A few days ago I found myself enjoying a few minutes to sit down and experience some peace while M did her swimming class and W played quietly while waiting for his. This was a make-up class for us, so it was not our typical group. As I watched M swim, I noticed there was something different about one of the little girls in her class. She had a lot of difficulty holding her head up, and her body was very floppy. I would learn later she has what’s called Floppy Baby Syndrome. It made my heart hurt to watch her. What a tough journey, I thought to myself.
A few minutes later, the mom sitting next to me asked which child was mine. “She’s the one in the mermaid suit (of course),” I answered her. “Wow. She’s amazing!” replied the mom. “She is such a good swimmer!” My heart swelled as I told her that it had been a long road for us to get to this point with lots of tears, courage, a very patient and wonderful teacher, and that now M was doing really well. She was confident and capable in the pool, and I was so proud of her. I then asked her which one was her child. “That little one right there,” she said as she pointed to the child who I had been watching earlier. We talked like typical moms for a minute about how her child fussed and cried about swimming occasionally too, and yet she thought she had made a lot of progress as well. “She’s special needs though,” she explained. “She can’t walk.”
She continued talking about how therapeutic this was for her daughter, how wonderful this particular teacher was, and that their weekly regimen of therapies included swimming, horseback riding, physical, and occupational therapy. I searched for common ground to normalize a conversation which felt far from typical adding that I was sure she slept well after a morning like this. “Oh she does!” said her mom. I then asked if she was their only child. Looking back, I regret that question so much. I asked only because usually parents who are there with just one child have either a baby at home or an older child in school or camp, and I also was just making conversation. “Yes,” she replied, and then she caught herself. “Well, we had another child but she passed away. She had something similar to what her sister has.” My heart sank. And sank and sank.
Here we were at the same swimming class with the same teacher with about the same age child, yet our worlds could not be more different. Her battlefield was juggling therapies. Mine was juggling activities and nap schedules. Her battlefield was hoping her child walked by age 4, so that she might attend preschool. Mine was hoping my rascally 2 year old finds his way off the preschool waiting list and into a classroom. Her battlefield included a kind of grief I pray that I will never know. Mine included riding the waves of my little four year old’s emotions. She will probably never know my battles, and it is by the grace of God that today I do not know hers. I thought of her as I watched my children wrestle with their daddy when he came home from work, something they wait all day for. That is probably not something that happens in her house if her child can’t walk. I thought of her as I took my M to a special birthday party that started after dinner and that she got to stay up late for, and I realized this is probably not something she can do either. Finally, I thought of her as I watched M dance around her room. “Let me show you a few of my ballerina moves, Mommy.” she said as she danced. My precious, beautiful, and healthy 4 year old girl. This mother will never see her daughter dance like this.
What I know is that she loves her children just as much as I love mine. I know she would protect her daughter and that she would go to any length to ensure her happiness, just like I would. I know that she is stronger and more courageous than I am, and I imagine she wishes she didn’t have to be. I know that her battles are harder than mine and harder than most of us. What she reminded me is that what we struggle with as parents on a day to day basis is hard. Our battles are our battles whether they involve deep worry or surface level challenges. I didn’t leave her thinking that my battles are not as important, but what she did leave me with, however, was an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for the moments that I have with my children and gratitude for the battles that accompany those moments. I’m grateful to her for showing me grace, strength, and courage in it’s truest form.
Find the joy (and be grateful)~