Two Worlds, One Life

He works in the office.  My office is our home, 90% of which revolves around our kitchen island (its amazing how much “life” takes place on and around that piece of rock).  He answers to two different bosses, I answer to three.  He gives presentations on proposed multi-million dollar street re-configurations, I give speeches on the importance of not throwing your socks in the wash in a ball and making sure you are nice and respectful to the “annoying” kid in your class that continually follows you around.  He manages clients, I manage disputes over everything from who’s had more screen time to whose turn it is to sit in the front seat.  He receives accolades for his hard work, performance reviews and raises. My rewards come in the form of hugs, kisses and those precious moments when I remember to stop and absorb the time with our kids.  He drives an hour to and from work in silence.  I drive to and from school four times a day with the likes of Laurie Berkner and Kid’s Bop blasting in my ear.

Two very different worlds, one life we are called to live.  I’d be lying if I said all the disparity didn’t catch up with us every so often.  While the more complacent heart may rest in the acknowledgment that, “it is what it is”, my heart remains restless in the divide and I continue to seek the best way to bridge the two distinct worlds my husband and I lead on a day-to-day basis.

There are certainly threads of commonality in our job descriptions and, for the most part, I feel like we each do a good job of listening to one another vent about our respective responsibilities.  While he may not be able to put them in a “time-out”, my husband can certainly relate to the exhaustion of dealing with ornery clients, and I can relate to the frustration of others not pulling their own weight in the work environment (i.e. Me to teenager: “Do you think you could find the time to pick up the clothes that have been sitting outside your door for the past two days now?  Maybe schedule it in somewhere between crawling out of bed at 9:30 and getting off the couch at 11?).  We both understand what it feels like to be so busy, there is little to no time to take care of our own needs.  And we both know what it feels like to be running on empty from, Lack. Of. Sleep.

Sympathy for one another runs deep at moments.  I’ve been known to send him a text every now and then that reminds him how thankful we all are that he works so hard to provide for our family and I feel the love when he makes the extra effort to notice the shiny toilet bowl or “ooh” and “ahh” over a dinner I worked hard to prepare.  But the clincher here is that sympathy is different from empathy.  And unless we plan on producing our own real-life version of “Mr. Mom”, a true understanding of one another’s worlds is hard to come by.

I’ll never forget Joe’s first week back at work after our first-born came into our lives.  He had come home from a long day and found me sitting in our son’s room, exhausted, with just enough energy left to push the rocking chair back and forth in my last futile attempt to get our baby to sleep.  The relief I felt when Joe walked through the door was enormous. He said a quick hello and then started for the bathroom.  I surprised even myself when I reacted by literally yelling, “are you kidding me?”  I can still see the look on his face when he turned around, innocently wondering what he had done to cause such a reaction.  If I only had the right words to express just how much I needed him to take the baby from my arms, that second, and give me a breather.  Looking back, that was perhaps our first taste of our two worlds crashing into a new life we now had to figure out.

For the most part, it’s all good.  We make an incredible team and work as a well-oiled machine.  We are enough in tune with one another that we each know when it’s time to step in and put in  a little more than normal to give the other a break. Although not entirely with purpose, we have carved out specific roles that help make this one life “work”. Ironically enough, before we were married, I was quite certain we would not fall into the more traditional roles of husband and wife, yet that is exactly where we now find ourselves.  I never wanted to be quite so skilled at polishing a bathroom, nor did I ever plan on letting our finances become something I knew so little about.  In another life I vaguely remember getting my MBA, yet the head of the finance department is the nerdy engineer.  So here we sit stewing in the deep, down, dirty truth.   It’s been years since Joe has cleaned a bathroom and it’s been just as long since I’ve paid a bill.  And there you have it.  The machine slows down and gets a little rusty, the divide widens, and both of us are too sleep deprived to make the jump from one side to the other.

Thankfully, there’s a bridge across the divide.  It’s man-made, literally.  This guy has His hands clenching one side of the cliff and His feet digging into the other.  He doesn’t think twice about laying His life right down to bridge the lives of two people just trying to figure it out and get it right.  Creating one life from two different worlds was never meant to be easy.  Easy breeds complacency and complacency is never healthy in a relationship.  It is in times of stress, when our two worlds are clashing, that we are forced to stop and remember the single life we are meant to lead, together, as one.  And so we each set foot on the bridge and begin to walk toward the other, gathering patience, understanding and empathy along the way.  And when we meet up once again we are renewed in His love and strength and suddenly it no longer matters who’s holding the checkbook and who’s holding the toilet wand.  All that really matters is that we meet in the middle.

