To All the Dads, Mamas, Siblings & Special Ones:
You’re on my heart this week. You’re on my mind.
For 14 1/2 years, I’ve visited your homes, entered your sacred spaces, assessed and treated your special little ones. My days as a speech-language therapist are coming to an end. At least for now, maybe forever. Only God knows.
But you, you will never leave my heart.
You’ve made a lasting impression. You’ve changed who I am. You’ve molded me into a better person. You’ve altered my heart for humanity in a way no one else could.
You see, you are special. You are like no other.
Special dads, I’ve seen you. All the varieties of you. The worker dad. The business dad. The hands on, loves like a mama dad. The dad who’s not sure what to think. The dad who’s not sure what to do. The dad who knows exactly what to do. The dad whose eyes tell it all. The dad who knows his son, his daughter’s like no other. The dad who looks his child in the face and sees it all. And loves anyway. Even when it’s hard. Even when being a dad’s nothing like you expected it to be. I see you longing to do something, anything to help. I see you doing all you can, everything you can. I see you working hard for your family, with your family, providing stability and hope, even when the needs seem endless. I’ve seen you, dear dad, you’re a light, a strong presence in your household. Your child needs you. Your child thrives on your presence. You might not think so, but you know just what to do with that special child of yours. You are man, yes man. Still man, even though life’s thrown you a curve ball. Man, even more so. Man, because you stay, you stick with it, you do what’s right and honorable. And you love your family quietly, humbly. Because you know life’s course can change in an instant. Yes, you are a special dad. I see you. Thank you for who you are.
Special mamas, I’ve seen you. Take heart, mama. Take heart. You’re unique. You’re extraordinary. There’s no one quite like you, mama. What a lover you are. You love to no end. You fix boo boos and kiss cheeks, burp and clean spilled milk, pack lunches, transport and balance work and home life like any other mama. But you manage much more, mama. Therapies and visual schedules, meds and IEPs, evaluation reports and flash cards, you’ve seen it all now, haven’t you mama? You never knew motherhood would be quite like this. You wonder when your mama bear heart will be at peace, at ease with this special one’s needs you’ve been entrusted. Mama, you’re so good, you don’t even know how good you are. You’ve cried tears and held them back. You’ve worked like a dog. You’ve pushed and pulled back. You’ve prodded and been patient. You’ve known when hugs are today’s prescription. And you’ve known when hugs are an escape from the work ahead. Mama, you’ve done everything you can. Mama, you’re doing great. Mama, you are awesome, irreplaceable. Take care, mama. Make sure you’re doing something for you. Take care, mama, for you’re the cornerstone of your family’s heart and soul. Mama, you’re special. I see you. Thank you for who you are.
Special siblings, I’ve seen you. Oh, how I’ve seen you. I’ve seen you in the corner, on the side, by the wayside. I’ve seen you waiting, wishing to enter in. I’ve seen you play, and I’ve seen you disappear. I’ve seen you ask and be turned away. I’ve seen your brilliance and your beauty. I’ve seen every bit of your potential flash before me. Don’t forget you’re special, too, dear one. I’ve seen your heart shine bright on the darkest of days. I’ve seen you help and teach and reach out and love unconditionally, like only a sibling of a special knows how to do. I know your heart, special sibling. I understand your position. Who are you? What’s unique about you? What makes you tick and light up? What causes you to keep on keeping on when everything feels impossible and forever? Cling to those truths, dear sibling. The years may be long, or they may be short. Whatever your truth ends up being, shine your light, special sibling. Your life is precious. Your life has purpose. There’s no mistake about your place. There’s a reason you’re there, right there, with that family of yours. Let your voice be heard, special sibling, let your place and your purpose be known. And don’t forget, you’re not alone. Yes, most definitely yes, you’re special. I see you siblings. Thank you for who you are.
Special ones, I’ve seen you. Oh yes, I’ve seen you. Consider your position an honor. You teach us how to be gentler, kinder, more respectful and honoring of diversity in a world that feels monotone at times. You teach us how to be patient and tender, loving beyond measure. You know what it’s like to be poked and prodded, tested, drilled and worked hard. You’re constantly striving to live up to the measuring stick of “normal,” “typical” and “neurotypical,” but truth be told, you’re anything but typical. There’s no need to measure up, special ones. You’re you. Work hard, yes. Do what you can, yes. Exceed their expectations, yes. Listen to your dads and mamas, your special siblings and teachers, your therapists and your doctors, but know this, special ones. God sent you, created you just as you are, to reveal love, to show grace, to bestow blessing. You’re an angel on earth, here for reasons most can’t fathom. You’re more than a number, score or position on any standardized chart. You’re a treasure, a gem, one to be remembered for all the ages. Forgive us if we neglect your humanity. Forgive us if we ignore your limits. Forgive us if we don’t know, if we don’t quite understand what it is you need. You are accepted, as you are. You’re loved, whether you progress or don’t progress at all. Whether you eventually achieve scores “within normal limits” or continue presenting with “significant delays,” you’re deemed worthy. Because you are worthy. Yes, you are special. I see you. Thank you for who you are.
Dear special family, I’ve seen you. We’ve worked hard together, we’ve loved together, we’ve faced trials and tribulations. We’ve sat in silence, laughed and cried with joy, wondered and wandered a time or two. We’ve known and we’ve not known at all. We’ve succeeded and we’ve missed the mark. We’ve fought for what’s best, for what’s right, for what’s needed and necessary. We’ve made calls, referrals and investigations into the causes of these needs. We’ve drilled and done the same things over and over and over again. It’s a fight worth fighting. It’s a cause worthy of care. It’s a life worth living. Every bit of our work together has been worth it.
But now, yes now, it’s time to say good bye. It’s time to set your family free to someone else who will do the therapy.
I may return, I may not. But this you must know. My decision’s not been easy. My decision’s not been light. My heart’s heavy and light all at once this week. For I’m leaving you, but following the call God has on my life to write, photograph, live, love and be an advocate for the voiceless of this world.
This, I promise. I will not leave you. I will not forsake you. I will not forget you and your special family. I will be a voice for you. I will help the world see your beauty for what it is – pure, raw, lovely, extravagantly and exquisitely unique.
What God has in store for the days ahead, I’m not exactly sure. But I know one thing for sure. I will continue to be your advocate. From this day forward. You can count on me to see you, to remember you, to acknowledge you and constantly remark that you are created beautiful, wholly unique, special like no other.
Thank you, special family.
Your place in my heart is permanent and prominent. Your story, it’s a beautiful treasure I honor like no other.
NOTE: The two beautiful photographs of the girl who has down syndrome are courtesy of Andrea’s Photography on Flickr’s Creative Commons.