Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Special Needs: A Self-Concious Guest

The fall of 2010 would have been my ultimate un-doing, if I had not met my now- husband.  OK, that statement is a bit over-dramatic, but really, it was a bad time.

My apparently rapid descent unnerved some of my closest friends, and most of us were not speaking for one reason or another. I quit my job and moved back to Cleveland (home). I began applying to schools and filling my spare time with water aerobics classes. Like I said, it was a bad time (but who knew water aerobics was so efficient?! For real... my abs thank you, 64 year old water aerobics instructor).

Anyways, back to me, cold and lonely in Cleveland while my fiance was in Va, finishing his school year. One night, my mom asked me to help her at the place she volunteers. This place happens to be our church, Grace, and the volunteering involved watching special needs kids for 4 hours on a Saturday night. Or at least that's what I thought it would be. "Maybe if I go help out these kids, I will feel better about how horrible I am. Plus, they probably really do need my help."

So, I pulled my hair back, put on a big comfy sweatshirt, leggings, and some boots, and out into the Cleveland snow I went. Lisa (my mom), and I drove to the church. The car was quiet and the windshield wipers struggled to keep the sleet from blocking our view. I felt lonely. My heart tightened in my chest as I fought back tears. I thought about the past few months and all of the people I'd dissapointed. I hated me. I wanted to stop messing up. I was alone in my head with my narcissist thoughts. Yet for some reason, I couldn't figure out why, for the first time in my life, I couldn't read, work, exercise, or laugh this pain away. I was blind.

I'd always believed in God, but I wasn't acting like I did. Most of the time when I prayed, it felt insincere, or, at worst, hurried role-play. Now, for the first time in my spiritual life, when I prayed - there was complete silence. A shut door. God had enough of me, finally. With these thoughts, I stepped into the church.

That night I was assigned to a small girl with a gene-deficiency named Alayna. She was tiny for her age, and upon first glance, she looked like a normal, little, blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girl. She couldn't speak much, but when she did, she would find one thing to focus on and repeat that word or small phrase for an hour or so until she found a new focus. Upon meeting me, she was shy. After I spoke with her dad for a few minutes, she came out from behind his leg and pointed at the cardinal tattoo on my arm and squeaked: "Red bird." I smiled at her and she smiled back. I had a new friend.

That night we watched a magician, I helped her open a juice box, encouraged her to ask for the pink cupcake on her own, and introduced her to other little kids. We played kickball, and when it was our turn to kick, the ball went flying and she clung to the front of me like a little monkey with her legs wrapped around my waist and screamed shrilly as I ran the bases.

Later that night, we went downstairs for music time. The coordinator went around handing out simple instruments to all the kids. The music started and, at first, most of the kids were shy. Then, the zoo broke loose. First two of the older kids went up front. They were both chunky boys, around age 14 or 15, one black and one white. They held hands and jumped up and down. Soon they had to break their grasp of friendship, as the white boy, with his cheeks completely flushed to red, bent down and slapped the floor and then jumped to the ceiling, wailing with the music. Every time he bent to slap the floor, his neon blue jogging pants slid down and his belly popped out, but he didn't care. He just kept dancing and whooping "Praise the Lord." The taller, thinner, black boy walked around the front of the room just shaking his head back and forth, humming and repeating "That's right... that's right."

Alayna perched timidly on the edge of my knees. For about 30 minutes, she had been repeating the words over and over "my church, my church." I don't know what brought that phrase to her mind, but I just shook my head at her and said, "That's right, Alayna. Your church." I felt like I was saying something really true.

Finally, Alayna mustered the courage to get up, and she walked to the stage, through the chaos, and stood perfectly still with her hand to her mouth, wide eyes sloped up at the guitar player.

Alone, I was left to inspect the rest of the crowd. I hadn't been singing, and I still wasn't, but I smiled. I looked down to the floor and saw a little boy with blonde hair and big, broken and taped glasses sitting at my feet. His left arm hung limp and heavy to the ground like a dead weight. For a moment, he seemed perplexed about how to join the fun. His eyes scanned the floor. I wanted to hand him an instrument, but I couldn't see anything that looked like he'd be able to play. "Oh no, I thought. How do I help this kid?" But before I could feel bad for one more second, he figured it out on his own. The little boy put his fingers to his lips and made a loud buzzing noise, slapping his lips up and down with his own little hand. Spit went flying, his cheeks got red, and he buzzed away, praising God.

