Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Future

It was a normal trip to the grocery store. The kids co-steered the car cart while sharing a muffin and spreading crumbs around the store like holiday cheer. Addison stuck her head out of the cart so many times that she lost "driving" privileges and walked/was carried the rest of the time. The two old ladies behind us in the checkout line stared at the little girl dressed in pink cramming the rest of a blueberry muffin into her mouth so the little girl treated them to a show of laughter, smiles, and a show-and-tell of the ready-to-be-swallowed bits.

It was all normal, ordinary, boring...until our groceries were ready to be bagged. I noticed that the bagger had gone on break so the cashier was doing both jobs. It was one of those awkward moments of wondering- do I bag my own groceries? Do I just wait patiently? Do I ignore what's going on completely and add to my order oh-so-many chocolate bars from the overpriced shelf so close to the toddlers' wandering fingers?

As I was standing behind my cart holding Addison, I froze in the moment. One moment was all it took. Addison took great interest in the large assortment of bags and started playing with them, wiggling to get free so that she could make the mess I'm sure she was envisioning in her mind. (She is the master of messes)

As I stared at her obvious fascination with the bagging station, I thought

"This could be her job someday"

I could picture her so clearly- at this exact same store- twenty years older- brow furrowed in concentration- flashing the occasional smile at her joy in the bagging process as her profession: a grocery bagger that needed to be picked up at the end of each shift. Not as a high school part-time thing, not as a college summer job- as a career.

I don't know why the thought came to me at that moment. And I don't know why it affected me the way it did, but in that moment I felt sad. Tears sprung to my eyes and I tried to wipe them away without the old ladies behind us or the nice cashier lady noticing. I was sad at the thought of this being the end-all idea of success for Addison.

I have lived my life in terms of achievement. Contests? check. Degrees? check. Jobs obtained? check. I dream in goals and I fantasize about accomplishments- almost to an unhealthy level. I get obsessive about finishing those goals- ignoring everything else in my life while I work towards them.

When I first learned about Addison's diagnosis of Down syndrome, this was the hardest part of it all for me. What would she accomplish with her life? What would be her "claim to fame"? What would she do?

As I've gotten to know her through the daily grind of life, she has taught me so much that I forget about my initial fears about that scary label of Down syndrome. Those fears that used to keep me up at night sobbing with a broken heart have faded into nonexistence because of my 2 1/2 year old teacher.

She has taught me that settling into the moment brings more happiness than planning for happiness in the future. She has taught me that a laugh for no reason whatsoever can cure the worst of days. She has taught me that even if I haven't checked off the next big thing on my list I am still a success because I get to experience the gift of life today- right now- in this moment. She has taught me that "impossible" is merely a state of mind and that expectations are made to be broken.

She is not a "normal" toddler by any means- her delays are becoming more obvious by the month. And yet? She is my pride and joy, the H from happy and the sunshine after the rainstorm. She is stubborn and hilarious and whiny and oh-my-goodness cute. Her babbling is adorable and her deliberate signs intellectual. Her kisses, hugs, and pats are better than a chocolate overdose and her bouncing steps around the house tap out the theme song of victory because of all the work that went into achieving those steps. She is stubborn and difficult- ingenious and delightful. Watching her explore the world bit by bit is enthralling because for the first year of her life she fought many physical battles just to survive infant hood. Each little exploration is like a bonus and she treats it accordingly. Her life is a miracle- her existence is a daily lesson in what life is all about.

No doubt from a stranger's perspective, Addison is a delayed toddler who needs a lot of therapy, doctor's appointments, and modifications for all of her activities. "She's how old?" They ask me with raised brow thinking that I misspoke when I said "2 1/2".

But I don't care how the world perceives her. I love Addison because she's Addison.

Today in the grocery store, wiping away tears, I thought- will it be so different twenty years from now? We will have different struggles. We will have different heartaches. A good day will come in different form- total unrecognizable to me right now. I don't know what Addison will be like as an adult, and I don't know what she will be able to "accomplish".

But she will still be- Addison.

As I take it step by step, diaper to diaper, season to season, therapy to IEP meetings, preschool to high school, morning to night over and over and over again- perhaps one day I will wake up to realize I have an adult daughter who I love just as much as I love my toddler daughter. Different and delayed- but my daughter. The transition will be seamless- I won't even realize it's happening as we focus on today and forget to realize that six thousand days from now things will be startlingly different as we will have sped through time into a different era of our lives.

And through that journey, all I'm responsible for is my love for my children as they slowly (but ever so quickly) change from tiny babies to full grown adults. Their needs change, their bodies change, their lives change- but my love is their constant. And to be perfectly honest I don't even totally understands what that means because I haven't lived it yet, but I do know that love doesn't propel me to accept Addison's future right now, forcing me to embrace a stereotypical vision at the grocery store. Love directs me through my responsibilities as a mother for today and paves the way for only one moment at a time. When the time comes for me to send Addison off to her first day of work someday- no matter what that occupation is- the constant of love will have prepared me to accept that moment with as much joy as the ones I have with Addison now.

Do I know the future? No, but I do know the present, and as it collides with the future, the future then becomes the present. And as the present, it is then divided up into little pieces called moments of which I only have to experience one at a time. How much I choose to take away from each of them is up to me because no doubt like every moment there will be the good and the bad. Addison has taught me how to handle moments- not knowing which one will be our last. Twenty years down the road surely I will be even that much farther along in my degree from the Addison college of life lessons.

Something about Addison's past tells me that she has great plans to surprise us every step of the way- surpassing each checkpoint with flying colors and a chocolate high. But even if she doesn't? Even if she lives the stereotypical life that I dreaded her entire pregnancy? I will still celebrate her every breath and smile because that's where the true accomplishment lies.

So in the grocery store today I pushed away my sadness and smiled at my little girl who was attempting to catapult herself down from my arms onto the hard floor so that she could have better access to the bags. I pushed the cart with groceries and "car driver" Carter out of the store and into the parking lot, silently saying a prayer of thankfulness for the gift of today. Because no matter what the future brings today is always the gift worth living for, and Addison has taught me to celebrate it accordingly.


Thanks for reading about my Everything and Nothing. I would love to hear from you!