To this day, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that this incredible person came from inside of me, a tiny body attached to a cherub’s face, gifted with the eyes of a much older soul. She first connected with my cradled arms, a human burrito with a single clenched fist that managed to escape its bunting, sticking defiantly up in the air in a salute to freedom. All she needed was a torch and she could have passed for a miniature Statue of Liberty.
Her high-pitched, newborn battle cries were impressive, and I would have thought her distressed if not for her eyes, which told a different story. They locked with mine, peering through them like windows, finding the parts of me I had long kept tucked away. It didn’t seem possible that this brand new creation could see straight to the chasm where my dreams lay in waiting, but I felt it with each expansion of my heart. Those almond-shaped eyes held a kind of wisdom that would take me years to understand. This was not just any child. This was Elizabeth, my treasure beyond measure — a soulmate forever connected by blood and veins.
Hours after her birth, my husband and I were dumbfounded by a visit from Elizabeth’s pediatrician, who spoke to us about things like Down syndrome, Trisomy 21, mental retardation and delayed development. We were told she had a greater chance of developing leukemia and Alzheimer’s disease than the general population. We were advised to enroll her in early intervention, yet prepare ourselves for the possibility that she may never speak, read, write or attend a regular school. Descriptive phrases were tossed into the air, like low-toned, flat-nosed, short-necked, and protrusive-tongued. The rational part of me knew the doctor was merely doing his job, while the irrational part imagined screaming profanities in his face while enlightening him on the concept of bedside manner. But as my attention shifted from his moving lips to the bassinette-on-wheels stationed next to my bed, I couldn’t recognize this child he spoke of. Instead of an assemblage of defects, I saw a gift, a daughter, a product of love’s procreation — eyes full of wonder and a chest gloriously rising and falling with each tiny breath. I saw my own quiet countenance and my husband’s zest for life. I saw Heaven. I saw God.
I saw my best friend.
Elizabeth is fifteen now, a freshman in high school. She sings in the chorus. She swims. She bowls. She lives and breathes music and is somewhat obsessed with One Direction and Miley Cyrus. In many ways, she’s just like any other typical teen. And in other ways, she’s not.
Down syndrome is a label that will follow her around her entire life. And because it takes her longer to achieve certain milestones than most, she is considered a “special child” by society’s standards. Well, I have to agree. She certainly is special. And I’ll tell you why.
When she looks, she sees. When she listens, she hears, ingesting the words and much of what goes unspoken.
She is my kindred spirit.
Here is a person who never judges, admonishes, or has a negative word to say about anyone. She tells me, “I love you, Mom” without fail, every single day. She understands me in a way that most people twice her age can’t, while at the same time embracing my entirety, even the parts that aren’t always pretty. I’ve never known anyone so completely attuned to human emotion, and whenever I’m having a crappy day, she puts her arm around me and asks, “Are you okay?” When I cry, she cries too, internalizing my pain as if she’d rather take it on herself so I no longer have to.
Through the years, we’ve carved out our own special nook amid the hustle and bustle that monopolizes such a large chunk of life in these modern times. We take it slow. We observe nature. We listen to songs on repeat until we know the lyrics by heart. We cuddle. We hold hands. We share. We smile. We joke and laugh.
Elizabeth projects love in its purest form, and it rolls off her in waves until I’m soaked to the soul. When I experience this love, I cannot help but want to be a better person…someone more selfless, more patient. She fills me with confidence. She brings me clarity. She is my biggest cheerleader. Through her, I have learned that each day is a gift to be unwrapped with Christmas morning excitement — that everything I ever needed was always in front of me, right at my fingertips.
I have learned to see through her eyes, to witness the beauty in ordinary things — things many of us take for granted, like cotton candy clouds and the smell of rain-fresh pavement.
Elizabeth may never attend Harvard or become a lawyer or earn a million dollars in her lifetime. But she is the epitome of what it means to be a good person. She is the best daughter a mother could ever ask for. She is my treasure beyond measure, designed with the exquisite almond eyes of a wise old soul.
She is my best friend.
Oh, and did I mention that she is an amazing big sister to my other bestie? Well, that’s a story for another day. 🙂
S A Healey, a happily married mother of two, is and will forever remain, a lover of words and a sucker for romance. You can find out more about her novels and other works at http://www.sahealey.com