On Friends (or thank you)

All my life, I’ve known amazing women. From my great-grandmothers–whom I’ve mostly gotten to know more from family stories than from my own time with them–to my grandmothers, and, of course, my mother. I’ve been surrounded by friends that are equally amazing women. My earliest childhood friends have grown up to be women I am proud I once knew (or still know, if Facebook can define those relationships these days). 🙂 My friends from high school are still the ones that know me best and love me anyway–an impressive feat (just ask my husband). And when I went to college, I was literally surrounded by amazing women, a handful of whom I count among my nearest and dearest. Of course, I met some impressive souls in graduate school and at every. single. job. i’ve. ever. had. AMAZING women. My lifelong friends. My best friends.

I think, as an adult, you kind of get to a point when you’re so comfortable with your relationships–friendships included–that it seems that all the bonds have been forged. You don’t think much about meeting your next–or should I say newest–best friends when you already have so many it feels like your heart could explode.

And then, you have a child with Down syndrome. And before you know it, women you’ve never seen before are bounding over to you at your first workshop to introduce themselves and insist that even though you aren’t from their side of town you simply must join their playgroup. You will get emails from women you’ve never even heard of, from cities you’ve never even visited, reaching out to you, welcoming you to the club. And women you’ve met only through social media are so excited to finally meet you in person that they announce with the sincerest of enthusiasm how nice it is to finally meet you and that you’re going to be best friends always. And you smile, taking it all in, wondering if having a child with Down syndrome suddenly transports you to a land of perpetual happiness where all the moms are BFFs… 😉 Of course, you’ll meet a few moms (and sometimes dads) here and there that you just aren’t so sure about. And that’s ok too. But the ones you really click with, well, you find out not very far into the journey how those friendships will come to sustain you.

Now, I know it might sound like the hokiest testament to friendship ever. And, in fact, we have laughed at ourselves, and exchanged some oh GAWD, you must have thought I was so weird moments. Sometimes I think we women try harder to impress new friends than new mates. 😉

But in all seriousness, I’m not sure if those women–the ones I described above–will ever really know how much it meant to me to be greeted with such gusto and warmth during what was certainly an unsteady time in my life, especially with Eli’s medical concerns. I didn’t really know then if those women would become part of my circle of best friends, but I knew that I wanted to be part of a group of women so willing to take in a stranger simply because of an extra chromosome in common. I knew these were good women. And now I know they are amazing women.

To say I don’t get out much is an understatement. Well, let me rephrase that–I actually get out quite often. But I’m carting kids around in my booger-smeared sweatpants in need of a haircut (again) and looking haggard and worn (my husband hates my “uniform,” as he calls it, and can’t believe I would ever go in public while wearing sweats…). But in the not-so-distant past, I actually got out. Without kids, without the husband, but with makeup! On this particular day, I wasn’t feeling so great and almost backed out of going. But I didn’t, mostly because I had been looking forward to it for a week. And I’m so glad I went because I left feeling like I needed to tell the whole world what an amazing group of women I’ve been blessed to know thanks to my son. (There’s that amazing word again. I’ve got to get a thesaurus…)

So let me tell you a little something about these women. These are women of grit. They are tough as nails and smart as hell and witty and brilliant and hilarious. They have plastered smiles on their faces while their babies lay in pieces in the NICU. Or after being cut wide open in surgery. Because they’ll be damned if they’ll let their own fear get in the way of comforting their precious babies. They have listened with fierce intensity and resigned stoicism to disappointing reports and bleak diagnoses. They have exercised the restraint of saints by not tearing apart inconsiderate doctors. Or nurses. Or people that stare at restaurants. Or grocery stores. Or pretty much anywhere.

They are beautiful. Benevolent. Tenacious. They are faithful. They are thankful. They don’t stop until every nurse, therapist, surgeon, and specialist that has loved (and helped) their child knows the depth of their gratitude. They are advocates. They will show up at the hospital to keep you company because they know waiting is hard. They will give you advice about marriage and diets and careers, and they will love your children almost as much as they love their own. They will be the first ones you run to when your child gets a bad evaluation. Or a good one. And you will trust them with things you aren’t even sure you trust yourself with. Because they just get it. Like no one else does. Because there is just something about friendships among women. They are like oxygen–necessary for survival. These women will inspire you. They will make you grateful, once again, for this child you never knew you wanted. And you will sit with them, drinking margaritas, laughing so hard you cry and crying so hard you laugh, thinking to yourself damn, these are some extraordinary women.

And you will think about your other friends. The ones from your past. The ones from your past and present. Who sent you cards and music and emails and gifts in an unexpected-but-not-out-of-character rally of support for the new adventure you’ve started. Friends from long ago will be there, and you’ll wonder how they got your address and you’ll think about how many years it’s been since you’ve even talked to them. And you will weep at your sheer dumb luck for meeting all of these remarkable women along the way. And you’ll think damn, these are some incredible women.

You’ll think about those best friends from home, you know–the ones that know you best and love you anyway–and you’ll remember their concern when they didn’t hear from you right away when your child was born. You’ll remember how they celebrated his life, how they did anything they could think to do from afar–sent gifts and food, prayed and had masses dedicated in your son’s honor. You’ll remember the first time they met your son, how excited they were, how they never for a second treated him with anything but love. And you will remember those moments when you face times that are filled with anything but love. You will think about how never in a million years could you live without them, these friends, because they are as much your heart and soul as your children. And they have known your heart and soul longer than almost anyone. And you’ll cry again, this time because you can’t believe how lucky you are to have these women in your life. And you’ll think damn, these are some exceptional women.

