Ten years seems like a long time.
A long time to be alive and learning and growing and discovering new things – and that’s just us. You’ve had a lot going on too!
In the past ten years you’ve brought us to life in a new way and taught us what matters most and nurtured our best selves and made every day an adventure.
Usually, in these birthday letters, I talk about all the things you kids have learned and are learning that year. I encourage you in some areas of struggle and try to share a vision of the amazing person you can/are to become. This year I’m going to do it differently. This year I want to talk about all the things you’ve taught me and how you’ve made me a better person.
Because ten years is a milestone, not just for you, but for all of us. As I look back and as I look forward, the one truth that stands out, bold and CAPITALIZED, indisputably important, is this:
I AM BETTER BECAUSE I HAVE YOU!
- I laugh more. You are unrestrained in your enjoyment of life. When something strikes you as funny, you howl. When the music moves you, you dance with abandon. When you feel happy, you sing – anytime, anywhere. The best part is, a little bit of this seems to be rubbing off on me. You are teaching us to Carpe the heck out of each Diem.
- I am forced to slow down. This isn’t an easy lesson for me. In a world of rushing and pushing and trying to squeeze more in all the time, you insist on half speed. Whenever I say “hurry, hurry” you indignantly reply “no! slow, slow!” and deliberately downshift to Barely-Moving. At the time, this does not feel like a wonderful, life affirming lesson, nor do I calmly accept the defiance. BUT, I’ve learned to avoid rushing as much as we can. I’ve learned to see it as the enemy. I’ve learned that we need margins in our life, and have stopped apologizing for insisting on them. Quiet time each afternoon, early bedtimes, no to activities, yes to help… we’re not perfect, but we’re learning.
- I am showered with affection. I am not, by nature, a hugger. This does not exempt me from your extremely tactile love language. Turns out, all that snuggling is good for the soul. Not to mention the several times daily declaration: “Hey, hey Mom… I love you!” It’s a rare and beautiful thing to receive such unfettered, unfiltered, unlimited affection.
- I have become part of an exclusive, and usually encouraging, community. There is something that happens when I see another person with Down Syndrome, they are an instant friend (much like you and the entire world on a good day). There is a sense of kinship we share with all other families who live with special needs, even those we might not normally click with. There is an ever expanding team of professionals who are assigned to support us – behind the official designations and job descriptions I’ve found some of the most wonderful human beings and even, some true friends. Sure these relationships can be bumpy, the stakes feel high and sometimes we disagree and debate and shake our heads at each other. But we are united in our unshakeable belief that our lives are better for having you.
- I am becoming more patient. I was a strict parent before you, one with extremely high expectations. I don’t regret that, but I’ve had to adjust to your needs. Your life is very stressful. For a personality that craves control and predictability the world of disability is particularly trying. I can relate.
- I have a front row seat to the cutest show on earth. Seriously, you are the most adorable 10-year-old on the planet. Everyone agrees.
- I celebrate small achievements in a big way. We don’t take your success for granted. You work ten times harder than the rest. Your determination looks a lot like stubborn, even impossible some days, but ultimately it is your greatest strength.
- I have developed compassion. I can’t pretend that this life is easy, for you or for us. It peels away any pretense I had about my own saintliness (sorry strangers in the grocery store who assume I deserve some kind of reward for “giving birth to an angel”). The truth is, I’m selfish and shallow and silly in ways I never noticed before. Aren’t we all? And each life is harder and more complicated than an outsider could imagine. I’m learning not to judge a person based on their neediness and messiness and general dysfunction, because I understand grief and exhaustion and being overwhelmed better than I ever did before.
- I will never go out of style. This one feels bittersweet. I will never have an empty nest, not really. Yes, I expect you will live independently and have your own full life. But you will always need me in a way my other girls won’t. I will always have a shopping and travelling and movie companion. I will always have snuggles and giggles and silly dancing to the radio.
- I see past the myth of normal, the social masks and the competitive games, to what really matters. Sometimes the rest of the world seems ridiculous, stressing about grades and position, looks and social status. Health isn’t a given in our house – muscles that are strong enough to run and jump, a body that fights off illness, the ability to speak and be understood, to see and hear and feel the wind on our skin, to give and receive love… these simple pleasures trump all the superficial we build our life around.
So here we are on your birthday, but the best gift is mine. It isn’t always easy. I don’t get it right all the time. But being your Mom is a joy and a privilege. Thank you! Happy Birthday!
And now, a few words from Dad…
Is it really a whole decade since you made your surprise appearance nearly a month ahead of schedule? It was just the first of many times which you’ve shattered all my expectations and changed my life – always in the best possible way.
This year it was your reading, which has improved spectacularly. What a treat it has been to sit down with you and have you read an entire storybook to me! I know how hard you have worked on this, and I am so proud of what you have accomplished!
Your talking is also getting so clear – not that you’ve ever had any trouble communicating exactly what you want. Just yesterday you came up to me, pointing frantically inside your open mouth. “Tongue?” I asked. Nope. “Teeth?” Nope. “What do you need, B?” With hopeful eyes, you said without hesitation: “Cheesies. Cheesies in my mouth.”
One of the big highlights for me this summer was being able to watch you in your music class – or “dance class,” as you called it – at my office. And maybe it was a dance class, because you danced your heart out each and every day, with an ear-to-ear grin all the while, and frequent waves to make sure I was paying attention. You especially loved Tommy and his drums; whenever you did stop dancing for a few minutes, you were quick to grab a bongo drum to bang on in your seat. Your energy was infectious!
Speaking of music, this has definitely been the year of Frozen. I can’t even begin to guess how many times you’ve watched that movie. But one thing that never gets old is listening to you belt out “Let it Go” at the top of your longs, dancing around our living room. I remember you seeing Elsa and Anna at the Calgary Stampede Parade. As excited as you were, all you wanted to ask them was, “Where’s Kristoph?” Hopefully he’s with them when we visit them at Disneyland after Christmas!
It’s been a strange start to the fall, with school starting late this year. For a girl who loves her routine, you’ve done very well with having an extended summer. You don’t know it yet, but school’s going to be a little different this year, as you’re going to have some new helpers. You probably won’t like that at first, but I’m sure you’ll come to love them as much as they will love you.
I love you B! Being your dad is one of the great joys of my life. Thanks for always keeping me laughing!
Happy 10th birthday!