Every Little Thing: A Mother’s Valentine

Hannah's rattle and brush

I was about five months along when I slipped an ultrasound picture into a Mary Higgins Clark book, and handed it to my mom. When she opened it, she looked at the picture for a second, sort of turning it around, and I said, “So, what do you think?”

“I think it’s a baby,” she said, wonderstruck. When she found out I was having a girl and naming her Hannah, she was thrilled. Hannah was unplanned, but like many unplanned things, they turn out to be good things that lead to more good things. Hannah got Brian and me speed up the marriage date (we’d put it off for months for financial reasons) and move into our own home (we had thus far been living with my parents).

It was after we knew she was going to be a girl (we were hoping for fraternal twins—I, contemplating Lucy and Ricky for the names) when my OB/GYN told us something about our baby’s nuchal fold measurements, and how they were an indicator of Down’s syndrome. We were devastated. It took me an entire day to realize that it had nothing to do with my not taking prenatal vitamins the first three months of gestation (I was three months along before I knew I was expecting).

Although I knew if my lovely baby was already affected, there was nothing more that could be done. I had never heard of anyone being cured of Down’s syndrome, but I could pray for a way to handle the challenges that would come from raising a special needs child. “Somehow, it makes me love her even more,” Brian said, and I knew he said it because he felt she would need it more.

I was working overnights at Walgreens at the time, and all night, I agonized over how I was going to be good enough; I didn’t even feel ready for mothering a normal baby. Even as my husband said he felt he loved her even more, I felt I wanted to protect her even more, for the world isn’t always kind to those who are different.

However, once I prayed that I would be able to deal with whatever came, and knew I would love my baby the same, peace replaced fear. By the time we got the more advanced ultrasound done (during which the doctor told us our child was perfectly fine), I wept with relief and joy, knowing this scare had taught me that we are never prepared for what may happen till it happens.

Had Brian and I already had other children, Hannah’s prediagnosis might not have affected me as much, because I knew our children would look after their new sibling, but what if this was the only one we had? Who would love our daughter after we were gone?

When I gave birth, worrying about her welfare didn’t end there. When Hannah was born till she was about three months, I rode in the backseat with her; her crib was also in our room. I didn’t like to take her anywhere (at least alone), but preferred to keep her at home. However, as time went on, I began to relax, but her safety and health was always a part of my consciousness. It was the new me that was born when she was, and it would never die as long as she lived. I had to learn how to co-exist with this heightened awareness that was, at times, exhausting.

Hannah would fail the hearing test twice before passing the third, and always, until she passed, I wondered if perhaps those nuchal fold measurements had been indicators of something else.

When she didn’t walk at a year old, I didn’t think much about it. However, as time went on, especially after a visit to her pediatrician, who said she was developmentally delayed (a term which always made my husband bristle and me want to cry), I began to wonder. When she started walking at twenty months, I was relieved, but I wondered, would it always be this way—her playing catch-up? Would I always be jogging backwards in front of her, trying to make her run faster than she was ready?

When it came time to put her in preschool, I was as excited for her as my husband was nervous. When the administrator of the school told me she was in the one to one-and-a-half-year-old range, I cried. (She had just turned two, two months ago.) When I told my dad about some of her quirks, like staring off into space, doing repetitive things, and her lack of interest in other children, he mentioned autism, but I told him autistic people usually didn’t have a personality.

I know I don’t see Hannah as being anything but perfect because I am her mother, and so I have to see her sometimes as others see her—with a critical, but still caring eye. It is only when I have done all I can do that I can let it go, because I know, as my husband does, that she will get there (as much as is possible) with our help and the others we allow to help. I know and accept there will never be a moment in my life when I will never have to worry about her again—that I will still worry in my own way, about every little thing.

