I was teaching third grade in the Spring of 2004 when I learned I was pregnant for the first time. I had a few years of teaching under my belt, and I had learned a lot about kids without ever having any of my own. In all honesty, I thought I was pretty prepared to be a parent. I had a good grip on discipline, motivation, and overall management. I had also recognized the importance of supporting education at home and how it made all the difference in finding succees in the classroom.
As my belly grew, I spent lots of time studying the faces and behaviors of the students looking back at me. I wondered often what the child inside me would be like in one of those small yellow chairs. What would she look like? How well would she listen? Would she be helpful or shy? Visual or kinestethic learner? Friendly or needy? I have always aimed for some level of perfection, so I secretly prayed for a daughter who would be good at all of it….an academic whip without boredom, a social leader without being bossy, helpful and kind while still knowing her place.
It was my heart’s desire that she would be all of the things that I only had the potential to be. Depsite my silent expectations, I knew she would be loved unconditionally, and I vowed that all of the things that stood in the way of my childhood success, in and out of the classroom, would never be known to her.
Someone was listening. God gave Chad and I the most beautiful, bright, academic, social, and sweet child that anyone could ask for. She hit all of her milestones early and learned her letters and numbers before she could talk. She learned concepts with incredible ease and I soaked up every moment….teaching her vocabulary words and phrases way above her age level. Using foam letters in the bathtub, at the age of three, I taught her to rhyme and eventually read. I couldn’t help it…the teacher in me thrived on her ability to learn…the parent in me beamed….and the inner child in me was reborn.
On Father’s Day 2007, we found out that Dana would be a big sister. With all of the same preparation and secret wishes, I birthed another girl. I wondered how I could be so blessed with two daughters, just like my sister and I….so many opportunities to make their lives all that ours were and so much more.
And then things unfolded so differently than I could have ever imagined…Charlotte stole so much of my time from Dana in those early years. I was angry at my powerlessness to continue to give Dana what she needed to be all that she could. With shame and guilt, I shared these feelings with Chad, and we pulled together to make a great team in those difficult times. We did the best we could with the challenges we were handed, but all the while, I wondered how badly I was breaking her.
Anxiety, guilt, and resentment became rocks in my backpack. My dreams were crushed when Charlotte’s misbehavior spilled into our lives. The timeouts that worked brilliantly with Dana turned into screaming, endless, exhausting tantrums. I helplessly watched sensory seeking behavior and our ineffective discipline take over any outing or activity. The family I had dreamed of was within reach but still seemed so far away. What had happened? Where did the happiness and pride go? What had we done wrong?
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse…somehow learning made the difference. Slowly at first and then with a depth of wisdom and knowledge I never could have experienced in any classroom, we learned who Charlotte was, instead of who she wasn’t, and by God’s grace, we taught Dana through words and actions how to be a sister to Charlotte. And just like she has always done, she learned and loved and beautifully bonded with her sister in a way that we could have never expected.
Charlotte’s needs opened our eyes to a whole new world that we were trying desparately to hide from. Beyond our fears and expectations was a beautiful valley of peace and acceptance.
Just this week Dana received a glowing report card showing all of the perfection I had originally dreamed of. While I read it I beamed with pride as a teacher and parent, and then I paused and said a silent prayer of gratitude for each daughter…thank you for the one I wanted, but thank you even more for the one that we all needed.