In the years I’ve spent as a parent, I’ve been humbled hundreds of times. Sometimes one of my daughters has a proclivity the other lacks. Other times, the health challenges of one make me see the relative good health of the other as anything but a given. Most often, though, I am humbled by the ways I see the challenges of other children and families. The things I took for granted always, always, reveal themselves to be as symptoms of my own ignorance. I could make the list below almost endless, pages and pages of gifts that no one is guaranteed but that I — somehow, luckily — was given. I will never take them for granted again. Never.
1. Easy breath
With the birth of my second daughter, I learned the hard way that my older daughter had been uncommonly healthy so far. She was four years old before she had any need of prescription medication, but her little sister had eight courses of antibiotics in just the first year of her life, all of them for something involving her respiratory tract. The sound of my second child breathing was alarming. When she was sick, we could hear it from three rooms away, a raspy, wet, Darth Vader-like sound that chilled my insides. My own adult onset asthma made me both sympathetic and panicked; I knew how she felt. In the end, it was related to a congenital heart condition and required surgery to treat. Whenever I hear a baby cough, my heart returns to the moments I spent panicking a dozen years ago, racing my car toward the emergency room in the middle of the night and shaking the car seat behind me to keep my baby awake and wheezing. A healthy child, breathing freely, is something I will never take for granted again.
When my older daughter was a baby, she ate anything I gave her, from peaches to olives to onions to rice cakes. My younger daughter’s chest anatomy made swallowing hard, and it wasn’t until she had her final surgery at age eight that she finally ate well and until she was full, and pulled herself out of the “failure to thrive” category on her medical charts. Since this struggle came into my consciousness, I’ve met others for whom a good appetite is not a given. These people ranged from picky eating children, children with other medical challenges, and adults going through health struggles ranging from terrible depression to chemotherapy. Wanting to eat is a gift.
My younger daughter slept through the night predictably when she was three and a half years old. Those years until she did it were interspersed with my own bouts of insomnia. The feeling I have as I climb into bed each night, knowing I will soon drift off and that it’s unlikely that anyone will wake me until morning — well, I will never, ever take that for granted again.
4. Spoken language
Both of my children spoke at an early age and seldom stopped. They were chatty even as toddlers, and now really enjoy spending time at the dinner table or on the couch or in bed at the end of the day in contemplative conversation with me or each other. Though spoken language has never been a challenge for us, through my reading of Kristi Campbell’s blog Finding Ninee and through my connections with local families whose children either struggled with speech or who are still, as teenagers, nonverbal, I’ve learned how lucky I am that this, of all things, was not hard for us. I’ll always be grateful for it.
5. The ability to read
I am never without a book to read by the side of my bed (and you can follow what I’m reading on Goodreads). My older daughter is also utterly enamored with the written word, and my husband reads all the time, too. My younger daughter, though, has always struggled to enjoy reading. Recently, we learned that a vision disorder is likely the culprit, and I hope that occupational therapy will help improve her stamina. That said, I don’t know if my younger daughter will ever be able to lose herself in a book the way that I do. In a train station, a parking lot, a field or beach or forest or on my back porch, books are always a respite for me. She may not ever feel that way. I will never take my ability to read and joy of reading for granted again.
6. Stories readily available
I live in a country where the language spoken is the one with which I am the most comfortable. Not only am I able to read, but books are everywhere. They’re affordable to buy and free to borrow from our city’s libraries. Not everyone is so lucky. What an incredible gift it is to want to read and only have to travel a mile to get a book for free!?
7. Ease of movement
I can walk and walk and walk, and so can my children and husband. Living in an urban area, we walk as often as possible: to the train toward work, to school, to get coffee, to the beach. It’s largely effortless; with the right shoes, we could go for miles. When we travel, on-foot tourism is likely easier for us than those who walk less. I’ve often felt smug about this, but realized several things about this gift that have nothing to do with merit: we have functioning bodies; we have access to good footwear; we live where walking is safe. How, then, can I be smug?
8. White skin
I was born in this body, as were my husband and children. No one looks twice at me in a convenience store, my local coffeehouse, the police station. My citizenship status is usually assumed to be legal, my intentions unimpeachable, my threat level low — all true, but no less likely than my friends with darker skin. When I argued with hospital staff about my daughter’s pain management, no one called security. I earned not one freckle of this skin, and I know what that privilege is.
9. Health insurance
I feel this gratitude most keenly because, though it is still in reach, it may not be so easy for my children. The complex systems being debated in our national and state legislatures and regulatory bodies are more than I can tackle here, but we have preexisting conditions up and down our family tree. Every time a claim is paid, I am grateful. I will never take it for granted again.
I lived a largely solitary life for the first year after my second child was born. Between her need for isolation from germs, the length of midwestern winters, and my newness to being at home with children, I was very, very lonely. Now that I live in a bustling community that intersects my faith group, parents of my children’s friends, neighbors and colleagues, I am anything but alone. This isn’t because I am a better person than I was when my daughter was tiny, but because I got lucky. There are good people with lots to give and share who are — by no fault of their own — living far more solitary lives than they’d like in order to care for sick children, sick parents, or for other reasons outside their control. I am thankful for my community every day. I’ll never feel entitled about that — I remember how it felt not to have it.
There is always room for this kind of gratitude. A rich life is full of things we don’t earn but that fall in our laps when we aren’t looking. Noticing — and taking a moment to really feel the space they take up — is a practice that only brings me more gratitude still.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, with this week’s prompt a listicle of “10 things I’ve done that I can’t/won’t do again, hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee and Kenya from Sporadically Yours.