Every morning, I hear them.
Around the corner from their bedroom into the kitchen where I’m making breakfast, two pair of little girl feet come pitter-pattering with excitement against wooden floors. Four-year-old Kate is usually the first to greet me in front of her little sister — arms wide open and a grin even wider: “SURPRISE!” she exclaims.
I’m not sure when Surprise! became her go-to “Good morning,” but it is now one of my very favorite greetings. It’s like every day is a birthday party.
It occurs to me every once in awhile that having a child with Down syndrome is not the typical thing in most families — kind of in the way I realize, suddenly, that I’m wearing house shoes at the grocery store. It’s all so comfortable and routine to me now, I sort of forget that there’s anything curious about it at all.
And that feeling, specifically, was what I wanted most four years ago — the feeling of normalcy that fits as comfy as house shoes. I wanted to move on from the all-encompassing-seemingly-huge-deal of having a child with Down syndrome that hit me like a wave in those first days. But how quickly the wave washed over and passed on to still waters — newer waters — clearer waters.
The surprise of Kate’s diagnosis on the day of her birth was not akin to the usual emotions of a celebratory birthday party — but oh, how that has changed.
I find myself telling her daily how smart she is, how incredibly, truly bright. How fun she is. How kind she is. How she lights up this world like the most gracious guest of honor — Surprise! she says. And she is so right.
It started the day she was born — when the doctor affirmed confidently she would never be able to breastfeed. Surprise! When I was concerned about her not being close friends with her siblings: Surprise! When I felt like we would be held back from the dreams we had — surprise! (Again.)
The more this goes on, the more I realize that the fact that life is full of surprises is not really all that surprising at all. Or disconcerting for that matter. Who would want to live in a world where nothing ever surprised them? Where the first wildflower of the season didn’t cause a stir of joy? Where the unexpected thunderstorm didn’t bring on an impromptu movie night? Where a surprisingly wonderful conversation in a smoky bar atop a sushi restaurant couldn’t lead to marriage? (Ah, now that was a sweet surprise.)
This morning, they did it again — around the corner into the kitchen with open arms and big smiles. And I did what I do every day. I squatted down to their level and threw open my arms wide to welcome them in.
“Surprise!” Kate said, falling into my arms.
“You’re here!” I responded, pulling her in close for a hug. “I am so, so happy to see you.”
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ? Eleanor Roosevelt
Artwork by Kristen Johns