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.
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.