“Your daughter is so lucky to have you as parents.”
It’s a phrase we hear quite often from kind people around us who must sense and feel how treasured our daughter, Lucia, who has special needs, is by us. And I suppose they mean to compliment us, too, to tell us what every parent yearns to hear from time to time from his or her village–that all that work of parenting, the stuff that you do in the trenches doesn’t go unnoticed–that it’s not all for nothing, that even when you don’t feel like it, someone saw you doing a good job and took the time to notice it.
But especially when Lucia was really little, crying day in and day out from neurological and gastric distress, and even sometimes nowadays, phrases like these are often followed by a confession, something like, “I certainly couldn’t do what you do.”
When we were first learning about Lucia’s special needs, my husband confided in me how hard it was to hear words like these, well meaning though they were. For him, especially, the notion that we were doing anything differently from other parents, or that we were different from other parents, smarted against the ordinary we knew ourselves to be.
I’ve also noticed that such ordinary phrases. not unlike “I’m sorry,” often have the power to divide rather than unite. When I used to run off to far away places like Mexico or Puerto Rico or China and get to know Christians there, people used to tell me similar things, that they could never do what I was doing, that I was amazing, and that my life seemingly mattered more than theirs. But that smarted against the reality I knew God to be creating: certain people are not better equipped, because it’s God who does the equipping. I wasn’t more courageous or better or bolder, I’d had my own doubts and my own fears, and the words that conveyed that I was beyond those insecurities and inadequacies while others lived with them constructed a false reality, a world of dichotomies, a world in which some are quite extraordinary but others are not.
But here’s the thing: parents do extraordinary things for their children all the time, because love is a seeping, pervasive, unwieldy, extraordinary thing that causes us to do all sorts of things we never imagined we could or would do. And I guess neither my husband nor I want people to forget that. Sure, we feel encouraged to know that people see Lucia and we as a fabulous unit, but we also don’t want to exist in some weird, alternative special needs universe, where our family is abnormal or an anomaly, so much as one example among many examples of what love can do.
And that’s also what I’m learning. I’m realizing that whereas it used to feel fundamentally uncomfortable to hear these words and these accolades, I can choose the way I respond. And I’m beginning to love hearing them, because I get to respond by saying, “Well, we feel truly blessed to be Lucia’s parents.” And that truth is one that I’m so blessed and compelled to say aloud–that despite the tears and the pain and the heartache, there have been just as many moments of elation, warmth, and joy. I want people to see the joy and the delight that we have in Lucia, just as any parent has in his or her child. Something about this response, perhaps like the response “I’m not sorry,” makes me feel that I have a bit more to contribute and to give to this world, rather than an ethos that sets me apart or above it.
Because the truth is also that my husband and I are in the trenches beside all of you, trying to sort our parenthood and do our very best, though our patience often fails us and our compassion can run dry. But it’s our kids that keep us going. It’s all our kids–the love that we have for them that is so much better than us–the people we become when we let that love lead us, the people that we are becoming that makes this all something more than luck that we’ve found one another, but rather grace that we get to love one another.
And that’s how I’ve begun to feel when I hear those words, “Your daughter is lucky to have you.” I’m filled with humility and gratitude and grace, because it’s not so much true that Lucia is lucky. But I know it to be true that it’s by the grace of God that we’ve been blessed with one another.