November 30, 2006 was a day that changed me forever. It was a stormy Thursday outside of North Oaks Hospital in Hammond, Louisiana. As the evening approached the rains cleared and a rainbow appeared out my window. Within the next hour you made your way into my arms, the arms you would come to know as your safe haven.
The past decade has brought about so many changes in the both of us. With your life altering diagnoses given at six weeks old our life course was set to be an adventure of ups and downs. I didn’t know what the future held for you, but I knew that I loved you with a fierceness that rivals a momma bear’s.
I’ve spent a decade loving you all the while you spent it teaching me valuable lessons. So today on your 10th birthday I want to explain the life changing lessons you’ve taught me over the past 10 years.
- Don’t give up. –Your life has been a roller coaster of highs and lows, that’s no secret. Even in the deepest valley you find the strength to keep climbing. The odds are stacked against you, yet you defeat them time and time again. Your drive and ability to never give up has taught me to forge ahead no matter what obstacle stands in my way.
- Live for today. -Doctors warned me of how medically fragile you were and how important it was for me to be monitor your health. I have always slept with one eye open, worrying over your health and well being. You have had many “close calls” over the last ten years, so close that I was mentally trying to prepare myself for a life without you. I know I’ll never be able to prepare for that day which is why I try my best to live for today. I cherish every second that we have together. I kiss and snuggle you as much as possible. I tell you how much I love you a zillion times a day. I try to live each day as if it could be our last; making the most out of today and not worrying about tomorrow.
- Suffer well. -St. Therese of Lisieux once said, “It’s true, I suffer a great deal. But do I suffer well?” This quote is your life, my sweetness. You have endured countless hospital admissions, illnesses, operations, yet you suffer so incredibly well. You have taught me that no matter what ailment or affliction I could be enduring, I should endure it well- just as our Savior did on the cross. I pray we can all learn to suffer well…
- Inclusion elevates all. -When you came into my life I had just graduated with a teaching degree in Special Education. I knew that including students in both general education and special education was a beautiful thing, but experiencing inclusion with you made it all so much more real and wonderful. Seeing a child standing next to you in your bulky wheelchair interacting with you, learning about you, and understanding what made y’all similar and different made my heart burst with love. Inclusion not only helps those with specialties, but it helps educate the minds and hearts of all others too!
- Stop comparing. -I’ve heard that comparing one’s life with another’s is the #1 thief of joy, and I agree. I spent a large amount of time comparing you to other kids in your first few years. Comparing you with others not only stole my joy, but also stole my ability to love you for you. If I could go back in time and do it all over again, I’d still choose you.
- People are good. -Raising a child who is neurodiverse requires help from others. Your little life has reminded me that people are still good, no matter what the media says. People from all over the country have expressed desire to help and act on it when we need it, people have sent in donations to help cover costs of things not covered by insurance, they have held fundraisers, they continually offer to help us physically care for you, they vigilantly pray for you. Thank you for reminding me that people are indeed good.
- There’s always a reason to smile. -Your smile. Can I take a moment to say how your smile completely makes all my struggles go away. You find joy in everything. Waking up in the morning, hearing a crinkling paper bag, running your fingers through you dog’s fur, humming along to your favorite toy, feeling the wind, being alive. Your inner joy exudes from every inch of your body. In a world of moans and groans, your smile and joy remind us all that the Holy Spirit is within us all if only we allow it to come out.
- Advocacy. -Advocacy was foreign to me before you. Then you came along and I was thrust into a world that was not made for people with disabilities. You, one of society’s most fragile citizens, rely on others to speak for your rights. The love I have for you and interacting with fellow parents who advocate for their child with special needs drove me to the advocacy world. Advocating for you and others living with developmental disabilities has given me true purpose and passion. Like the Lorax said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.”
- One’s life can make a big impact. -In the past 10 years you have made a big impact on others. I have witnessed minds open, hearts soften, hands and feet more eager to help, and people’s faith in God be renewed. These changes have been evident in not only me, but also anyone who has come to know and love you. You ignite a desire in people’s hearts to help others, to see people who are different in a new light, and you have guided people to find the blessings in their life rather than focusing on their struggles.
- One’s life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. -When the doctor delivered your numerous diagnoses to your dad and I in that cold hospital room I grieved. I grieved the life that you were supposed to live. I grieved until I could grieve no more. Then one day, months later, I looked down into your bright eyes and realized that while your life wasn’t perfect, it could be wonderful. From that day forward it has been my mission to ensure you have the most wonderful life with your family and friends. I learned to focus not on milestones, but on moments. Moments with you filled with laughter, surprise, joy, fun, and passion has taught me a valuable lesson–life is what you make of it. And I can’t imagine having lived this life without you-just the way you are.
This decade of loving you has been the greatest joy in my life. Every moment with you is pure bliss and I look forward to all of our moments together from here on out. Thank you for being mine and for teaching me all these life lessons and more, all without ever speaking a single word.
Happy Birthday Connor man. I love you.