Walking into Amanda’s home, I’m immediately surrounded by it’s warmth. An old farmhouse, rustic wooden floors, breezy yellow kitchen cabinets, cozy nooks and spaces inviting you to sit, talk, read, think, listen, or just be. Amanda’s artistry dapples the walls of the house and I feel the embrace of her home welcoming like an old friend.
Towards the end of the evening, I see Reed perched on an ottoman, talking with Amanda. He invites her to play blocks in another room and she concedes. His delight is palpable. If I give anyone a pass on playing blocks with my kids, it’d certainly be another mama with three kids of her own. But she says yes and I’m touched by her kindness and generosity to my oldest.
Her ready, willing yes made me wince a little as all the times I’ve declined his invitations to play bubbled up and popped on the surface of my heart. The reality is that people, classmates, other kids, sometimes even his own siblings, turn down his invitation to play with him, sometimes simply because he’s different. Because he can be difficult to understand. Because his interests don’t line up with theirs.
But what if, in a world that will probably tell him no more often than is fair, I can be his yes person? That person who eagerly agrees to chase him around the back yard, dig in the dirt, or take a walk down to the lake. The one who sits with him in his favorite spot and reads as many books as he’ll bring. The one who will always make time to mimic his silly faces. It could be my way to tip the scales back in his favor and make right what genetics has gotten wrong.
And yet I don’t feel like the hero I think this story needs. I mostly just feel like an over-tired, never gonna get it right mama. I want my yes’s to wrap him up in love, affirmation, and being known, and yet I know how life presses in and makes demands and fogs what in my prayers I promise to do. So I am here, in this place of yearning and difficulty, this place of being pressed and uncomfortable, this place of not knowing and worry that if I don’t say yes the most to him, then…
I can’t discern the path that rightly balances me, him, them…and the rest of the world with all its no’s and yes’s. So until I know, I love. Until I know, I celebrate all the times I (and others) do say yes. Until I know, I trust in a Love that is greater than all my yes’s and all my no’s.
Dear Ms. R,
I was okay. Really, I was. Until I looked across the table at you and saw tears brimming in your eyes.
You’re a mom so you know that more than anything else we want for our kids, we want them to be loved. And while our love for them as mamas is big and fierce and strong, so very strong, we want to know that others appreciate, include, love our kids. It’s what keeps me up at night. Wondering, praying, hoping, searching for those little glimmers of reassurance.
Your tears reassured me that silly, sweet, loving, six year old boy is loved beyond our own four walls. Because you know that when someone knows they are loved, they can be so much more than we dare hope. Loved people love.
You have spurred me on in my own love for him. Because if I’m honest, raw to the bone honest, sometimes love doesn’t come easy. Tired, frustrated, confused, sad, overwhelmed all come easy. But easy is a lie that never delivers and love is a truth that bears hope and light. So thank you for being a love bearer in his story.
After that meeting last week, that meeting where we all agreed that what he needs is a smaller, special needs-focused classroom, I cried because his season in your class is ending. I cried because he has done so well with you in your class. I know good things will come from his new teacher, new friends, and new school. But this good thing, this good space you created for him, deserves grieving. Grief testifies to great love.
You have done, as Mother Theresa once said, so many small things for him yet each one with great love. Small things with great love. That’s what’s made all the difference for him, for us. I know he will miss you, your classroom, and his friends fiercely. And I can’t change that, not even sure I should. Because I want y’all imprinted on his heart. I think that will give him great courage and great confidence as he takes these next steps.
I know you haven’t done this all alone — your assistant teacher, his therapists, the resource teacher, the administration — all of you have come around this little boy and given him a great gift — love. And for that I am deeply grateful.
A very thankful mama
My corn silk haired baby, you have been such a joy this year! You are a mile marker to the beginning of us — our family — all new. Long nights and tired days, yes. But still joy filled because you’re here. And sometimes that joy seems to rub out a little bit of the sleepy.
I finally feel some confidence, just a little cocktail of hey-I-might-know-what-I’m-doing with this baby thing, occasionally, every once in awhile. Until I don’t and then we just figure it out all over again. We’re bursting all antsy-like, watching you do all those things babies do — crawl, investigate stairs, crinkle-nose smile at us from across the room, stand, clap, discover new tastes and textures, splash happy in the pool, call us Mama and Daddy, laughingly giggle when we find just the right tickle spot – witnessing precisely, uniquely who God has made you to be.
My sweet, observant, gonna wait until you’ve got it figured out just so, baby girl. You are loved, loved, loved. You are a delight. Happiest of birthdays, Ansley Goose! Love, Mama.
Reed, when I look at these pictures — all snapped moments, like a still shot calendar — I see a loyal, goofy, loving boy. You became a big brother all over again and won my heart with how kind and tender and sweet you are with Ansley Goose. You’ve made me laugh with your silly sweet faces that you pull out at a moment’s notice. You’ve shown us how much you love animals and art, and I really do long for the day you can have a puppy all your own. You’ve impressively weathered not just miles and miles of road trips this summer, you’ve tenaciously worked to adjust as our family uprooted from schools and friends and a church we loved to start a new adventure. You’ve hung in there with us and have simply blossomed into this beautifully handsome, loving boy that we have the privilege to call our oldest son. We love you, buddy! Happiest of birthdays to my silly, sweet Reed.
Monday we met your teachers and you got to explore your classroom. We saw the gym and the cafeteria and the library — all the neat places that will help you learn and grow.
