving me entirely. I feel so lucky. You are a gift dear Judah, with a bow and shimmery paper and over-flowing with goodness inside.
Always know we have your back. Me, your daddy, Calvin, your family; everyone. My guess is you’ll never need it because you are just so darn lovable …. but just in case … we are all here. We will be behind you, gently nudging, lovingly urging , and carefully watching as you grow. You will be tirelessly fought for, effortlessly loved and whole-hardheartedly believed in. You, my son, are worthy and we are all here to watch you soar. So flap those wings little birdie and fly.
I hope that all your trips around the sun are more spectacular than this one was….Happy one year around the sun, one year around our hearts and here’s to three hundred and sixty-five no bad days Bubba. I love you
To my former self:
No, not just you. Not just the one with a fresh bundle of pink loveliness in her arms and a fresh diagnosis…but also the pregnant you. The one who, by society standards, may be too old to be a mom. The one who is tired, chasing a toddler and wearing ankle weights of worry. And to the carefree you. The one with a so called easy baby. The one
who never worries, who worries less. And even the other you that seems like a memory clouded. You know,the one who’s biggest concern was finding something to wear and where you were headed that weekend (because you wanted it that simple)……..All of you, we need to have a chat.
First off, it is okay. You are going to be better than fine, so for goodness sake- stop with all the future predicting. Even when you are right, it’s useless. Like dad told you: worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but gets you nowhere….and you are going to have a lot to do… so, stop all that rockin!! Also, try and remember that saying you tucked away into your inspirational Pinterest board:
Worrying is literally betting against yourself.
Why am I telling you to stop? I know you. You stay up late. Your pillow gets pummeled as you ponder all of life’s little pieces. The option weighing is all so much more intense than actual life silly girl, when will you learn?
And now to each of you:
To the new mommy. To the one who saw her son for the first time face to face and immediately knew. To that mommy who’s scariest prediction became her reality. To the one who’s sadness rocked her so hard that her body shook, her appetite went missing, and her thoughts consumed her with darkness. I am so sorry you went through that. It was awful for you and because of it, every nurse, doctor and anything “baby” was diluted. It all defeated you… so you thought. But it didn’t. You came back. You were enveloped in your grief and your vision was narrowed and negative. You did this for a solid week. Then you returned with vengeance. Don’t feel guilty about your thoughts. Don’t feel bad about staring at that clear crib in the hospital and wondering how you could love your baby. It didn’t take you long. I still don’t know the why or how you did it. Your strong support system? Your familiarity with trauma? Your high school title of “Most Optimistic?” Either way, you nailed it. You came back in hot. You researched, reached out and started writing. Now you love your baby so much. You see his beauty as one that soars above all other things beautiful put together. Something else,… you needed to be sad. You had to embrace the debilitation in your soul. Everyone fought for you because of it. They deflated your biggest fears . And you became stronger and smarter. As tears fell right on your baby’s cheek, you pushed through to acceptance and you let go of judgement and prejudice. You are a better because of it. Also, all new mommies are scared. Use your new found powers to take care of them the way others took care of you.
To the me wearing the worry weights. I feel the worst for you. You spent your whole nine months in anguish. All you wanted was to be pregnant one more time. You told everyone how it’s the only do over we get in life. How we only graduate from high school once, buy our first new house once, hopefully get married once…but pregnancy gives you a redo if you want it. Another chance to soak it all in. You wanted that so bad. Then you ruined it by consistently suffering because you were pretty sure your baby would have Down Syndrome. Well you were right. Now wait, before your heart starts sinking and you start wailing about how you knew your life would be ruined, it isn’t that way. What ever that thing was that you feared isn’t here in the future anywhere. I’m not even sure what it was? I mean , you didn’t even know about possible heart defects or thyroid problems or neurological scares. You knew nothing of hearing loss, vision issues or a higher risk for cancer. I think maybe you were afraid no one would love you or your baby…that people would make fun of you both; lessen your worth. You couldn’t have been more wrong by the way. Maybe that is why even though you prayed and you prayed to have your baby be healthy, God (the jokester that he is) handed you a healthy baby with Down Syndrome. Because there is nothing to fear my dear. Your baby is so loved it impossible for me to explain the enormity of it…but, after a short bout of self pitying and despair, you’ll see. And a short while after that, you will barely recognize the shallow pregnant woman hoping people wouldn’t think her baby was going to be unloveable.
Next, to the mommy who didn’t know better. To the one who’s little was reaching every milestone in the book before the book mentioned the milestone. To the baby that came before Judah. There is so much you didn’t realize. Walking doesn’t always happen on a baby’s first birthday and words don’t always pour out in complete sentences. You are more blessed than you know. Don’t take it for granted, slow the hell down, take in every new thing. You see, with Calvin new things happen fast and they are fleeting. I know you think you are absorbing it all but absorb more, celebrate , and appreciate every move this kid makes; they are moves denied to many.
