As I prepare to return to college, I am trying to get as many scholarships as possible. One night, I woke up with an entire essay in my head, which had to be written down before I could go to sleep again. I don't know what scholarship will need this particular essay (so far, the essays I have come across have themes like "How would you spread the word about Credit Unions", or "Why is America the Land of Opportunity, and how does Brand X Butter help it stay that way?"). However, I know that someday, my midnight essay will be exactly what I need.
I will share it with you.
Most college students worry about meeting that certain someone, deciding what they want to do with their lives or finding out who they are and how they fit in. I worry about going to school and still being a good wife to my husband and a good mother to my children—but mostly I worry about SmallDaughter.
I worry about how to help her understand and be understood, I agonize about helping her meet her potential, I ponder about ways to help her learn to write her name. I worry about helping her learn her shapes and letters, to brush her teeth by herself and to say her prayers. But most of all I worry about keeping her safe.
Every toddler on earth has a knack for getting into trouble—but most of them outgrow it as they learn about the world around them. SmallDaughter is 10 years old, but because of several neurological conditions, she remains “the world’s tallest and fastest two year old”—functioning at about the same level as an average 2 ½ year old child.
She is a charming, bright, sparkling redhead, with big blue eyes and an infectious smile. Her ready laugh and responsive personality charm everyone who meets her. Yet, with all these gifts she is almost totally non-verbal.
I have never heard her say “mommy”, let alone “I love you”. Yet—she does communicate—surprisingly well. Using ASL signs, word approximations and body language, SmallDaughter expresses opinions, teases and jokes and gives us flashes into her mind.
People wonder how I can cope with the difficulty of living with a permanent two year old. It is certainly a challenge, but it is also a blessing. My older children BigGirl and LargeBoy were not only typical, they were above average. They learned skills so quickly and easily that it was easy to miss how much work was really involved.
SmallDaughter slows that process down. She is like watching childhood in slow motion. Every milestone comes at tremendous cost and effort. She just mastered the skills needed to “jump”—the motion of “bend the knees, then spring upward”. Her therapists (and her family) worked on that skill with her—for six years.
I would not have chosen my life. I would not have signed up to have a ten year old who still wears diapers and has tantrums, who pours milk on the carpet and has no sense of safety. But I would not trade my life for anything. I would never give up the lessons my family has learned— how valuable each moment and each milestone is, or how patient BigGirl and LargeBoy are with not only SmallDaughter, but anyone who is “different”.
Choosing to go back to college as a 39 year old wife, mother of two teenagers and a perpetual toddler (and her Service Dog) is scary. But, SmallDaughter has taught me:
I can do hard things. Giving up is not an option. Laughing makes things better. No one knows what the future holds, but today can be a great adventure. Most of all, I have learned that things (and people) do not have to be perfect or fit some ideal to be wonderful. Life is a sweet gift, and filling it with joy every day is the most important thing we can do.