Tuesday we met your team — the teachers and therapists and principal and admin assistant and psychologist — who are already working so hard to support you in this new adventure of kindergarten. I sat with them at the table, talking about you, your strengths, your challenges, our hopes, our concerns. Bud, you have a good village (and boy do I mean village — at least ten people around that table!). Now I know we’re in the right place, with the right people.
And then there’s tomorrow. Big, deep breath for my mama self. The big, burning question leading up to this day is have we done enough? Have we helped you enough so that tomorrow you feel confident and secure in who God has made you? I think of all the things we have said, could have said, might have done, did do. And all I can do is remind myself to breathe.
So, I breathed in the smell of your slightly curling strawberry hair tonight and in an instant I’m back in that operating room, arms shaking, listening to a nurse gleefully announce that my baby had red hair! Then I see your toothy, baby grin smiling back at me from the back of the blue truck right after your first haircut. And in another moment, I remember how your first words were actually first signs — more and eat and ball and dog. I see you all crinkle nosed, face-to-face snuggling (which Grammy swears was really a Reed-style interrogation) with tiny newborn Luke. And the tears come quick and ready as the reel of your first steps across that black and white tile kitchen plays in my mind. And oh goodness, the first time I heard you call your baby sister Ansley Goose, the nickname you made up for her, I prayed that it would stick. I think I’ll be up all night with these memories.
I am so proud of you, Reed. So proud of the person you are and the one you’re becoming. I’m proud to be your mama. I know that this year will be both a challenge and a blessing. Daddy, me, Luke, Ansley — we’re all here cheering you on. We’ll just take it one day at a time. Just like we’ve always done.
For three days we shared meals and laughs and pool time and conversations and worries and evaluations and encouragement. Our kids played while grandmas and aunts distracted the rambunctious ones and then rocked the tired ones. We swapped remember when stories and gushed over how much all the kids have grown. We snapped photos and said we couldn’t wait for next year.
This reunion, hosted as The Focus Foundation‘s 49ers Conference, has become a sanctuary for me. This gathering of experts and families all interconnected by the three extra chromosomes our boys share. A place where the doctors for once know more than I do about his disorder. The place where I watch my ten month old baby adore her brother’s 49er friends in the same way she is smitten with Reed. Where I watch Luke embody the differences don’t matter mindset. Where we benefit from the collected wisdom and experience and love of other families. The place where I see Reed, full of confidence and happiness, connect so easily with other kids. Simply, it’s the one time a year we are not the odd family out. We belong.
I’ll admit that first family reunion three years ago was rough. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to have a son like this. I didn’t want to meet older boys with the same disorder and feel like I was staring down my future. The second reunion was slightly less terrible but still incredibly overwhelming. I had accepted our new normal but my questions and worries still clung.
But then this third year just felt like coming home. Instead of being sad that we need to be there, I find joy in Reed’s exceptionality leading us on this journey. And I surprise myself. As hard as I’ve fought and pushed against this story — the one I didn’t pick, the one I never thought I could have survived in — now this feels like family? Like coming home? And I just laugh giddy because it feels like a triumph. To be able to say not only do I accept this story, I cherish it.
Where — or maybe more aptly — what is home?
For four years, ten months, and eighteen days, I’ve been slow to come around to Lancaster County, PA, being home, with her brilliant, rolling green pastures and juxtaposed old order and emergent new.
First, the house on Ashford, where three learned to be a new kind of family. Then two cozy, maybe too small, apartments where three became four, where sons became brothers. And then a tall, square, minty green house on the most impossibly narrow city street where 100 years of old had been transformed into new and lovely, where from the smallest bedroom corner of the house, we could watch fireworks drip over the city. And finally, then, a 1950s original vintage kitchen, with too worn carpet, and a warm, sunny, soft green backyard. This house where four welcomed the fifth and we grew more. I can close my eyes — because it was just yesterday — and see my boys playing, laughing, running haphazardly around that suburban backyard, see my baby sway all full of joy in her bucket swing with just enough sunlight to hint at the strawberry in her hair.
Lancaster, where your summers aren’t hot or sticky enough, I’ve been slow to name you home. Because home to me could only ever be that place where I rooted for 15 years. I’ve resisted your too cold, too white, sometimes too bleak winters. Your springs too pungent with manure smell. Your requirement that friendships start all new, all shiny, kinda scratchy, like those new, unlaundered pants, not quite worn in and comfortable, like the kind of comfortable two decades of living can bring. Lancaster, a backdrop for me, to real grief, complicated by miles and miles of distance. A place in which I was a stranger to those who had not met me and a stranger even really to myself, my new self, with my newly diagnosed son, my newly growing family.
But as we’ve packed, as we’ve shared meals and hugs and promises of visits, as we’ve quietly said goodbye, I’ve realized Lancaster has been our home. For four years,ten months, and eighteen days, Lancaster has given us deep green summers, and piles of snow for my boys to discover the thrill of sledding, and some of the freshest produce on God’s green earth, and yes even friendships that have become family. People, once new, now familiar like your favorite soft, worn leather reading chair, helping me know them, know myself, know that my family was loved. Helping to read, to witness our story and us theirs. Lancaster, you have homed us. And while you may not look or feel or smell like my first home, you have run gently a quiet, deep stream of gratitude through my heart. Gratitude for who you’ve helped me see that I am. Gratitude for how you’ve embraced the messiness and complexities of us learning to be a special needs family. Gratitude for how you’ve expanded us, taught us how to be us, new and differently and all over again.