Lastly, to the young and naive me. To the girl who said she never wanted to get married or have kids (but probably secretly did.) To the one who thought mates were overrated and children were life stifling. To the girl who was a little afraid, a little bit broken and way too cool to for conformity. You will never believe this,… but you do all those things you swore you would never do….and be thankful it all worked out for you, because this life is dripping and oozing with more nourishment than all your nights downtown combined. You found the most amazing man. He calms you, loves you and makes you finally see how your parents have done it for 40 plus years. You have teammate and a best friend. it is much like a perpetual sleepover (and I know how you love a sleepover.) I also know you didn’t want to put in the work , because, well, work is hard… But what they don’t tell you about work is: it’s worth every dirty diaper, missed hour of sleep, mistake made. You’ve made many and you’ve had it rough too. You lost too many loved ones, lived economic hardship, fell back three steps when you were just trying to get ahead one…but you know what? Life is so much sweeter with stuff. When you were little and your dog got hit by a bus and died, you said out loud how you would never love anything again…remember how mad mom got at you when you said that? Well, thank goodness you didn’t make good on that promise. Thank goodness that through all you endured, you kept that ability to unequivocally love. Thank God you knew yourself better than the words slipping out of your mouth. Because despite what you said, what you did was persevere. You never lost hope, you let God give you a piggy back ride and you loved….And because of all that, you have handled and can handle all things thrown your way. Judah is your reward for that. Your life is your reward for that… And you are living the very most magnificent version of yourself right now!!
I love words. It is why I write. I attach myself to a word and it invokes a sensory addiction. My favorite thing is to string them together like paper dolls; full of smells and sounds and visualization.Words so profound you can taste them. They are my blankie, my lovey, my thumb, my bowl of chicken soup. They bring comfort and company to my distress. They allow me to express myself and they relieve me of angst, love or any other grandiose feeling bursting out of my being.
….so how in the last ten months have I missed such a special word????
I recently was urged to watch the show “Switched At Birth.” I don’t follow the show and know none of the characters. When I found it on demand, i pushed play anyways and joy crept through like heat from a vent. The premise here is that a young couple is distraught about being pregnant. The problem reaches true climax when they find out there are hard markers for Down Syndrome. The whole family struggles with this proclamation the way a family would. The son is unsure. He knows there are options. Either his incredible acting or my insight to the situation makes me feel that he’s weighing them. The son’s dad is adamant that lives will be ruined and that money will fly out of pockets as sure as moths. This dad is not subtle with his favorite option. There is anger. There is sadness, bitterness and clear disappointment. The writers really hammer the way different feelings pop out of groundhog holes. There is also a wavering sister. She takes her brother to a special school swirling with children that have special needs( they really dropped the inclusion ball on this one) and they marinate. They meet some of the children and their snow melts. An adorable young girl with DS ceremoniously greets the undecided dad to be and you see how his opinions are morphing. Then, it happens. The line that I love most. A man approaches. He is a dad who is well on his journey.( side note: the actor is actually a father of a child with Down Syndrome) he offers:
“I’m sure you’re still in shock, maybe sad too. In the beginning, it can hurt a little bit to see other kids. And there’s definitely some tough times, too. No doubt about that. But I can promise you, it’ll be the single most enriching experience of your life.”
Enriching! Yes! Not easy, not infallible, not perfect…but enriching! Give me 500 adjectives, I would pick enriching. If you gave me perfect I would be shrugging my shoulders. I would not know what to do with that. I love enlightened but some days I feel I fall short. Anyone can do easy and well, infallible, that is unattainable…. But enriched? That means that my simple existence just became something relevant. It is deeper, with more meaning and as the root word suggests; richer.
But it still means I am me. I am still all things good and bad that I was before. It means I am still impatient in lines at the grocery store and when I hear a song I like, I break into dance. I still worry more than makes sense and feel stress that makes me eat two donughts. It means my job still exhausts me mentally and that I still like to play hide and go seek. It means I still occasionally drink too much ,swear to much and don’t take enough time for myself. My foundation is still the same.
But I am also the recipient of random acts of kindness. Like when the ride operator came up to us at a festival and told me Judah could ride the merry go round for free. I am now an heiress to empathy. Like when a couple had tears in their eyes and expressed how much they understood the challenges I may face . I am a beneficiary to warm, genuine compassion from friends and social media friends who truly appreciate the gift my son is. I have been given a voice, purpose, and I have had the pleasure of meeting so many angels that walk this earth.
So thank you all knowing dad on the show “Switched at Birth” enriching is exactly what my life has become. It doesn’t expect me to abandon anything. Defined it means: embellish, improve, jazz up, and beautify. I’d say that’s exactly what life is like with Judah. Nothing has changed much. My smile is bigger, my eyes are brighter and my life is fuller. Yes, enriched, that will be my word.