Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Deep Thoughts During Our Playground Adventure

Yesterday evening the boys, Bryan and I all went to the park for Zachary's soccer practice. While Bryan watched Zachary run around with his team in the grass, I took the other boys over to the playground area.

Not too long after we explored some of the slides, Joshua decided he wanted to swing. As we approached the swing set, I noticed a teenage girl on one of the swings. Her mom was on a bench right behind us.

It was apparent to me that the girl had something "wrong" with her neurologically, although I could not place what it was specifically, nor was that important. As I loaded Joshua into one of the baby swings, I noticed how peaceful the girl looked as she gazed into the distance, probably admiring something simple like the way the breeze was blowing the leaves; something many of us are generally too busy to bother enjoying. She knew how to pump her legs, but after a while her mother came over to push her, too. She looked so happy then, with a wide grin on her face. I tried not to stare, fearing her mother would assume I was judging, when in fact, I was admiring how profoundly beautiful the girl was... How beautiful they both were, this mother-daughter team.

Based on my kids' mild needs, I know that these moments to just relax in time are probably few and far between. The days are probably riddled with worry, work, therapies, doctors and meetings at school. I know that there was a time that this mom was told by a medical professional that something was wrong with her daughter. I know that if I had asked her, she would have been able to tell me exactly where she was when she heard that news, and every detail of that day. I like to think that maybe things have turned out better than she originally thought... that even though her daughter is challenged, and appeared to even be non-verbal, there are still so many moments of joy and wonder and limitless love.

As I pulled Joshua from the swing, I realized that perhaps, to this mother's trained eye, she may be able to tell that something is different in my child, too. If she looked closely, she may have seen a similar "wise old owl" look on his face, or she may have noticed how his hands were clenched when he walked, or that he has an awkward gait. Likewise, she could have looked across the playground to Ben and seen him spinning and spinning on a little seat with no regard to anyone around him, and wondered. But, maybe they just looked like typical kids to her, too.

I think what I gained is another reminder that we all are different in our own ways, and that life with special needs may have difficult lows, but that far too often the silver linings are missed. There isn't a requirement to go at the same pace as everyone else, and there isn't a need to muse about what might have been. Sometimes you can swing at the park at sunset with a smile on your face, rejoice in the fact that that is enough.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Late Letter

Dear Grandpa,

I wanted to see you before you passed away. At the very least, I wanted to write you a letter. Many times I had crafted this correspondence in my head, imagining the words I would put to paper; the things I never told you. Of course every day there was a new distraction from the kids, and nighttime meant driving to activities, going to the gym, or collapsing into a heap of exhaustion on the couch. I know you understand, but it doesn't make my heart ache any less.

I wanted to tell you that I have always admired you for coming from humble beginnings and finding your fame. More important than that, you did work that made you happy. Sometimes the hours and intensity required to be great in your field meant that you lacked time for your family. I know that must have hurt more than you ever let on. No one can do it all, but you wanted to try.

Things slowed down a little bit by the time I came around. I think as your grandchild, I was in a unique position to see those carefree moments that others missed. You were able to give enough pause in-between commitments to truly enjoy our time together.

It might surprise you that I can recall with vivid detail from our last visit the musical sound of your laughter and the smile of joy you had on your face while holding your great-grandchild in your arms.

One of my favorite childhood memories is of a trip to the zoo in California when I was maybe about 6 or 7 years old. There was a cute baby monkey there that was wearing a diaper. I was absolutely in love with this little guy, and you were so amused by the story that you went out and found me a stuffed monkey, then hunted down a cloth diaper for it, too. Just for fun, the monkey was also given a hat and mittens. You were elated to present me with this gift, and I still have "Safari," who sits proudly on a shelf in my house.

To echo Grandma, who repeatedly stated during your funeral that, "it all went so fast," well... it did. Somehow in the depths of denial, I thought your life would go on forever. I thought there would always be another dinner out together, another chance to share stories, and another chocolate cake for birthdays.

I know memories are supposed to comfort me. While I do hold these recollections close, I noticed that there is a little light gone from my eyes. There is an empty space in my heart. No one can bring back that same exact sparkle or fill the spot where you were, because you were truly one of a kind.

I am thankful for the privilege of being your granddaughter. I love you like a poem in my heart that I have known the words to all my life. I will do my best to be a good person, to work hard and to inspire others. These are the ways in which I hope I can honor your legacy, but you are a tough act to follow. Your charisma was a gift, and one that is impossible to duplicate. Your greatness will never be forgotten.

Love Always,