In life we often think we know what we want. We do what it takes to get it: flirting with the guy or gal we hope will become our husband or wife; studying and working hard to get into the school or job of our dreams; saving up a little every month to take that big vacation. What we want becomes our goal, and we do everything within our power to make it so.
Then we reach our goals—and oftentimes we discover the guy or gal comes with serious baggage, the school is more difficult than we expected, the new job we worked so hard to attain simply sucks, and hurricane season reduces our vacation to a long hotel-room stay. No matter how hard we work to secure our desires, the unexpected is always waiting for us. The question is not how can we avoid it, but what are we going to do with it?
I once had the goal of becoming a mother. It was all I could think about. I did everything within my power to make it so. And while it came about with twists and turns I desperately tried to avoid, the day came when I met my goal. I held my daughter in my arms.
I was a mother.
But the baby I held in my arms was not the one I had dreamed
of. Though her open-heart surgery was successful, her lungs were still terribly sick. When the doctors delivered this news, I looked at my daughter and envisioned a lifetime of oxygen and medication. This was not how I imagined motherhood would look.
I pulled into the Target parking lot and parked in a space closest to a cart-return stall. I grabbed a cart, got out my antibacterial wipes, and wiped down every surface Macyn and I would touch. Then I opened the back door of our SUV.
“Hey, sweet girl!” I smiled at Macyn as she looked at
herself in the mirror attached to the backseat. “You ready?” She smiled back at me. I pulled the cart up close to the car and gently slipped Macyn’s feet through the holes in the cart seat, careful not to rip the cannula off her face. Then I picked up the green bag that housed her oxygen tank and placed it next to her in the cart.
“There we go.” I brushed the hair out of her eyes as she banged her hands on the handle in front of her.
“Mommy,” a nearby child said, “what’s wrong with that baby’s face?”
I looked up to see where the voice was coming from,assuming the child was talking about Macyn, happy to engage in a conversation with the child and his parent.
The mother shushed her son and continued to place bags in the trunk of her car. I smiled at the boy as we passed by on our way to the entrance of the store.
“But, Mommy, what’s on her face?” The child was pointing right at Macyn.
“It’s not nice to point,” the mother said under her breath as she quickly lifted her child from the cart and placed him into the car.
“It’s okay,” I began to say, but the mother wouldn’t even make eye contact. I looked at Macyn, and we continued inside.
“What’s on your face?” I asked her. “The most perfect eyes, nose, and lips I’ve ever seen!” Macyn giggled and clapped her hands.
We wandered through the baby aisles, picking up diapers,formula, and an irresistible dress on the clearance rack. I noticed every single stare and would simply smile at the people brave enough to make eye contact with me. I wanted to get on the loudspeaker and say, “Attention, Target shoppers, my baby is on oxygen. You may never have seen a baby on oxygen outside of a hospital until today. No need to stare or point or feel bad for us. And please, if you have any questions, just ask me.”
As we waited in the checkout line, a mom with a toddler pulled up behind us.
“Mommy.” The toddler pointed at Macyn. “What’s in that baby’s nose?”
“I don’t know, honey.” The mom smiled at me. “Why don’t we ask her mommy?”
I smiled back, thankful to answer their questions.
Never did I imagine myself pushing a baby in a cart at Target with an oxygen tank nestled in a special bag that hung on my shoulder like a vexing purse of sorts. Nor did I think I would be the mom who would sanitize the baby swing at the park before gently placing my daughter’s legs through the holes. I never imagined I would have to push her swing super gently because we were tethered to each other by three feet of tubing.
As time went on, the blisters created by this new pair of shoes slowly began to callous, and what was once an undesired nuisance became my new and almost comfortable normal.
So often in life—and especially in parenthood—we face a massive amount of fear and anxiety about the monsters in the closet. You know what I’m talking about: What if our child doesn’t fit into a typical mold? What if we don’t fit into a typical mold? What are the test results going to say? What might be revealed at the doctor’s appointment or the meeting with the specialist? What horrible things might the future hold?
We may find ourselves tucking in our precious children at night or brushing our teeth in front of a mirror, constantly glancing at that metaphorical closet, terrified about what lurks behind the doors. We drop to our knees and pray hard, begging Jesus to spare us from the worst kind of news, the kind that scares us most.
Then, usually after some time has passed, we realize that life
has gone on. We’ve made adjustments, some painful, that have landed us in a new normal. We’re making it. Our kid is making it. We’re breathing in and out. We’re placing one foot in front of the other. We don’t think about the monsters as often as we used to. Maybe we’ve forgotten them completely.
Then one night, as we’re tucking our precious child into bed or standing in front of the mirror brushing our teeth, we look over our shoulder at the closet, door slightly cracked, and we slowly walk toward it. As we grab hold of the doorknob, hearing the hinges creak, we wonder what’s different, why we now have the courage or curiosity to open it. And with one big brave breath, we quickly swing it open.
The monster we’ve been fearing this whole time is a red, fuzzy Tickle Me Elmo doll.
We begin to laugh and maybe even cry, because we realize that the monster never had any real power. Our greatest fear, although difficult and life altering, has made us stronger, braver. The monster in the closet hasn’t changed. No. We have changed.
In spite of our fears for Macyn, Josh and I managed to do life as normally as we could. I confess to occasionally fuming over the nuisance of Macyn’s oxygen. More than once, we tripped over the tubing or yanked the cannula out of Macyn’s nose when it caught on the arm of a chair. The tape that tore away from her temples would leave a small scratch in its place.
Once, we packed the car and headed to my folks’ house for the weekend, only to find upon arrival that we had forgotten to bring Macyn’s medication. Skipping a dose could be detrimental to her health, so Josh had to hop back in the car and drive the two-hour round trip to supply Macyn with her life-sustaining elixir.
Our love for travel was stifled because our daughter’s lungs could not handle the pressures of an airplane cabin, and our bank account could not afford the necessary equipment to fly with a child on oxygen. Rather than let that get us down, we found alternatives. We took weekend trips to the mountains or the beach. We embarked on eight-hour car rides up the coast to visit family and friends. We even rode a train cross-country to spend a week at my grandmother’s farmhouse in Iowa.
While my motherhood role was not unfolding like I had initially hoped it would, I was encountering bits of grace and chunks of joy I would have missed otherwise. Being able to rest fully in God’s reassurance that he’s got Macyn and he’s got me was a new experience. Motherhood is often about scooping up your child and gladly taking the bad with the good because he or she is worth it. Motherhood is about the mingling and intertwining of hearts, which makes it easier to accept the difficult realities, because you will do anything for this child of yours.
This was our new normal. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. What once felt like a strange and unwanted reality became a comfortable and, dare I say, enjoyable life unfolding with each new step we took.