I blinked back tears and watched in wonder. "And I thought that I was coming here to help them...." my mind hummed.

In that moment, I think I began to see a bit more clearly.

Preston always tells me that suffering isn't a bad thing.
That night I watched disabled and autistic children praising God of their own accord. These are kids who we see to be suffering. But what I saw that night was not suffering, it was a room full of children completely unaware of themselves, eyes open to the beauty before them. What a blessing.

I love you Bronny!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Son of a ... : Thoughts on Becoming a Mother

I woke up at 5 a.m. in the cold dark. My husband of less than a month lay next to me. I shook him until he (kind of) woke up. "I think I'm pregnant." I whispered in fear. Preston didn't open his eyes. "Go back to bed" is all he had to say. Clearly the news didn't send 35, 567, 896 thoughts racing through his brain like it did mine. "Crap."

The next day I drove to Walgreens and bought a 5 pack pregnancy test. I came home and took 3, resolving to take the other 2 the following day, just in case. I peed. A minute or so later I realized that my life would be very different from then on.

I slowly walked out to the living room in my underwear, as I was too stunned to pull up my pants, I guess. Preston didn't even look up from Youtube. He had no idea what was coming. My hand was shaking and I was nervous to say anything out loud. I set the 3 positive pregnancy tests in front of him on the table. He looked up. He smiled. I fell on the ground, dramatically, and started crying. "I don't want to get fat!" I wailed. It was a shallow moment.

The 3 weeks that followed held a mixed bag of emotions for me. I love life, but life inside of me? I thought of the mood swings, morning sickness, and time spent babysitting. I thought of my older sister's crying kids and how I never got work done at her house. I thought of how my little sister's words, prophesying that I would be a terrible mother. I cried. Alot. I told my mom. She cried. I made Preston tell my dad. They were both very happy. Maybe my mother, who had 3 c-sections, understood a bit more what might be going through my head.

It wasn't until nearly a month after I found out I was going to become a mother that I had my first true moment of acceptance and peace. I went with my husband to visit his grandma. She has a few dogs at her house and she needed help filling their gigantic communal dog bowl. While Preston was retrieving the small-house sized dog-food bag, I walked around the yard and watched a new born puppy running around through the grass. I couldn't tell which dog was his mother, but he looked like he needed assistance. It was a hot day in July and the Virginia sun was unforgiving. The puppy's nose was dry and he hid in the shadows. I could tell he needed help. *Maternal instinct go.*

I went over to the puppy and picked him up. I stood with him for a moment in the shade and felt his heart racing. I pulled him away for a minute and studied his face. His entire face was caked with dry, red Virginia clay and his mouth was dry. His eyes looked at me wide, full, dark, and dumb. I took him around to the side of the house. I found a small water spicket and turned it on until cold water gushed out into a little tin pan. I put the puppy down and, in-between his hurried sips of water, I started to wash his little chin. He drank too fast and choked on the water. I patted his back and coaxed him back to the water. While he drank, I wiped cool water all over his forehead in an attempt to cool his little body down. A few minutes later, hydrated, clean, and comfortable, the puppy looked up at me, and I think he smiled. Probably not, but maybe. I don't know why, but as I looked down at him, I felt something in my heart move. I mean I have always loved dogs, so it wasn't this newfound love of animals. It definitely wasn't a newfound love of puppies. It was just a small movement. Like a little piece of my heart moved and told my head that it was ok to accept the fact that I was going to be a mother. It was time. That was it.

Over the next few hours, the little puppy followed me everywhere I went. I helped him find the food, and I pulled trash from the yard out of his mouth. When Preston and I got ready to leave, he followed me to the car and sat in the grass, looking at me with his head to the side, puzzled at where I could be going. As our car reached the end of the long gravel driveway, I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the puppy trotting slowly behind us, eagerly peering into our car. I looked over at Preston, who was watching me watch the puppy in the mirror. He smiled at me and put his hand over mine. I smiled back at him and felt glad to have his baby growing inside of me.