She was a well-intentioned soul, my neighbor from across the street. Two elementary-school aged boys, husband, no pets. She was at least 12 years older than I, married later in life. Her first, his second. She was a former teacher now retired, he was a geologist.
She appeared at my front door on a typical mission, or so I thought, possibly dropping off neighborhood newsletters or selling cub scout popcorn. I honestly don’t recall why she came to our house that day, and I don’t recall why I didn’t just simply invite her in. Maybe I was embarrassed by the mess of toys and a used refrigerator box in the middle of the den. There wasn’t anything particularly exceptional about all the toys, but the box? Albeit an effective tool for teaching Ashley to crawl rather than roll, pivot, and roll again to her intended destination, I’m sure it looked odd. And back in the day, I cared not to look different.
I’m sure I wasn’t a thing of beauty that day, or any day for that matter. I had likely pulled on the same gray sweat shorts I was known to wear, t-shirt, hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, no makeup. My “work attire.”
Yes, I was frazzled. Heck, that was my “state of being,” running from therapy to therapy, developmental activity to developmental activity, teaching sign language, implementing the newest Apple technology, serving meals or snacks in side-by-side matching high chairs, Ashley and Megan only fourteen and half months apart. (Yes, it was planned. And, no, I’m not nuts.)
So, I stood at the door, likely with one child on my right hip, possibly the second on my left. It was not unheard of, and all too common. I recall the conversation at the door was nice enough. Relatively short and sweet. It couldn’t have lasted long because I wouldn’t have been able to manage holding both girls for very long.
Then the idle chitchat was over and her curiosity got the best of her. She wanted an answer to a question:
“Will Ashley always live with you?”
I mean, Ashley might have been 4 years of age at the time? Caught off guard, I lacked a great comeback, likely sputtering, “Oh, I have no idea” or “Too soon to tell.”
Parents of kids with special needs could easily share “the things not to say to a parent of a child with special needs.” Kind of like David Letterman’s Top Ten List, there is no doubt that question would make my cut.
But top on my list would be “God only gives you as much as you can handle.” Oh, please. Spare me. If that were true and I couldn’t handle so much then would my child still be disabled? I’ve learned over the years to give my well thought out, decades-old, seasoned response: “My God is benevolent. He gives me the strength to handle what happens.”
Oh, and by the way, shit does happen. It just does. No, I don’t have the “devil around me” because I have had so many difficult challenges. (Yep, I’ve had that one said to me.) And I am not in some “spiritual warfare.” (Yep, I’ve heard that one, too.) My question to the person who would say such things is, “Could your spiritual warfare be self-righteousness?” (No, I didn’t say it, but I sure thought about it!)
Oh, and God did not pick me for some weight-lifting contest. And if “adversity builds character,” enough already.
Another good one is “I couldn’t do what you do.” I’ve lost track of all the times I’ve been told this. I’ve heard it enough that I have my canned comeback: “Don’t underestimate yourself. You might be surprised what you are capable of!” Or, “You know, you have one of two choices: You either handle it or blow your brains out. I chose the former.” (I use the second response on folks who appear to need an extra dose of reality.)
But the question from this neighbor, asking me to predict Ashley’s living situation decades later, came early on in motherhood when pithy responses were not easily had. Geez, I wish I had a do-over. Young Kim was still swinging in and out of grief. Old Kim has acquired some defensive strategies.
But if I did have a do-over, after all these years? I might say one of the following:
“Adults…oops, kids…say the darndest things!”
“Shoot! My crystal ball is in the shop!”
“Next time I see my clairvoyant, I’ll be sure to ask.”
“It’s likely she will if she doesn’t get into medical school the first time.”
“Gosh, I hope so for the sake of my marriage. I hear empty nesters can be prone to divorce!”
“I’ve always wanted to do that Dallas/Southfork thing. I can see it now. I could be Miss Ellie and Hal could be Jock!”
“I was about to ask you the same thing. Do you think they’ll release your son into your custody, or do you think it will be an ankle bracelet at the halfway house?”
“How the hell do I know?”
It’s now shy of thirty-three years since Ashley’s birth, and about 29 since my neighbor showed up at my front door. Now my daughter is fighting for her life after a devastating stroke and I am fighting right along with her. I could no more tell you what 20 years from now looks like than what tomorrow will bring. What I do know is there are no guarantees for any of us. We are all but a breath or heartbeat from an eternal life.
And so if anyone showed up tomorrow at her hospital room and asked me, “Will Ashley always live with you?” I would absolutely respond, “Gosh, I pray she will.”