My children have the most beautiful laughs. But it’s a funny thing. The boys speak, they laugh, and they are of the Earth. At every moment, they strain toward the next level, their every skill a steppingstone to something bigger and better. They warble with glee, their voices chipping at the edge of the future.
But Julianna—there’s something different about her laugh. Something silvery and dusky and altogether otherworldly. There’s something about the way she reacts and interacts that makes me wonder sometimes if it’s not so much that her intelligence is lower, but that part of it exists in another plane. Julianna, perhaps because she’s so quiet, so focused on the task at hand, whether it’s listening to music or pushing a pop mower or hanging over a playground swing…Julianna breathes a different feel into the world than her brothers do. A feel of serenity.
Which is not to say she doesn’t have her stinker moments. She does—and how! In three hours one Friday morning, she took the lid off the honey jar and dumped half its contents on the table; she turned the baking soda box upside down on the bathroom counter; and she emptied the canister of Cavender’s Greek Seasoning. Julianna whiny is a sight to behold…one we behold every morning.
But then there are times when she meets my eyes and I can’t breathe. It’s like falling in love, instantly and irrevocably. And although I fall in love with my boys regularly, that feeling is more tender, the most beautiful and prosaic of loves, the one every mother feels for her child. Falling in love with Julianna is more like being knocked flat on my back by a lightning bolt, like Paul on the road to Damascus.
When I feel that tug on my spirit, the one that sucks me into a whirlpool of painful self-recognition, I often pause to ponder the opinions expressed, usually anonymously, online. The people who think Julianna’s life is somehow worth less, that she is a drain or a burden on the rest of us, that it would be kinder if people like her were never brought to birth—or, conversely, that the things that help her reach her potential should be no one’s burden but those who chose to bring her into the world–as if she’s less important than a normal child, for whom we’d never blink an eye at providing those same supports. That she should be isolated behind a wall. Anything to ensure that no one else is inconvenienced by her existence.
I thank God I was given the gift of a child with special needs. The difficulties that so frighten the uninitiated have broken my heart and left it open to recognize beauty in all the other moments, the ones you can’t quantify. In some ways she is, indeed, “the least of these.” And yet when she laughs, when she catches my eye and bodyslams me on the pilgrim road, I can’t help feeling that all the platitudes, annoying though they may be, are correct: she is closer to God than I ever will be.