As a child, I thought that people's lives happened on purpose. That you found love when you'd planned to, and that babies came when you decided that you were ready for them. At some point, I realized that life happens accidentally, while you're still figuring out what it is that you don't want, because that's the step that comes before knowing what you do.
My life happening, while it was nothing close to what I had planned for it to be, is but one of the unexpected epiphanies I've had as a grownup. Another is that old people aren't really old. That old is relative.
That life is relative.
That I'd love my baby, no matter what. Even if he's "retarded."
Let me go back a bit.
Years ago, I had a conversation with my dear friend Sara. I told her that if I found out during pregnancy that my baby was retarded, that I'd not have it. I told her that I didn't think I would love a retarded child as much as a "normal" one.
Shame on me.
I did not have a successful pregnancy until the age of 40 and decided (for other reasons that I won't get into here) that I should have an amniocentesis. When the doctor called me to let me know of the results, he said that my baby was fine, healthy, and that all of the tests came back within the normal range. Hardly able to believe my ears, still convinced that something was horribly wrong, the question that spewed out of my mouth was "So he's not retarded? He's really okay?"
I'm not sure that my pregnancy was real to me then. That my little boy was, either. I don't think that I grasped how much I loved my unborn baby, and wanted him, until a later exam revealed that I had an incompetent cervix, and that simply walking my dog Chief around the block could cause my son to die inside of me.
It was then, before my little boy was even born, that I realized how perfectly perfect he already was, and would be, if he'd simply Be. Be born. Be okay.
Please God, let him live.
I begged God to forgive me for having a risky amniocentesis test. I begged Him to let my son be born, and to be okay. To live.
My baby was born, and he was born perfectly healthy and normal. His Apgar scores were 9 and 10. He was not too small, and there were no concerns. It wasn't until much later that we realized that he was delayed. That he was what I may have once referred to as "retarded."
I was wrong about the word "retarded." While it may have originated in meaning delayed, or apply to somebody who learns more slowly, it morphed into a joke, and an ugly name. There are other words like this as well, but I'm not going to go into all of them, because surely, even the most tenderhearted of us all are still allowed to say the word "stupid" and not actually mean anything by it other than that we were, during a particular incidence, acting without much common sense.
My son Tucker is developmentally delayed.
And I love him. Fiercely and bigger than any love I've ever known.
Which is, I expect, the very most unexpected part of being a grown up. Of being a parent.
I have perception now, as a grownup and as a mom, that I previously would never have even had the ability to wish for, it was so foreign to me.
Recently, in an addendum IEP meeting to assess my son's needs for occupational therapy (OT) to improve his fine motor skills, I learned that the tests that they gave him concluded that he falls in the 1 percent when it comes to cutting, drawing, and writing. While I know that it's just a number, and that testing kids like mine is ridiculous at best, seeing that number on paper hurt. But, not for the reasons I may have thought, years ago.
Seeing that number hurt me for HIM. I don't want him to ever see a number on a piece of paper and assume anything about himself. I don't want him to see a number on a piece of paper and give up.
I want him to grow up knowing that he is himself. That being himself is perfect, and enough, and that while there are lessons to be learned, and empathy and wonder to be found, that whatever's going on with his mouth, his hands, and his head, that he's beyond perfect and lovable. Right now. Forever.
I want him to know that his imports are the most important of all. That he's the future. That I am the lucky one. That I thank him for being exactly who he is today, and exactly who he will become, no matter who that guy is.
And that whether he can draw a stupid house, or cut along the lines, that he has the power to change the world.
That he changed mine, before he was even here.