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Hold On Tight

I was at our local Hallmark for the second time in the course of an hour.  The first time was a total bust and, truth be told, I was a little embarrassed to head back in for round two. Five minutes was all I had needed.  It became abundantly clear within the first ten seconds however, that my overtired, strong-willed, frisky little ‘love’ wasn’t up for the seemingly insurmountable challenge of standing still beside me for even ONE second.  Opening the door to the store was literally like opening the gate to a bull run.  Mary was the bull and I was the panicky rider trying desperately to hold on to my child who just wanted to run free. The tighter I held, the stronger she kicked.  The more I begged, the more she dug her heels in and refused to peel herself off the floor where she had assumed her classic wet-noodle form, spreading across the rug like a free-flowing puddle.  There were no rodeo clowns to help distract my little bull or disperse the attention of the two sales ladies I could feel staring me down.  I held on for as long as I could and then scooped my child off the floor and carried her football style out the door–but not before she had the chance to swing her leg out from my arms and give the door a good kick as we made our hasty exit.

I gave her a good lecture as I buckled her into her car seat.  She knew Mommy was mad and pretended to care for a whole thirty seconds before she switched gears and decided to put in her lunch order as we began the drive home.

“Cheese? Chips!  Mama, mama, Cheese!”

Seriously? How can you even think I’m going to feed you ever again after what you just pulled in that store?  I was fuming.  How does she not understand her behavior is totally unacceptable?  How can she even think about food when she should be fashioning her most sincere apology?  My plight in this world grew with each self-centered thought and then ever-so-slowly I began to take a look at my own role in the fiasco and realized I may have pushed it in thinking she would be able to handle yet another stop after our already busy morning and her early rising.  I was softening to the idea of giving her a piece of cheese when we got home, but the chips were a reward I remained unwilling to offer.

Much to my relief and to Mary’s pure delight, our rodeo clown met us at the door and my stress immediately began its descent to a manageable level.  One look at my face was all Noah needed to understand I had reached my limit.  He scooped his little buddy up and off they went to play while I took a much-needed breather.  I am reminded each time Mary’s brothers come to my rescue that I was never meant to run this rodeo on my own.  God designed the perfect team and it never fails that when one of us gets bucked off, another is waiting at the gate.

After feeding Mary lunch, which did amount to more than just a piece of cheese, (my generous spirit surprises even myself) I left her in the care of her brother and made my second trip to the store.  Ironically enough, the one item I was in search of was an over-the-shoulder bag just big enough for my keys and phone that would allow me two open hands to hang tight to Mary when we were out.  I didn’t find the bag, but, as I perused the store, still decompressing from the mornings events, I happened by a small wooden plaque that read, “I prayed for this child.” And there was God’s ever-so-gentle reminder of the incredible gift wrapped in this nutty little package.

Those five simple words brought my mind from reliving her multiple temper tantrums that morning to the months I spent praying my heart out for her arrival.  As with my boys, I loved her long before I met  her and remember every last detail of the first time I got to hold her in my arms.  Tomorrow we will celebrate her fifth birthday.  In thinking of what that celebration really means, I have come to understand I need to rejoice in each and every trait that makes my daughter who she is.  While it may be hard to celebrate her strong will (like, iron strong) I know that it is not only what she needs to fulfill God’s will for her, but also part of what will make me whole, a crucial piece to the puzzle of just who God created me to be.  If I have any hope of doing this parenting thing right, I feel like my growth should mirror the growth of my children.  I have just as much to learn from each of them, as I have to teach them.

Thank you baby girl;

for teaching me what true perseverance looks like

for proving that you can in fact smile for 95% of the day without your face freezing that way

for refining my patience and for making it simply impossible to stay angry with you

for accepting my failures and loving me through it

for your intoxicating giggle

for opening your heart and showing me a little piece of God every time I look at you

Happy Birthday Mary-Rose Andrea.  You can kick and run all you want little lady, but this mama’s holding on tight.

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“Who Do You Say That I Am?”

I saw the look in his eyes, and I almost wished I could have given him fair warning before he spoke.  I knew exactly what he was going to say, and I also knew exactly how he was going to feel once he realized his error.  I was standing in line at the post office, trying to be patient as my baby girl was doing her best to squirm out of my arms.  I happened to turn slightly and caught the eye of the man standing behind us.  He was staring at my daughter with this huge grin spread across his face.  My quick glance in his direction was all he needed.  The flood gates opened and out came the story.  “Sorry”, he said (acknowledging his starring).  “My wife and I adopted our daughter from China over twenty years ago now.  I was just feeling nostalgic as I was watching your little girl.”

Now, in all fairness, I could have just smiled politely and moved along.  I just couldn’t bring myself to let it go.  I’d been in this place too often and was starting to have fun with people’s reactions.  “Oh”, I said.  “We adopted our daughter from New Hampshire.”  And there it was; the expression that I had become so familiar with over the past several months.  The smile kind of fell off his face and his eyebrows furrowed just enough to signal his confusion.  “Oh”, he replied.  “Is she?”