However, I regret I allowed the deep disappointment of not being able to breastfeed to be the thief of joy during the moments when I should have been luxuriating in first-time motherhood. I blamed myself for her delay for a long time, because of all I’d heard about the I.Q. points of breastfed children being higher. I’d tried every kind of pump and every kind of way to get her to take to it. Then one of my best friends told me she hadn’t been able to breastfeed at all; that child is now a gifted student. Hannah is almost three now, and I’ve stopped comparing her to other children her age, and delight in who she is. She isn’t perfect, but is perfect to me and to those who love her. She doesn’t know everything, but she knows we love her. She is healthy and happy, filled with curiosity and wonder, laughter and joy. I teach with love and the rest will come. We are blessed to have a multitude of resources where we can get help for her; we are not alone.

All of us are at different stages in our lives—we all progress in different ways, at different times. I look in the mirror and see what I should have been ten years ago, but am just now getting around to—becoming a college graduate.

The moment I found out I might have a baby with special needs revealed myself to me, and I liked what I saw. When I look at Hannah now, and think back to where she was even a year ago, I see her blossoming into the rose she will someday become.

Published as “Every Little Thing” in The Kilgore Review (2016), having placed second in the nonfiction category of Pensacola State College’s annual Walter F. Spara Writing Contest.

#Micropoetry Monday: Hymns of Motherhood

Mother and child

Like the shadow of the blind,
she was with me 90 days
without my knowing—
the closest thing to God some people would
ever know.
I was her second set of footprints,
for it was I
who carried her.

She didn’t know if her daughter understood all the words,
but she read them anyway.
She didn’t know if her daughter would remember
all those trips to the pool & the beach
& every other space that screamed barefoot fun,
but she took her anyway.
She didn’t know if her daughter always heard her say,
“I love you,” after she’d fallen asleep to a lullaby,
but she said it anyway,
for it was a mom’s instinct
to do good by & for their children,
not always knowing
the good it did.

“Breast is best,” they said,
but the best could not express itself.
She pumped herself sore,
for she feared for her child’s I.Q.,
her health,
& everything they said her magic milk
was supposed to do.

Poem-a-Day 2017 Writer’s Digest Challenge #1. Theme: Reminiscing

This “personal geography” poem was originally named, “Life, in Five Acts” (like a Shakespearean play).

The stanzas below were merely abstract introductions to much longer stanzas of a seven-page, narrative poem.

Timeline

Spain: 1987
I lost half a sense,
which may have saved all the rest.

Saved: 1996
I lived with myself,
and knew not who I was.

Montana: 2003
I was Molly Mormon,
looking for Peter Priesthood.

Utah: 2004
I lost my faith,
but reclaimed my creativity.

Brian: 2013
And so a woman must leave her family
to create one of her own.

Hannah: 2013
I led her to milk,
but she would not drink.

College: 2014
I feared our future,
so I changed my present.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2017-april-pad-challenge-day-1

Musings on Motherhood

 

Twenty-Five Things I’ve Learned Since Becoming a Mom

1. I have learned patience, because I had to teach it to myself, or else go crazy.  Sometimes, instead of praying that God will make her easier to deal with at a particular moment, I pray that He will help me better handle the situation.  Babies cry, and it’s okay if you need to give yourself a “time-out” sometimes.

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2. “Baby brain” does not go away.  Unless my child is asleep, I have never been able to focus on something like I did before.  That’s part of being a mom.

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3. I don’t always sleep when the baby sleeps.  That’s when I get things done.  My house is cleaner than it’s ever been, because once they start crawling, they will find every microscopic piece of dirt and put it in their mouth.  And if that’s all it is, don’t fret over it.

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4. I find myself looking for clues, a hint, at what my daughter may become.  We see her turning over her xylophone, spinning the wheels, trying to figure them out, and we think, “She’s going to be an engineer.”  When she inspects Brian’s teeth, it’s, “She’s going to be a dentist.”  We will nurture her talents as we nurture her (especially if it means she’ll make enough to take care of us in our old age).

~
5. Though I am a creative individual, I found I’ve developed a more playful imagination.  There is a certain sort of magic about childhood that’s precious.  My daughter likes to lift up an edge of the area rug on our tile floor and I pretend there’s another world under there (like the other little girl in the mirror).  Children are filled with wonder and curiosity.  Nurture that as well.

