Seeing Each Other Through a Mother’s Eyes

This post was developed in collaboration with P&G as part of their Love Over Bias campaign.

Unexpected. Overwhelming. Distressing.

It felt like everything changed when the words of our daughter’s severe diagnosis were uttered.

As my husband Evan and I began to learn about all of the facets of her rare and life-threatening skin disorder, the whisperings of certain phrases seemed to accompany each sentence of her prognosis: Can’t. Might Not. Won’t Be Able To. Will Never.

Instead of imagining a world of possibilities like you tend to do when your child is born, it felt like a list of limitations began to grow.

But in the early months of Brenna’s life, as we adjusted to our newfound sense of normalcy in caring for her skin and health, we realized we had a choice: we could allow the perceived can’ts to hold us back…or we could push the limits.

When I was younger, I had the privilege of meeting a man named Roger Crawford. Roger was born with only two fingers on one hand and a thumb on the other hand.  One of his feet has three toes, and the other leg was so underdeveloped, it was amputated below his knee.

From the beginning of his life, Roger’s parents pushed him toward excellence. Instead of growing up accepting that his future would likely not include sports because of his limb abnormalities, he trained and challenged himself to pursue his dreams of playing tennis.

Roger ended up becoming the first person with a physical challenge affecting two or more limbs to play NCAA Division 1 athletics. Eventually, he was inducted into the Division 1 Hall of Fame and Sports Illustrated recognized him as “one of the most accomplished physically challenged athletes in the world.”

At a young age, Roger learned that although he probably wasn’t going to be the fastest or the most powerful, he would win the point if he could hit the ball over the net just one more time than his opponent.

When Brenna was a couple years old, I asked Roger – who is now an internationally known speaker and author – about growing up with these kinds of obvious limitations. And he said the greatest gift he received was from his parents, who gave him the opportunity to try, regardless if he failed or succeeded.

“It’s so important,” he told me, “to allow our children to fulfill their potential, to allow them to amaze us with their abilities. We really don’t know what they can accomplish until we give them those opportunities to excel.”

Roger helped me to recognize the redefined beauty found in doing things beyond what is comfortable and refusing to conform to society’s standards of what is expected.

Today, Evan and I strive to push back against our tendency to allow our fears or concerns to hold our daughter back. While it can be difficult and often uncomfortable, we have noticed that it has become easier every day to ask of ourselves instead “How might Brenna be able to accomplish that? What can she learn by trying?”

Giving our daughter the opportunity to try has shown us that limitations are often more perception than reality.

Despite our worry of skin infection, Brenna has been swimming and boating, has gone to countless museums and libraries. Despite fear of overheating due to inability to sweat, she has sat under the hot sun at Major League baseball games with all kinds of cooling products. She loves gymnastics and playing at the park. She has traveled to 13 different states – adding three more this summer! -and Washington DC.

She has grown into a joyous 6-year-old who jumps at the chance to try new things.

Incredible things begin to happen when we encourage our kids to live in love and joy and potential, not fear. To try new things. When we allow our kids to amaze us.

Perhaps recognizing the immense potential all around us comes not from what we’re looking at, but rather, what we choose to see.

Just imagine what the world could be if we all saw each other through a mom’s eyes.

Imagine a world where we could see the potential in everyone – beyond the labels, the biases, the unknown, the preconceptions and misconceptions. If we gave others the chance to amaze us with the open heart of a mother.

During this year’s winter Olympics, P&G is celebrating a mom’s role in giving her child the support and tools to overcome challenges and achieve greatness. They released this amazing video that I’m honored to share because it’s filled with so much love and inspiration.

A mom is an advocate, a protector, a champion of her child. Let us celebrate each other with the love of a mother, to cheer each other on as we see beyond our differences and support our commonality, to push toward the highest potential over any perceived limitations.

To Our Daughter, as You Turn Six Years Old

To My Beautiful Baby Girl, as you turn SIX years old today:

You would definitely protest my use of the word “baby” in that first sentence.

Lately, your dad and I have been especially nostalgic as we see images on social media from when you and your brother were babies. “Look at those squishy cheeks!” we coo to you, and you implore us to “STOOPPPPP!”

But no matter if you’re six, sixteen or sixty – as long as we’re living, our baby you’ll be.

A few months ago you went off to kindergarten, and it’s been a challenging transition for me, if we’re being totally honest. I’m re-discovering who I am again  and what our family dynamic will be like going forward, now that the vast majority of my days aren’t spent taking caring of you and your brother.

It’s been a really good shift, but not without its ups and downs – like most parts of life.

Over the last couple of years, my grocery store runs have fallen from three to two and finally this fall, to one. But the last eight years have engrained in my days to be looking out for three, not one. To be predicting and planning for three, not one.

(On my first solo grocery store run, I came back to the car to find the back door wide open. Without thinking, I had done what I usually do when I got out of the car – and that was to push the button to automatically open your door too!)

And the last six years have also engrained in me to constantly be physically feeling for more than myself.

I am acutely aware of just how frigid it feels in the grocery store’s freezer aisle and note that I would need a jacket for you if you were with me. I see the sun’s light creeping into my shady spot as I sit outside and recognize immediately when it turns from warm to what would be too hot for you. When I roll the windows down and the wind blows through, I notice how strong it feels against my skin and eyes – too strong for you.

I really never realized how much these things “bother” me now, simply because I know they bother you. My body has been trained to try to feel for your body as much as I can. It is motherly instinct in the physical form, and a small part of my vast love for you.

Recently, a new friend, who has a toddler, asked what it was like “now that your children are older?”

And it was a little tough for me to accurately describe my enthusiasm for this phase of life right now.

I’m not sure it’s any easier than when you were young; it’s just a different hard.

But it’s so beautiful to see how our family’s dynamic is shifting and to see what emerges each day. It’s such a beautiful process to get to know your children – to foster interests, to explore together, to express love in meaningful ways. And then to apologize yet another time and stand up together again.

Beautiful Brenna, our love for you exceeds far beyond comprehension. We are abundantly grateful for your life, for your love, for your spirit.

You are growing into such a confident and spirited person. Your voice is loud, your laughter louder. You are compassionate, empathetic, observant, stubborn, joy-filled, “people-y” (as you like to say!)…and we couldn’t be prouder to be your parents. Of all the little girls in the world, we would choose you, over and over again.

To our second-born, our only daughter, our dynamite, learner, outgoing socialite, traveler, constant companion, story enthusiast, animal-lover, best sister, silly goose with more nicknames than we can count…. Happy Birthday. We love you so.