How can this be you? I wonder. How can this be you -- the one who once was weeping? The one who held your five-pound baby in the crook of your arm and kissed her through your tears? The one who used to carry fear inside as if it were an object, a stone of dread?
How can this be you -- dancing with your daughter and her little brother and sister, twirling them around, faces flushed with delight? How can this be you, feeling joy that begins in the center of your torso and bubbles up like champagne until it comes out in a giggle as she takes your hand and says, "Come on, Mom. Let's break it down."
When the doctors said the words "Down syndrome," you wondered if she would be beautiful. You wondered if people would pity your family. You wondered if you would be able to sustain your ferocious love for her.
But today, she patted the carpet next to her when you visited her classroom. Her friends Sasha and Emma crowded around. You felt the warmth of their 8-year-old bodies leaning next to you. You listened with these little girls to the teacher's explanation of how to construct a poem. Of taking a big idea and using a particular experience to give that idea or feeling a small container, to try to hold it.
It was your job to help them write their poems. Rebecca wrote about her hamster and Joseph about his dog. Your daughter wrote three poems altogether -- one about cartwheels, one about spelling homework and one about recess. It was that one that clutched your heart:
I play with Alana
It makes me feel happy, she wrote, and then erased it.
It makes me feel joyful.
She came home from school today with a card some friends made: "We love you Penny!" with hearts and rainbows and signatures. "We are so glad you are in are class."
And again you think, how can this be you? You who still carry the fear that others won't see her for who she is, won't love her, won't include her? You who still push the worry about the future out of your mind's eye, as if those worries are logs in a stream of water, logs that can be thrust aside, as if you will continue to wade forward, as if nothing can get in your way.
As if the current that has carried you so far will sustain you both.
Later that night, after making pizza and watching 101 Dalmatians, after dancing, you help all three of your children get ready for bed. And you see the quilt, recently unearthed after an accidental year in storage, the quilt your aunt made for her with clothes collected from each of her first five years of life. The Buddy Walk t-shirt. The Princeton one, for your alma mater. The pink pajamas with frogs on them. The rainbow striped pants her Nana made. The first ballet recital costume.
And stitched in the center, in a thin green thread so subtle you would miss it if you didn't know to look for it, the gently loping script of the verse from the Psalms that somehow has been hers since before she was born: "Like a tree planted by streams of water..."
She sings along with you the song she has requested, a song from church about God's faithfulness.
And then she won't sleep. It is a new phase, this weeping that begins when you leave the room. Tonight it takes an hour, and then she is up again in the middle of the night, alerting you to her wakefulness by turning on all the hallway lights. When you finally find her downstairs she is, at 3:45 a.m., reaching for a board game, ready to start the day.
But you will not remember the restlessness or the tears or even your irritation at being awoken, not really. She will go back to sleep after you sit with her for a little longer. And she will sleep long enough to be her usual cheerful self in the morning, asking how to hold her fork to cut the pancakes, clearing her plate when she's all done. Later, when you pray together for the only time that week, she will say, "Sorry God for waking Mom up in the night."
How can this be you?