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Challenge: What Makes a Family?

My Family is Like Everyone Else's, Except When it's Not

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I’m the mother of three amazing children. I married my best friend, and we live in the suburban neighborhood I grew up in. I even drive a minivan.

On paper, we sound like a very ordinary family. Even if you set the paper aside, I still think we’re pretty average.

But every now and then I get smacked in the face with the reality that we’re a little different.

About four years ago, my then 14-year-old son and I were sitting on my bed, chatting, and spending some time together. The TV was playing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a movie I remember seeing with my own mom and sisters when I was a girl.

Our youngest, Peter, was happily watching the movie when he started to laugh over the fact that Charlie in the movie has a Grandpa Joe just like my kids.

I was staring at Tom marveling at how fast he is growing up and enjoying the close feeling I had with my boys when he started to talk about what he might name his own children one day.

“I think I might name a boy Joe after Daddy and Grandpa.”

That would be nice, was my happy reply.

“Hey, your kids will have a Grandpa Joe just like you do,” I said, smiling with the thought.

Peter and Tom started to laugh.

“Mom, you’ll be Grandma Kathy.”

“Yeah, I guess I would be.”

This was said with the joy that one day I might have grandchildren, the amazement that I was in fact old enough to be a grandmother now, and the hope and prayer that my sons would not become parents until they were truly ready.

I was enjoying this sweet time with my boys when Tom said something that took my breath away.

“I guess I would leave my children to Peter if something happened to me. Or, my wife’s brothers or sisters.”

Tom said this matter of factly, as if he was thinking out loud.

He looked over at his beautiful 11-year-old sister who was smiling and playing.

“Lizzy will get to see my kids all the time, won’t she mom?”

I could see he was upset at all his mind was playing through.

“It’s hard to think about the fact that Lizzy wouldn’t be able to care for your own children, isn’t it Tom?”

He looked at me with tears in his eyes and my heart went out to him.

I said these words calmly and naturally as Tom’s mother. I was careful to respect his emotions and fears as the devoted and loving brother of his sister, a child with significant special needs.

But then something happened.

My hard, well-crafted mom-shell started to crack and the tears started to fall.

Tears that reminded me that not only am I the caring, concerned mother of a child who is worried about his sister and what that means for his own life. I’m also Lizzy’s mom. My daughter has special needs so profound that these questions are a normal part of our life, even if we don’t always give them sound.

All of sudden my family didn’t feel so average.

Tom looked at me, and I could tell that he felt badly that he gave voice to these fears.

I wanted to be there for him, comfort him, and allow him to have his feelings.

But, I couldn’t stop my tears from falling.

I love my daughter. She’s beautiful inside and out. Her humor and love of life are infectious. She makes our life as amazing and complete as her two brothers do.

Yet she’s different — from her brothers, from other girls her age, and from what I expected.

That can be a bitter pill to swallow. And can keep me up at nights with worry as to what her future will be.

It pains me to think that Tom has the same fears. It makes it all the more real.

I resist the urge to fall into the “poor me, poor us” abyss.

The way I do that is to focus on what we do have.

And of course, what we have is Lizzy. A unique, wonderful person who was always going to walk a path different from the imaginary child I conjured up in my mind when I was pregnant with her.

Oddly through my tears, and even my anger, I realize that I’m very blessed.

And, that I do have a pretty average, typical family after all.

This piece was first published on Kathy's site, My Dishwasher's Possessed!

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