In May our daughter, her husband, and their fourteen-month-old moved into the upstairs of the roomy, old farmhouse where my husband and I live. With their arrival our quiet, empty nester lives were dramatically altered. I couldn’t be happier.
Over the summer I observed how parenthood has changed my daughter and her husband. They are no longer young adults in single-minded pursuit of their own dreams. They are now parents willingly sacrificing their dreams, at least for the time being, and building a future for themselves and their son. I couldn’t be prouder.
I can’t help but reflect upon how different our parenting journey was from theirs. Our first child was born in 1982. Hours after our son’s birth when he was diagnosed with a life-threatening birth anomaly, every expectation we had for him and for ourselves as parents crumbled.
Other parents were choosing which kind of diapers to use: cloth or paper.
We were choosing where to lifeflight our newborn for surgery: Omaha or Denver.
Other mothers agonized about breastfeeding or bottles.
I agonized about whether or not our baby would survive surgery and recovery.
Other parents suffered sleep deprivation, rocking infants in the wee hours of the night.
My arms ached and my body longed to hold my baby who spent 3 weeks in NICU.
We had expected parenthood to get almost too hot to handle at times. But we weren’t prepared for the pressure cooker of life and death decisions we faced day after day for several years. Elizabeth Stone once said that the decision to become a parent is to “have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
For parents of special needs, the effects of that decision come sooner. They come more often, and they linger longer. Perhaps that is why at the age of twenty-seven (about the age my daughter is now), when our son was three, I told a friend that I felt very old and very tired–a perfect description of the pressure cooker effect.