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6. Sitting on the floor and playing with my child is quite cathartic and relaxing after a long day at work or a heavy study session.  It refreshes me and helps me focus even better when I have to return to adult matters.

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7. I now have a reason for swinging on the swings at the park.  (I have to show her how, after all.)  I’ve been sillier than I’ve ever been in my life.  Blowing bubbles is fun, and jumping on the trampoline will be fun–all over again.  One of my favorite things to do when I was little was to line up all my dolls and stuffed animals and yell at them (I guess that’s what I thought being an adult was all about).  I find that I am living a second childhood (not reliving), and that is not a bad thing.

~
8. I’ve developed a new appreciation for Dr. Seuss.  I didn’t grow up with him (my parents preferred Mother Goose) and I always thought his illustrations were ugly.  But, a preschool teacher friend of mine was big on him, so I gave him a chance and, like “Green Eggs and Ham”, I tried him and now love him (and his drawings).  It is never too early to read to your child, and you can never have too many books.  And, if you manage to acquire some board books that aren’t in the best condition (or, if not, just go to the dollar store), let them have at them, so they can learn how to turn the pages, and just have the experience holding a book.  I read at least a novel a week, and I make sure she sees me reading.

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9. Songs hold their attention more when you use sign language.  I made up sign language for all twelve stanzas of “London Bridge is Falling Down”.

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10. My selfies have diminished and Hannah is now the darling of my camera.  My interest in photography has increased.  When buying a camera, get a good one.  It’s worth the investment.

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11. I’ve found myself wanting to learn more, for the more I know, the more I can teach her.

~
12. 90% of my daughter’s time is unstructured, but 10% is learning through play (or just plain playing), the Montessori way.   I’ve learned that when kids are bored, they are forced to use their imagination.

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13. Baby talk.  I’d always said I’d never do it, but I do.  (Hey, Shakespeare made up words, too.)

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14. There is no such thing as too many paccies (or batteries).

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15. If you think you’re selfish when you’re single, that naturally diminishes when you become a mom.  As much as I want a new wardrobe, I want her to have the preschool experience more.

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16. It’s okay to not jump up and comfort them every time they fall.  Sometimes distracting them is enough to ward off a crying jag.

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17. It’s okay to let them get messy.  It’s good for sensory development to let them play with their food. (Mine loves to smash avocado all over her face and hair.)  If they’re hungry, they’ll eat it.  And putting them in the bath afterwards to play is a snap.

~
18. Everything takes longer with a baby.  I have found that I’ve had to prioritize my time more.  Do I really need to see that episode of “Law and Order” again?  Children also aren’t made to be quiet and still all the time.  That’s what the DVR is for.

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19. I have received a lot of unsolicited advice about child-rearing.  None of it has been useful.

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20. It’s okay if you can’t breast-feed.  It doesn’t mean you’re lazy.  Sometimes it just doesn’t happen, no matter how much you want it to.

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21. I know I will never be able to protect my children from all “bad” foods.  There will be parties, there might even be McDonald’s.  That doesn’t mean I ever have to take her there.

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22. They’ll walk when they’re ready.  My daughter’s pediatrician, every single appointment, would mention about her being “developmentally delayed”.  My husband would bristle at the less than tactful terminology, but we’re putting her through all the tests (as much for her well-being as for our peace of mind), and at twenty months, she is walking (and isn’t stopping).

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23. I think back about my own parents and appreciate them more than I ever have in my life.  I never really knew how much my parents loved me till I had my own child.  All the pain, even the “indignity” of childbirth, the weight gain, the stretch marks, the lack of sleep, not being able to just pick up and go, the sense of being overwhelmed when you’re first alone with them, has all been worth it.

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24. I never think I’m a good enough mom, but I’ve found that if you’re trying to be, you are.

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25. Most of all, I make sure to make Hannah laugh.  A child’s smile is a light in a sometimes dark world, and their laughter is the music.

XXOO