“She’s not Asian”, I interrupted, as he tried to dig himself out of this awkward place.  No worries”, I continued as I saw his discomfort grow.  “A lot of people make the same mistake.”

It was about this time that the man standing behind this discomforted fellow wanted in on the conversation and, much to my new friends dismay, leaned in and voiced his disbelief, “Where’s she from?” he asked with less tact than most might offer.  Before I could answer, the man who began the conversation quickly shooed him off by gruffly proclaiming under his breath, “She’s from New Hampshire.”

This exact conversation has happened so many times, our family has coined a term for it; “Asian Encounter”.  It’s quite understandable, really.  Our daughter has long, jet black hair, beautiful dark brown eyes and an olive tone to her skin, all features that make those of Asian descent so undeniably beautiful.  Being that I don’t carry any of the same features, people correctly conclude we adopted her, and then logically assume we did so from China.  Those who don’t know our daughter see her more prominent features first and then mistakenly attribute the almond-shaped eyes to yet another Asian feature, rather than what is perhaps the most definable trait of those with Down Syndrome.  It’s uncanny how many times this has happened.  The list of those who have been mistaken even includes a doctor and a nurse practitioner whose own sister has Down Syndrome.

Of course, when I look at my daughter, I see Mary-Rose.  I’ve lost all ability to see her any differently than the feisty, yummy little piece of Heaven that she is. When we first brought Mary home, I didn’t know that would even be possible.  Proclaiming my daughter has Down Syndrome, is not something I ever thought I’d be happy, or proud, to assert.  But now, I welcome the opportunity to share this about our little beauty and grow more proud each day of the way she rocks her extra chromosome.

If I’m going to be completely honest, I need to step outside my comfort zone and reveal the deepest corners of my soul.  The truth of the matter is that, in the past, my own ignorance would leave me feeling “sorry” for the parents of children with Down Syndrome.  Shortly before Mary came into our lives, I would sit in the car line each day waiting to pick up my boys from school and watch this little boy play with his mom.  He would show up at the same time each day and happily run over to the same spot to stand and wait for his older brothers.  It’s not easy to admit, but when I looked at this sweet little guy, what I saw first was Down Syndrome.  Not knowing a thing about him, I identified him by his limitations and went so far as feeling sad for his mother, mistakenly thinking she must feel burdened by her son’s diagnosis.

I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by the story of the disciplines walking along with Jesus and being presented with, what on the surface, seemed like a simple question, “Who do you say that I am?”  In essence, Jesus was asking them to reveal the deepest corners of their soul and genuinely wondered how they saw him.  Did they look at him and see the labels the world had given him; hypocrite, blasphemer?  Or was it possible for them to truly look beyond the popular opinion and love him for all that they intimately knew him to be? I love to put myself in the place of the disciples and reflect on how I would have answered that question.  While I’d love to claim I would have known Jesus for who He was, I fear a more probable response would have been one that was more in line with the favored opinion of the time.

It’s taking some time, but I’m learning how to be an advocate for my daughter.  In doing so, I’m simply trying to help the world see her as the whole person that she is and prevent her from being defined by her extra chromosome.  When in conversation with others, I often hear people referring to those with Down Syndrome as, “the Downs boy” or “there’s a Down Syndrome girl in my neighborhood”.  I understand they are not trying to be disrespectful, but I’m learning how important it is to help people come to know and love the person behind the diagnosis.  By referring to those who have Down Syndrome in this way, these beautiful beings are immediately reduced to the popular, and often mistaken, traits known to be carried by the extra chromosome.  Their unique and incredible personalities are stripped of them and they quickly become just one of a group of people who are assumed to be all the same.

Earlier in the gospel, we find Jesus answering a question posed to Him from the disciples about His purpose in teaching his lessons in parables.  Jesus explains that, for the disciples, the “mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted (them)”.  To others, however, “everything comes in parables.” I understand this to mean that God can only reveal  himself to those who make the conscious choice to know him.  To others, the lessons will be there, but will be impossible to decipher unless they open their heart to the teacher.

God knew my heart needed to sort through a serious case of mistaken identity.  And He sent me the manual for love in what is perhaps the cutest package ever designed.  I now understand that I have a priceless tool in my hands to teach others about the gift of acceptance and the beauty of loving each of God’s creations for everything that they are. Since we opened our hearts to Mary-Rose, we have come to unlock the mystery behind the extra chromosome and are reminded that each and every one of God’s creations are priceless and are meant to fulfill a piece of His will that they, and only they, can do.

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 Micahlie/Downs Syndrome by Jean Keaton,picturesofjesus4you.com