My line of thinking about this subject is different than most. Not very popular. Outside the norm. But I believe it with every fiber of my being, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
My dance instructor is a good friend of mine who supports me in ways that I never expected. We are so close I consider him to be the younger brother I have always wanted. I share in his sorrows, celebrate his joys and want to know about all the events that will shape his life significantly. I was one of the first to know when he and his wife announced that she was pregnant with their fist child. My excitement built up like an inflated balloon to the point that I I thought I would burst. I couldn’t wait to share the news with almost everyone I knew.
What I didn’t expect was the reaction that I got. After an initial expression of delight, most people I told would follow that up with “I hope the baby is healthy.” The balloon lost a little air every time I heard that.
To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure how to respond. Don’t get me wrong. I would never wish disability on anyone. I don’t spend energy hoping that a baby is born blind or deaf or missing a limb. With any of those conditions, children are bound to experience some hardship or bad days. However, the first thought that runs through my mind when I hear that kind of reaction is something like “Do you really think my life is so tragic? That makes me sad for you.”
Would I be happier if I did not have a disability? It’s possible. But my disability does not make me unhappy. Looking back, I can see that my disability enabled me to have some experiences that I would not have had otherwise. I have long said that it doesn’t define me, but it does shape who I am. I consider it to be simply a characteristic. I have brown hair and brown eyes, freckles and a great smile. By the way, I am also a wheelchair user. And every day I learn how to deal with that.
I was not born healthy. Eleven weeks premature, my lungs were not developed enough for me to breathe on my own when I arrived. In the time it took for the doctors to realize what was happening and get me into an incubator, some brain cells died. Consequently, my brain can not make the connection to tell my body to work. I have never walked without assistance, driven myself from place to place, or lived as an adult without the help of several caregivers. Does that mean that my life is sad? No. Some parts of my life are difficult. That is simply my reality. It just is the way it is.
I have certainly gone through my share of hard times, and there have been many days when I wished my body worked better and I could do more for myself. But is my primary wish to be healthy? No. For the most part, I think I have accepted my limitations as being what they are. My primary wish in life is to be happy, and that doesn’t have anything at all to do with my health. It is the same wish I have for every baby I know as their life unfolds before them.
Last Friday was one of the best recent days in my history. A caregiver took me to see Lawson, Brandon and Rachel’s baby, for the first time. I totally admit that I am biased, but he is, without exception, one of the cutest babies I have ever seen.
When his parents were in the kitchen and I was holding him outside on the patio, we had our first conversation. While stroking his fuzzy hair and looking into those huge eyes for several minutes, I told him that I was his Aunt Lorraine, and that meant that as he was growing up if he ever had a problem that his mom and dad couldn’t help him with, he could come to me and talk about it and we would work it out. He could count on my support no matter what. I also told him that when the time came, I would give him beer money with no questions asked. Shhh. I didn’t tell his parents about that part, but I took his hand and we shook on it. That makes it a done deal. Just sayin’.
He has ten fingers and ten toes and everything seems on target for him to be incredibly healthy. Will he experience hardship in his life? Without a doubt. Even if he is eventually the captain of the football team and breaks the school record for the 400-meter dash. And will there be characteristics about himself that he won’t like? No question.
But if I am lucky, as I love him with every bit of my heart, I hope that part of what he learns from me is that he can be cheerful despite any circumstance that he faces. He can always find the positive if he chooses to look for it. If he has a goal that he doesn’t think he can reach, I would encourage him to look outside the box before he decides it is impossible.
And above everything else, my greatest hope for him is that he is happy. That is the one thing that I hope most of all.