Monday, August 27, 2007

The Gift

Ke'von is a gift.

He is a little boy at Shelby's daycare who is developmentally disabled. He is also the great-nephew of Shelby's teacher. Shelby's teachers and I have become close and shared our lives over the past year. While they are not her parents, they do a tremendous amount in helping us to raise her to be a good person. They are what I like to refer to as "partners" in parenting. And their partnership is not just with us but with all the parents and children they encounter.

As we have gone through the last year, we have shared with Ms. Nancy and Ms. Diane the trials of Jeff's job with autistic children, of our joy at finding out we would have a son, and many other things. But it was in sharing our decision to decline prenatal genetic testing, that we have found the most common ground.

When I became pregnant with Shelby I simply took testing to be part of the procedure. Until Jeff said no. His reason, "Honestly what difference does it make. This is still our baby. We still love him or her no matter what." And he was right. Of course that meant, in our litigious society, that we both had to sign numerous releases that we understood fully that we had declined testing for chromosomal disorders like CF and also Downs Syndrome.

But we were open to the gift of life God was giving to us. The life that He wanted us to take part in. When Babytalk magazine included in this month's issue a cover model with Downs Syndrome and an article about the joy of raising a child with this condition, I was amazed and thankful. So often, I have had to explain to people that if I was given a son or daughter with DS or MR or any other "disorder" I would have the same prayer I have with my "normal" daughter, that I be the best mother for him or her as possible. As Jeff recently told someone, "this is my son, knowing he has something "different" about him will never change that." In fact, we often share with others who question our decision that we would feel blessed that God trusted us enough to give us the gift of the joy of raising a child who is abled differently from other children.

That is not to say it will be easier or the same to raise a child with a disability in our world.

And that is where Ke'von comes in.

Ms. Nancy recently shared that her niece encounters many difficulties in raising one child with a disability while having two others without one. She mentions not being able to do something as mundane as take him to a movie. Unfortunately he is unable to sit and watch one. So, when she takes her other children as a treat, family members help out with Ke'von.

Ke'von, while often in his own world, is a relatively happy and friendly boy. While I know he cannot answer me, I always speak to him. I am not sure if he understands what I am saying or even who I am, but I do it anyway. Had testing been available for his condition before his birth, who knows if his mother would have accepted it or not? And who is to say she would have had the courage to accept this gift from God. But she has taken on the challenge whole-heartedly.

Recently, Shelby began to watch the Baby Einstein sign language videos. But before they were in our house, as she was eating one day, she signed "eat" to me. My exposure to sign language is limited, but it was a sign I recognized. We have never signed to her previously, so I sat in awe.

A few days later, I mentioned it at daycare. Ms. Nancy mentioned that Ke'von signed to eat often. Shelby had learned the sign from observing him. This little boy who has no concrete communication skills with most of the world had taught my daughter a way to communicate with me before her oral language skills could be fully developed. She can now sign "Mommy" and "Daddy" as well. She is on track developmentally as far as language is concerned. But the gift Ke'von gave our family when he allowed our little girl to "talk" to us, I can never completely comprehend.

Yes, God placed Ke'von in all of our lives as a gift. And that gift keeps on giving.

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