“A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Dearest Beloved Friends,
Ever since I joined my church, 49 years ago, our President, Spencer W. Kimball, encouraged us to keep journals. He said not just to write as if life is perfect, but that we should tell of the joys and the sorrows and challenges. That way, in time, when we look back, we can reflect on how much we have grown and see how far we have come.
Each time I visit a new mom of a baby with Down syndrome, I feel like I am on cloud nine. When I hold her newborn baby, I think back to 39 years ago when I was finally able to hold my newborn son, David. The only difference between then and now is that though tears still come, this time they are tears of gratitude instead of tears of sorrow.
One of the gifts I bring her is a journal for her baby, and I encourage her to write in it. While I’m there, I often share silly and cute stories about David growing up. I told Jennifer about the time when David was about 6-years-old, and he would repeatedly sneak out of the house to go and unlock the gates of all our neighbor’s backyard fences. He did this to let their big dogs to come out to play with him. I can’t tell you the number of times I found him happily running with what he considers to be his very own “herd” of dogs! Or about the number of times those said neighbors have complained to me about this behavior.
And each time I would catch him, I would angrily tell him the neighbors did not want him to do this, and they would be mad at me for letting him do it. (As if I let him.) ☹ But no matter how much I yelled, it didn’t seem to matter. He would still do it every chance he got.
Now I must confess, every time I did find him running with those dogs, those dogs looked just as happy as David was! And each time I did, I would round up the dogs and hurry to put them in their backyards, closing the gate hoping their owners would never know.
One day, when I realized David was gone, I found him at the end of our street with those darn dogs! I was so exasperated. It seemed that no matter how closely I thought I was watching him, my little Houdini could outsmart me and get away every time.
I tried to be patient, but this time my frustration got the best of me. When I found him, I was truly angry. I was mad at him for doing this again, and I was mad at myself because I could not stop him. I felt I was a complete failure as a mother because I could not keep him from letting those dogs out. In that moment, when I began to yell at him, I knew my words wouldn’t change a thing. I silently wished it was easier to know how to raise a child with Down syndrome. In my anger, I said, “David! What are you doing?“
David looked up at me, seeming surprised at my anger. I could see a look of pure innocence in his beautiful brown eyes and on his face. He truly seemed confused, as he had no clue as to why I was so mad at him. Not that he had a good answer for me, but then he did something and said something I didn’t expect. He raised his arms up in the air and started waving them toward the dogs, as if trying to motion them to hurry and RUN! As he did so, he looked at me earnestly and said, “Free Willy, Mom, Free Willy!”
My heart melted on the spot. It had never occurred to me that my innocent son was doing for those dogs, exactly what the little boy in his favorite movie, “Free Willy” had done. He helped free the Killer Whale, named Willy, to escape his captors by leaping over a wall into the freedom of the open waters of the ocean that was just on the other side of his enclosure. The only thing keeping those poor dogs’ ‘captive’ was a simple fence gate. How could I not know that? And how could I possibly be mad for such a noble attempt?
When I handed Jennifer the journal I had brought for Michelle, I told her about the journal I had kept for my David. As I was walking out the door to go to her home, I felt prompted to grab that old journal that I’d kept for over 39 years, though I’d never brought it to a visit before.
As I pulled it out of my bag, I felt a little embarrassed, as if for the first time I could see how truly tattered and worn-torn that old book seemed to be. But in that moment, I realized that book and I had a lot in common, time had done to me the same thing it had done to David’s journal… It made us old.
And just like that old journal, my heart is filled with memories of the times that felt hard, but even more so, it is filled with love and laughter reminding me of what my son has brought to me. So, the next time your child makes you a little crazy, (which I promise they will), please go and take a picture of that moment and glue it in their journal. And one day you will feel like I feel…worn and weary, but you will look back on your life together, and you will wonder what you ever did before God gave your child to you.
With so much love,
PS Please click here to see clip of a moment of my life with my son as we headed home from speech therapy.