The gift of knowing her

In the early days after my daughter, Kate, was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth, I would look at pictures from the weeks and days before she was born.

Of my maternity photos in that magenta ruffled shirt…

Of the photos of my mom cutting open the gender-reveal cake on a hot summer porch to show powder-pink sponge cake inside (it’s a girl!)…

And I would think of what I didn’t know.

I didn’t know she had Down syndrome in that picture of me eating banana pudding with a big pregnant belly at my husband’s 30th birthday party.

I didn’t know she had Down syndrome in that blog post I wrote the night before I would be induced with her. 

I didn’t know that the little girl who kicked me in bed and waved at me in that sonogram picture and completed my Halloween costume of “Baby Spice” would arrive with life-changing news.

It was — in those early days after Kate was born — as if time were split into Before-Down syndrome and After: there I was at the pumpkin patch a week before her birth. And here I was, a month later, trying to figure out what it meant to be the mother of a beautiful, precious child with a scary diagnosis.

But oh, how we learn.

Because now, 6 years later, I look back on those postpartum pictures of a tired mom with sleepy eyes and her hair pulled back holding a tiny newborn as sweet as sugar —

And I think about what I didn’t know.

I didn’t know that 6 years later, that little girl would be the best big sister to three younger siblings, her best friends in the world. That she’d love to gently kiss her youngest brother on the forehead while he slept. That I’d hear her singing lullabies to her sister when they played “family.”

I didn’t know how incredibly fun and silly and smart she would be. That she would cackle like an old woman when her sister tickles her belly; that she would love to re-enact The Sound of Music and run barefoot with glee in the rain.

I didn’t know how the diagnosis of Down syndrome would go from being a scary, unsure thing to a source of incredible gratitude. That it would change our hearts and our lives and our perspectives of the world for the better. That it would become as natural to us as the butterflies in our garden in the Fall.

And that she — like a butterfly herself — would go from being that snug, swaddled baby in my arms to a radiant source of joy and beauty whose life reflects the sunlight.

I am still learning so much about motherhood and all of my children — and God willing, I will continue to do so as this life is long. But during this October, Down Syndrome Awareness Month, it is an honor to share just a little of what I do know now —

The incredible gift of knowing her.


Because just yesterday

This isn’t a cliche commentary on how fast time goes —

Or maybe it is.

Because just yesterday my oldest boy was the same age as this newborn here, with tiny fingernails smaller than the eraser on a number 2 pencil.

And now, my oldest boy is holding this tiny one and looking into his grey-blue newborn eyes with a protective joy emanating from him like beams of pure sunshine. And how did that happen?

And how did it happen that just yesterday I was a 2nd grader playing Barbies on my parents’ lanai in Hawaii. And Barbie loved Ken and Ken loved Barbie and they had a dream house and a Ferrari —

And well,

I don’t have a Ferrari, but a dreamy home, maybe. Because even though it’s often as messy as the bun on my head and loud as that rooster out back, it’s so very full. Of life and purpose and reminders that God exists. How could he not?

Because just yesterday (last month, really) I pushed forth my fifth-born whom I hadn’t met until that day — but yet, as soon as he arrived and filled his lungs full of air, I felt as though he had always been here. We exhaled together and I laid him to my chest and I was his and he was mine as if it had always been that way.

And just yesterday (literally, this time) I was in the grocery store with just the brand new one in a carrier around my waist and a man walked by, looked at my newborn, then pointed to his 4-year-old and said to me smiling: It won’t be long.

And I smiled back a smile that said: And don’t I know it.

And not because I know much of anything — but because not long ago, I gave birth to my first-born who is now old enough to teach me how the light switches are organized in our house (“The one closest to the door is always the overhead light” — and now why didn’t I know that, living here for 3 years?) And suddenly, I’m carrying my 5th born through the cracker aisle and am as close to 40 as I am to 30.

Does time really creep in minutes and hours or does it just jump forward every once it awhile when you finally get the chance to actually sit down and look around?

They will grow. I will grow. We all will grow. And one day we’ll look at each other and say with a smile: now how did that happen? “Because just yesterday…”

I’ll always be their Mama, even when my eyes are as cloudy and wrinkled as a newborn baby’s. And they’ll always be my children, just like this soft, sweet new boy that sits warm in my lap sleeping. As much as we change, we never do.

