I have a confession to make, until very recently, I was not great with kids.
My sister Nicole and Cathy, as my relentless fact-checkers, would tell you how I was a dreadful big sister, utterly disinterested in my younger siblings, babysitting, and playing with babies. I liked dolls, not the real things.
When my mother brought home my baby sister I was 5. I remember stating matter of factly how Nikki looked like a doll and then leaving the room. You see, Nikki had ruined my Christmas by being born on December 23rd, and so my mother (aka Santa) could not get the presents under the tree in a timely matter, so I was annoyed.
For quite a long time, children were a mystery I was not too interested in solving. Even as a child, I preferred the company of adults. I was one of those people who talked too much and too loudly to children, acting as if the typical three year old was someone I might meet a cocktail reception. Instead of chatting about politics or music, we would debate their views on the Tellytubbies and the significance of that weird, smiling baby.
When I had my own children, I got better at understanding children and caring for them, but, I was still happy to hand off a baby to my friends or a sitter.
One day, a secretary at my office went on and on about how she loved caring for her "grandbabies." Retirement would bring the joy of being involved in their lives. I was counting down the days until I never had to get a diaper again. I imagined myself as the cool grandmother who travelled and sent funky presents and postcards, I would not be trailing along for every sporting event and birthday party. A professor friend told me "you can get back to writing and being a scholar full-time when they get to 4. You will be able to write all the time." And, for a long time, this was something I looked forward to.
And then, when Cal got sick, all I wanted to do was be around Cal and hold her. I now hated myself for not savoring every moment with my older children when we went to the park or they learned to tie their shoes. I had been so inpatient for potty training and kindergarten to liberate Pat and me. But now MLD had revealed to me the errors of my ways and I was so angry with myself for missing the best parts of parenthood.
Once I realized MLD could take all the things that I had taken for granted, in a moment, I found myself overwhelmed with the wonder of children.
Every child, from the one one having a fit in the supermarket or to a child who was ill in a hospital bed, seemed just so magical and wonderful. I wanted to hug them all, and, when the children saw me, they all laughed and smiled and wanted to play. They seemed to recognize my joy at being in their presence, and, much to my amazement, they responded to it. Now, I find that holding babies and making them smile, things that I once had so little interest in doing, bring me immense pleasure. I am never frightened or annoyed or overwhelmed by children.
[Note: this is not to say I am some saint who never gets upset with Camille or PJ, but, it is different now. Cal is about a close to a saint as any human I have ever encountered, so maybe her sweet perfection has just taught me be how to tap into the amazing parts of me. I might be tired or exhausted or overwhelmed, but, no matter what is going on, I can never forget how my children could be taken from me so it is impossible to take anything for granted. And when you realize how fortunate you are to be telling the 15 year old to do her homework or reminding the 11 year old to practice his viola or stop playing X-Box, you just can't be annoyed or angry the way I once was].
And after three years of living with Cal's diagnosis, and resisting the idea of being around other children like Cal, fearing the pain would be too much, I now find that I can't get enough of the children whom I would turn away from in the supermarket or tell my children not to stare at.
So many people have commented on this photo of Daniel and me, and I am struck by the obvious and rather instant connection. You see, not very long ago, I would not have been any help to a mom like Susan or me. Not very long ago, I would never have thought of myself as someone who rushes across the room to grab the child and hold them and comfort them and make them smile. I was not the mom who understand how to connect with a child who doesn't speak or smile or laugh.
I might have been a mother but I was not really maternal, I loved my own children but the rest of the world's children were not my concern.
And so, I am just amazed how much Cal has changed me.