I kind of mean it as a joke when I point out the fact that I am responsible for 80 toenails and fingernails (mine, plus three kids’). Peter kind of means it as a joke when he says, “You just make breakfast and lunch for the kids and yourself. Don’t worry about me.” But I am tempted to count the hours of care I offer every day as if they will all add up to some cosmic score and I will be deemed wonderful.
If there is anything I have learned as a mother, and particularly as a mother of a child with special needs, it’s that every limitation has a corresponding possibility. Even the fingernail cutting involves those little bodies snuggling their way into my lap and smelling their hair and feeling so grateful that I get to hold onto them for at least a few more years. I am limited–or perhaps I should say that I have chosen to be limited–in what I can accomplish professionally in this season of my children’s lives. But the limitations on my time writing and speaking opens up time for them. Yes, for fingernails and toenails, but also for reading stories and putting bandaids on boo boos and playing games in the car. And these limitations open up possibilities for learning from them too. Lately, I’ve had a strange sense of admiration for our children, and so as Mother’s Day approaches, I want to offer my gratitude for these three gifts I have been given:
I often hear that kids with Down syndrome are stubborn, and maybe that’s true, but with Penny I see it as perseverance. She has been working on tying her shoes for over a year. Every morning, she sat down and tried, for as long as we would let her. She got the initial tie pretty easily, but getting those two loops to come together took practice. And practice. And practice. She worked at it for days, weeks, months. One day in the fall, she did it. We jumped up and down. But it took another four months before she did it again. And then another week before she did it again. And now, almost all the time, she ties her shoes. I’m not sure I have ever worked so hard, so diligently, with so little immediate gratification. But she wanted to do it, and so she tried and tried and tried and she never gave up. She is doing the same thing in her math class and on the tennis court. Trying, trying, trying. Not worrying about what other people can do or whether they learn it faster. Just continuing to work hard. When I grow up, I want to be just like her.
With William, it’s curiosity. He wants to know about everything. He corrected me the other day when I referred to pine cones. “Those are hemlock cones, Mom.” I routinely drop him off at school with a question for him to work on–what was the first living creature? Do miracles really happen? How does that truck cut up the trees and make them into wood chips? I want to be like William too, observing the world around me and trying to figure it all out.
And then there’s Marilee. These past few months especially, I’ve noticed her unusual care for others. Some of it involves creature comfort. She will gladly bring ice water to her siblings when they ask, and she often totters back and forth from the family room to the kitchen to report what one of them needs. But she also worries when people are upset. Yesterday, William hurt himself. She ran upstairs to his room, unprompted, to find his giraffe and blanket and brought them downstairs. It was a simple response to a simple problem. I want to be on the lookout for people in need, and I want to be willing to respond as quickly and sincerely as she does.
I often pay attention to (and bemoan) the countless hours I have given to my children. But I am trying to be open to the three of them, and to the gifts they have to offer. So this Mother’s Day, I’m thinking about what each of our kids has given me lately. And I’m grateful.