A Little More: Saying grace
Here's one thing you might not know about my son Avery: before each meal, he insists that we all say grace.
In our family, that means we join hands and say a little prayer, a simple rhyme for babies and small children that goes like this, "God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food. Amen." When it comes to the end, Avery says "Amen" with such gleeful delight that he's nearly shouting; it sounds more like we're doing a team cheer than giving the food a blessing.
It doesn't matter to Avery where we are--we could be in a restaurant with servers in crisp white shirts and every time you take a sip of water, a busboy appears to refill it for you; or we could be seated beneath a picnic umbrella in the food court of the Costco, eating our hot dogs and soda (with 1 free refill) for a dollar fifty. Either way, Avery will not begin eating until we've joined hands and said grace.
Certainly, this burst of piety isn't something I expected when I learned Avery had Down syndrome. I don't know what I expected, really--my friend Kathy and I were recently talking about it. She's mom to a son with Down syndrome too, and we each had different, albeit wrong, ideas about what being the mom to a special needs child would mean to us. She felt, in part, that it would require her to assume some sort of mantle of "specialness." I thought (and I have no idea why I believed this) that I would need to begin driving a van. A white one.
None of these things have proven true, of course. Being Avery's mom doesn't make me feel any more, or less, special than being a mom to my other kids does. And Avery hasn't needed any extra adaptive equipment (other than the usual things, like when he was littler, a stroller, or now, a car seat) so there's no need for my white van.
What has proven true is that mothering Avery has brought people into my life that I might not have known, otherwise. Therapists, of course, and doctors and nurses. And other parents of children with Down syndrome, and parents of kids with CP and autism and Asperger's. Children who are learning Braille, or sign language. Children who simply don't fit the norm, for any number of reasons.
Sometimes people liken being the parent of a special needs child to having taken a detour in life--like finding yourself in Holland, for example, when you'd made reservations for a trip to Italy. I know this analogy works for some families, but not for others. I've come to understand that the one-size-fits-all approach is not a good model for human beings.
I like saying grace before every meal. I like that Avery reminds us to do it, that he requires us to slow down 3 times a day for a moment of gratitude. Because of him, we hold hands, and are thankful.
I feel that way about my fellow special needs parents. I don't know if you consider yourself in Holland or not, but wherever we are, whenever I poke my head up and look around, I realize I really like my fellow travelers. Parents who can talk PT or ST or OT, parents who know about g-tubes and canulas and oxygen tanks tucked in the corners of rooms. Moms and Dads who know infant CPR and how to insert a trach and what to do if a child turns blue.
We know all these things and we also play Peek-a-Boo and sing "Ring Around the Rosie" and count tiny toes with "This Little Piggy." We marvel at low-tone babies learning to sit up, or at the intricacies of a child decoding the pattern of raised dots in a line of Braille.
There are many things I didn't know about being Avery's mom, in the beginning. But I'm learning, from him, and from all of you. And I wish for us a safe journey to wherever we're headed--may we find our paths filled with lots of grace, and always, traveling mercies.