You’ll think about your friends from work, the ones that haven’t known you as long but love you as much. Who opened their home on Christmas to take care of your daughter while you were giving birth. Who showed up with bags of clothes and goodies and rallied the troops to make sure you had everything you needed, from a working breast pump to time off work. You’ll think of the ones that sat with you during your son’s first surgery, held your hand, and prayed with you and for you when you were so terrified you couldn’t even stand it. You will shed tears of gratitude once again, unable to make sense of how you–you–keep hitting the jackpot when it comes to friends. And you will think damn, these are some remarkable women.

You will lock these moments up in a vault somewhere deep down because thinking of them will make you emotional–these women were among the first to love your son. They are a part of everything you will always remember about that time.

And your new friends, well, you’ll soon feel like you’ve always known them. Their friendship is different. You share something with them no one else understands. It’s almost like a secret. And you get to walk around smiling because you’ve been let in on it. You. Who would have thought? Certainly not you.

I’m not sure I ever thanked my friends properly for all the love and support when Eli was born and in all the months since. So, thank you. Thank you, friends. Thank you, amazing women. My life is better with you in it.

Beyond Measure

What am I thankful for today? Where to start??…

Today, I am thankful for growing up in a small river town, where I forged steadfast friendships that are still among the most important relationships in my life. I am thankful not only for my own family, but for the surrogate families I found in my friends’ families. And I am thankful that after all these years and living hundreds of miles apart, these people come to visit me and gush over my children and we never miss a beat, like we haven’t spent a moment apart.

I am thankful for going to college in an even smaller town, where I spent 4 years on a gorgeous campus with some seriously amazing people. And that when I see those people now, we don’t miss a beat, like we haven’t spent a moment apart. 🙂

I am thankful for opportunities to explore new things, even if they ultimately lead me back home. I am thankful to know myself and my limits, but I am also thankful for experiences that allow me to continue learning about myself.

Today, I am grateful for everyone that stepped up to be there for us when Eli was born. I am thankful for my mom and stepdad, who spent the night in the hospital with me the first night so I wouldn’t be alone. And I’m thankful for the nurses that broke the rules to let them both stay. I’m thankful that on that same day, my dad and his significant other stayed at my house and cleaned it so we wouldn’t come home to a post-Christmas mess, and I am thankful they stayed with us through Eli’s first surgery.

I’m thankful for the friends that brought us food and clothing, toiletries, books, and magazines. I am thankful for their prayers and their company. I am thankful for the strangers that reached out to us–they cooked for us, prayed for us, delivered goodies to our house. More than once, I was moved to tears by the kindness we were shown by so. many. people.

I’m thankful for my sister-in-law for all of her help, especially for all the trips she made from Lexington. I’m thankful that our relationship grew because of this, and that my daughter got to spend so much time with her aunt and cousins. I am thankful for my husband’s mother, who sat with him in the NICU at Good Sam when I was still in recovery. And for his father, who kept him company at Children’s Hospital until I could get there.

I am thankful for my sister, for organizing my house and keeping my mom company during one of the many weeks she spent here while her life was on hold back home. I am thankful that my brother came to visit as soon as he could after coming home from Afghanistan, and for my grandparents, for doting on Eli and Evie both the way only grandparents can do.

I am grateful for the best friend I found later in life, thanks to my job. I am especially thankful that she took my daughter in on Christmas morning so I didn’t have to go through labor totally alone. I am thankful for her family also, as they have opened their hearts to us and made us feel like we’re part of the family too.

For the wonderful doctor that delivered Eli, and my nurse–I am so thankful they celebrated Eli’s life. They dignified and honored his birth. They treated us with compassion. Because of their tenderness, we can remember Eli’s birth as a happy day despite its surprises; we were reassured and comforted and were given hope even in our fear.

I am thankful for my husband for loving our little family so much, for embracing our son immediately with unconditional love just as he did when our daughter was born three-and-a-half years earlier. I am grateful to know he was thinking of me when we spent that first night apart, when he was at Children’s and I was at Good Sam–I will never forget what it felt like to get his message telling me that the mile between us felt more like we were a million miles apart. And I will always remember the night we spent crying together and talking about our fears, holding hands from our side-by-side kangaroo chairs, so thankful to have a private room to get some rest, even if just for one night. And when he hugged me, unexpectedly, so tightly I couldn’t breathe, then leaned down and told me I’m the only one he would want to go through this with–that moment is etched in my heart.

I am thankful to work in a profession rooted in family, for coworkers and administrators that supported my taking more than 5 months off to care for my son. And I am so thankful to have benefits most people couldn’t dream of having–my leave has been paid. All. 5. Months. In full.

I am thankful for my daughter, for having untold resilience through all of this, for loving her brother so much, for making me laugh and showing me the world through a fresh set of eyes. I am thankful for my son for teaching me a new level of love I had no idea existed, for showing the world that Down syndrome is NOT a bad thing.

And I am thankful for Down syndrome. Thanks to my son’s diagnosis, I have had the last 5 months to care for my children, and I have loved every minute of it, even the ones consumed by colostomy bag disasters. Thanks to Down syndrome, I have become part of a “club” I never knew I wanted to be in. I have met the most amazing people and inspiring kids. It’s almost an instant bond, this Down syndrome thing–every family we’ve met has been fantastic. It’s so comforting to know there are other people that “get it.”

And this is just the beginning. I can’t even begin to wrap my brain around how blessed, how fortunate we are. At times, I’ve been compelled to fall to my knees and weep, feeling incredibly humbled by the blessings that have literally been raining down on us.

No doubt about it: life. is. good.

20120530-230448.jpg