But this isn’t a cliche commentary on how time goes so fast; rather, an ode to joy. A song of praise that we have any time at all to fill with life and love and each other.

All I have to do today

We are now rolling downhill to when baby number five arrives. It seems, like any roll down a hill, that we’re picking up speed as we get to the end here — only a couple months to go.

I am knitting a baby blanket that is halfway finished and staring sort of blankly at the closet under the stairs thinking that at some point I should pull out the old newborn boy clothes and give them a good shake out and wash. I am making a concerted effort (and often failing miserably) to keep my feet up and letting go of unnecessary chores — though it’s my summer vegetable garden that has suffered from that one.

The more babies I have and years I tuck away, the more I know what I know (and also what I don’t know). I am realizing that I am much less an expert on many things that I perhaps, at one time, thought I was — but also, that I am much more comfortable in who I want to be as a mother, wife, friend.

I had a wise man who is progressed in his years tell me the other day (in response to a comment from me that I am a writer who hasn’t been writing much) that the average person doesn’t have much to say before they’re 40 anyway. Maybe he’s right. It does do a person good to have a bit of life experience before expounding on the whole thing.

But by baby number five, I must say it’s feeling quite familiar this time around — and I am thinking less about the logistics of how the whole childbirth thing will go and am dreaming more about meeting our little boy.

A boy! Again — after three girls following our first-born boy. I hardly remember what it’s like to have a baby boy and am curious to watch the dynamic of a baby boy with three big sisters, rather than a big brother to a crew of adoring little girls. I find observing these dynamics and getting to know these little humans alongside my husband to be the joy of my life.

And so, I am nesting and trying not to waddle and remembering that there is always enough time to do what needs to be done.

Which reminds me of a passage in the book Teaching from Rest, by Sarah Mackenzie, that I read recently and then re-read again.

I wonder what Jesus’ ministry would have looked like if He was as obsessed as we are with “making the most of our time.” As Kevin DeYoung said in Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem:

Jesus did not do it all. Jesus didn’t meet every need. He left people waiting in line to be healed. He left one town to preach to another. He hid away to pray. He got tired. He never interacted with the vast majority of people on the planet. He spent thirty years in training and only three years in ministry. He did not try to do it all. And yet, he did everything God asked him to do.

I find that to be a great relief: All I have to do today is what God asks me to do. The most important thing, of which, is tending to these five little souls beneath my feet and on my lap and on the way.


The Gardenias are blooming

There are no more pine needles

to gather from the wooded forest floor.

The thick compost rug is now dampened

in April showers and dew.

May petals blossom from sleepyhead plants in bed;

the season is upon us for these sorts of things.

It is a season like any season — full of its own agenda —

For who would wear a winters’ coat to pick a summer melon?

Or expect the leaves to wear golden orange in the middle of May?

This is the season we dwell in, with beauty all its own.

I embrace it, delight in it, for tomorrow it will pass.

There’s time yet to sled down a hill

or write a book

or wake up in Paris,

But for now, hurry, to the front porch we go —

Smell the sweet air that greets your nose,

The Gardenias are blooming.

Here I am

Today I am moving slower.

More intentionally.

Only a few things to be done on the “to do” list, none of which are bound by deadline.

So I can stop, sit, sing, “Where is Thumbkin?” with a little girl on each knee, welcome the big ones back in from the yard with a hug, calm a conflict with a snuggle on the wooden floors.

Time is not my own today. It is their time and God’s time and our time as a family, and in that there is peace — for what else is there to be done than what should be done?

Today I am giving myself time for virtue and patience and enjoyment. I am baking bread and letting them help with flour-dusted fingers.

I am cleaning the kitchen and doing laundry and playing Ring Around the Rosie — even if all that gets done is that we all fall down.

I am settling into the in-between space that welcomes interruption and dust on the floor and toys scattered beneath the couch. Where children grow right under my feet and time stands still — but just for a moment.

And if ever I feel like these small people gifted to me are in my way — keeping me from doing all the things I am meant to do — well then, I have wandered off path yet again. I veer back singing, “Where is Thumbkin”:

“Here I am. Here I am.”

I settle back in to what matters.

I take on less so I can take them along.

And together we go in peace.