What happens when "cute baby with a little something extra" grows into awkward girlhood defined by difference? What then? Will it be harder to mother her? Harder to love her?
A couple weeks ago I sat across from Addison at her birthday dinner, and as I stared at her blue eyes, smooth complexion, and just sheer beauty, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to be her mother.
She grew up right in front of me. She grew so gradually that I didn't even notice it was happening until suddenly I woke up and she is 7 years old, full of enthusiasm for life, strong opinions, and a laugh that still makes me without fail laugh too.
Is it harder to mother her as round babyhood has stretched into the awkward lines and sharp angles of girlhood?
No more so than it's hard to mother my other kids.
And I'm not afraid of the person she's growing into. I'm not fearful of her future as an adult with Down syndrome. I am not hiding secret pain of being a special needs mom.
No. I am reveling in this. Every year I get a little more proud of who she is. As she grows and blossoms and grows some more- I am amazed at what an incredible person she is becoming.
A sinner? Oh sure. Flawed? You betcha.
A stunning human being with limitless potential? A thousand times YUP.
As she unwrapped a pink dress that we got her for her birthday, she screamed, "SCHOOL!!! I GET TO WEAR PINK DRESS TO SCHOOL!" and laughed and laughed and screamed in glee some more.
I just beamed at her excitement.
This is the first year that she's told me anything that she's wanted for her birthday. Normally, she could really just take or leave it. It was so hard to buy for her. But this year, she specifically asked for clothes and dresses.
Done and done.
She told me what she wanted for her birthday. This was so huge to me! And I'm still smiling about it- weeks later.
Last weekend I cleaned out my closet. I was tossed and organized and everything was great, until I reached to the very top shelf to toss out a knitting basket from that life phase when I thought I could be a knitter. (spoiler alert- I am not).
I pulled the basket down and saw an itty bitty white hat on top of the discarded scarves and piles of yarn. This wasn't any white hat. It was a hat that I sewed together for Addison while I spent hours on the couch, on bedrest, for the last couple of weeks waiting for her to be born. It was a horrible sewing job, and it was too tiny to fit Addison's head when she was born (spoiler alert- I am also not a seamstress).
But suddenly, staring at that white hat, even with a house full of healthy, laughing, fighting, growing children around me- tears flooded my eyes and my heart squeezed in a funny way.
All I have to do is close my eyes and remember, and suddenly I'm back in that moment. "I'm sorry, your baby tested positive for Trisomy 21. I'm so sorry. Are you alone right now? You probably shouldn't be alone right now. I'm so sorry. Do you want to come in to discuss your options with our genetic counselor?"
Dropping the phone. Losing feeling in my legs. Falling. Losing hope in life. Utter devastation.
I remember how that felt. How afraid I was. How my throat closed up and breathing seemed impossible. How convinced I was that our lives were ruined forever. That I was carrying a syndrome and had lost my baby. How I felt stuck with a life I never asked for, never wanted. A special needs mom. From here on out, my name would be synonymous with "special" and our family would be "THAT" family with the different kid that everyone felt so sorry for.
I remember this moment in this startling clarity because it was a pivotal moment in the story of my life. The moment that twisted all of my expectations and hopes and trust and ability to cling to the good. The moment I thought that my life was truly over.
The moment that started me on the path to learning that all of my expectations....had been wrong.
This moment sticks out so egregiously in my memory because it was not my new normal. It was simply a passing moment in time, a period of grieving what I thought my life would look like, a phase in which my mindset changed and grew and stretched to the place where I could see past my selfish expectations for my child.
When I think back to that phone call now, I wish he had said, "So, your baby tested positive for Trisomy 21. Congratulations on your new little girl! You won the lottery because yours is coming with something a bit extra! This extra chromosome might change things a bit, but chin up, Mama- just wait until you meet her. She is going to blow you away. Don't underestimate this one. Seriously- you will realize you didn't know what living was until she entered your life. I am so, so, so happy for you and your new baby!!!!"
I wish this phone call could have touched on the look in her eyes when we talk. A sparkling mirth in those blue beauties in their almond shaped frame.
I wish he would have mentioned her laughter. How contagious it is. How purely happy it would make the world around her.
I wish this phone call could have mentioned her today in first grade. How smart she would be. How capable. How truly grown up she was becoming.
How much she would love her bright pink glasses but HATES it when I try to do her hair.
How well she would learn to read! And love doing it.
How obsessed she would be with her new shoes. Or boots and accessories. Or wearing dresses. Or how she loves to spend time with her baby sister.
How after grocery shopping last week, she grabbed a bag full of ziploc bag boxes and correctly put them all away without even being asked.
How her cute babyhood seamlessly transitioned into cute girlhood.
I wish this phone call could have skipped the "I'm sorry"s. Because looking back now- I'm not really sure where there was to be sorry about. For having a baby? A little girl? A beautiful little girl?
Yesterday the boys took away the trampoline ladder and she wanted to climb up and jump, so she pulled herself up without a ladder. Sorry that she's super strong?
This morning she dressed herself with a speed of someone who was eager to get to school and see her friends. Sorry she is so social?
Last night she ate her dinner and asked very politely for an ice cream cone she since had eaten "TWO bites. I ate TWO bites," she said earnestly. Sorry she loves chocolate? Is so verbal? Is hilariously cute?
Addison is no longer a baby. The baby hat- that was meant for her- full of incorrect expectations down to the size of her head is covered in dust. That phase in life is behind us. And now we focus on raising a smart, kind little girl with quirks and strengths all her own.
But what about when she's no longer a baby? I secretly wondered while I worked diligently on the worst baby hat known to mankind.
When she's no longer a baby- she will be a little girl. A beautiful little girl. It just keeps getting better. Every day will be just a bit sweeter than the day before. Getting to know her- getting to do life by her side-
This is your gift.
Enjoy. Being mommy is the best seat in the house.
Don't take a moment of this experience for granted.
And stop crying. There is nothing to cry about. (except maybe how badly you are sewing that hat. But heads up- you also learn to give yourself some grace. So "great job!" on that hat...might want to keep your day job though...)
So extremely grateful for this girl:
(Just a heads up- we will be doing some website construction in the very near future. Will let you know when our new look is live, and hope you can be patient with us as we transition over in the coming weeks. Thanks!)