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: The Rainbow Spectrum

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“Look into my eyes on purpose
& don’t repeat after me,”
she often said to the little girl
who didn’t move mountains
but built them,
even as she would someday
climb them.

No two snowflakes are alike,
& she melted in her mothers arms—
not the designer label her mother had hoped for,
but the special label
that made her love her all the more.

For her,
motherhood was spent
smacking tags on clothes in the store
& plush animals at home,
on spinning pennies
& Minnie Mouse by the tail,
on “crashing the checkers”
of Connect Four,
only for the tray to be filled up again
with what she called mustards & ketchups.
Though such activities became
repetitious,
the payoff was in her daughter’s smile
that lit up her face like a gloriole
& with the laughter that filled a room
with mirth.

#Micropoetry Monday: Hymns of #Motherhood

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He measured his time in semesters,
she, in trimesters.
His work was in bettering himself 
even as hers was 
in raising a child
who would want to do just that.

A Rock is a Hard Place to Sleep

She’d brought the Precious Moments snow globe
that played “In the Good Ole Summertime”
& the ladybug that turned the ceiling into a celestial night sky,
wrapping them
in her swirl-pink bathrobe,
scented with Dove,
so that when the sounds
of the Interstate overhead
vanished into thick air,
& the lights were turned out
in the shabby shelter
that was their 6-week purgatory
for being poor,
it would be just like all this homelessness business
was but a bad dream.

After she lost her son,
she tried to live everyday
with her daughter
to the fullest—
tried to capture every memory
in 1000’s of words
& in 100’s of pictures–
but found that in trying
to document it all
at such an incredible
level of intensity,
those moments of
just being
disappeared;
she found that the future—
some of which may or may not
ever happen—
was stealing from the present
that she tried to hold on to too tightly,
for it so soon became the past.

 

Why I Tell My Daughter She’s Beautiful

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When I mentioned to someone I trusted that my daughter was getting genetically tested, I explained, “To find out why she is the way she is.”

It was never to “figure out what’s wrong with her,” because I don’t see anything wrong.  She isn’t broken, in need of fixing, but rather, in need of additional guidance and patience to help her be the best person she can be.  Just like I needed math tutors last semester.

All test results were normal, though I’ve been asked by many people (all health professionals) if she was autistic.  She is definitely somewhere on the spectrum, but on the high-functioning end.

When my mother was alive, all she saw was her specialness, not her special needs.  “That’s just who she is,” she would say, because for her, and for me, and for all who love her, it was that whole unique and wonderfully-made thing.

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My child has the most incredible memory, whereas mine is pretty crappy.  Sometimes I ask my husband if he remembers if I ate anything for breakfast.  I feel like Kelly Bundy from “Married With Children” in that episode where she loses a fact every time she gains a fact, because there’s only so much space in her airhead; she forgets on a game show a football trivia question about her father–something about these things called touchdowns.

However, a memory like my daughter’s has its challenges.  It took me forever to get her to unlearn “shit,” after my parents thought it was freaking hilarious when she tipped out of her Minnie Mouse chair and said, “Awww, shit!”  When they told me about it, I couldn’t help but laugh, even though I admonished her later that young ladies don’t use that word.

That’s said, salty language and an overabundance of sweet snacks are truly the stuff of grandparents.

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My daughter also has an incredible ear for sounds–she actually corrected the teacher on the difference between a helicopter and an airplane.  As much as I would love for her thing to be words, I believe it will be music.

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When a “neurologist” (I’m not even sure what she was, she didn’t even bother introducing herself or familiarizing herself with my child’s medical record before her appointment) said that our daughter’s face had a trace of dysmorphia, my husband got pissed while I got so upset, I started crying.

On the way home, I kept looking back for some trace of what this woman saw, but all I saw was this stunningly beautiful little girl with perfectly symmetrical features and enviable blue eyes.  I like to joke with my dad that all other kids looked like dogs after I had mine (not really, but parents are biased).

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I know it’s a Thing for girls to want to be superheroes over princesses, to major in STEM, and for their parents to praise their strength rather than their beauty, and I get some of that, but there will be plenty of people in my daughter’s life who will say something unkind.  It is my job–my calling–as her mother, to build her up without tearing others down.

My mom grew up thinking she was ugly because her mom never told her she was pretty (and she was!), and so my mom always told me I was–even when I was going through this hideous awkward stage where I looked like the female (and brunette) version of that bully in A Christmas Story.  (At least I did in one of my school pictures.)  Of course, I believed Mom only said that because she was my mother, but I know she meant it, too.

That said, my mom always told me that her grandmother told her that “Pretty is as pretty does.”  I let my daughter know when she is being ugly, just as I tell her that she is strong and smart and all those other things.

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I’m not blind to my daughter’s quirks, but it rubbed me the wrong way when the people at the center seemed like they were trying to push us into “family planning” (like to have another one like the one I have would be so horrible).  I don’t even like the way “family planning” sounds,  and I don’t practice it.  I don’t feel that way because a man in the Vatican or a bunch of men in Salt Lake don’t believe in it (Jesus died for me, they didn’t), but it’s my personal, spiritual belief.  (I will, however, concede that I would probably feel differently if I had more than half a dozen.)

Sometimes you just want to say someone, “Let they who are without imperfection be the first to cast the first birth control pill,” because we’re not talking Tay-Sachs or Huntington’s chorea here.  My daughter isn’t suffering–she is one of the happiest kids I know.  She’s never even thrown a tantrum.  She’s gotten upset and frustrated, but she’s never been one of those little horrors you see on that British nanny show.

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My daughter has shown me that we are more than our genes, our chromosomes, our cells, for they only tell part of the story of who we are, and what amazing things we can become.