“Kathy you’re a saint.”
My head snapped up to find my sister’s friend Amy giving me a look that was mixed with awe, pity, and kindness. I was in the middle of helping my then 7-year-old daughter, who has significant special needs, butter her roll while we ate lunch at my nephew’s christening.
Lizzy looked adorable in her new pink dress. She’d gotten a manicure the day before and was very pleased with the way she looked. No detail had been missed.
I didn’t know how to respond to Amy’s comment. So I did what I thought someone really deserving of the S-word would do, I smiled and said thank you.
Now back in our minivan headed home, her words lingered in my mind.
I turned to my Catholic husband who was driving. “You have to be dead to be a saint? Right?”
I was raised Lutheran, and Joe was accustomed to my questions about his religion. Laughing, he said, “Yes, you will need to die first before anyone makes you a saint. Who wants to canonize you?”
“Wendy’s friend from college, Amy. You know, the one whose first two kids were born within days of Tom and Lizzy. And then she had a third a year before Peter was born.”
“She has a new baby, too, right?”
We both started to laugh at the thought that a woman with three kids—10, 7, 5, and an infant—thought I was worthy of canonization.
Though Lizzy was seven, intellectually and emotionally she had much more in common with a child of three or four. In the 10 years since my nephew’s christening, her learning and emotional development have progressed only marginally, even though she’s now 17 and towers over me at five-foot-eight inches tall.
Lizzy is able to speak, but her words don’t always follow the conventional patterns of speech. To the untrained ear, she can sometimes sound as if she’s speaking gibberish. But not to me.
I’ve always had the “Mommy Superpower” of being able to understand my daughter.
During the party, while we were all sitting and enjoying our meal, Lizzy started to get upset and said in a loud voice, “The princess butterfly wants a flower.” I knew she meant, “I want a piece of bread, and I want it on the plate with the pink flower on it. Now!”
I smiled and handed her the bread, thrilled that she could tell me what she wanted. This was real progress. The medication she’d just started taking was really helping control some of her most challenging behaviors. Before the medicine, we’d stopped going out as a family, since we never knew when she would just lose it. I was so nervous that she wouldn’t be able to handle this event.
I happily took care of Lizzy as I continued to talk to Amy, who was feeding her infant while simultaneously keeping her eye on her other children. It felt good to be with another mother who was as busy as I was. I felt more like a typical mom that day and less like a special needs one.
Which is why I was caught off guard when Amy gave me the lofty title.
It wasn’t the first time I’ve been called a saint because I was Lizzy’s mom. Nor would it be the last.
But this time, it really stung.
Even with Lizzy on her best behavior, it was more than obvious that she had significant issues. My daughter was different than the other girls at the party. And that made me different, too.
According to Webster’s, a saint is a holy person chosen by God.
I didn’t feel holy or chosen by God that day as I took care of my daughter, any more than I do when I start singing Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen very loud and very badly, to help me from completely losing it, because Lizzy has just used my brand new lipstick to decorate herself and the bathroom.
I didn’t feel like a saint yesterday when I just wanted to continue brushing my teeth and pretend I didn’t hear her screaming a string of nonsense words from her bedroom.
And I didn’t want to be the only one who could figure out that she was upset because she couldn’t find her favorite pajamas. Though my heart did swell a bit when she looked up at me with her big brown eyes and said, “I’m sorry I screamed, Mommy.”
I’m not a saint. Not even close. Nor does Lizzy need one.
What she does need is her mom. A flawed woman who finds humor in the messes of biblical proportions she confronts almost daily and beauty in her daughter’s accomplishments, no matter how insignificant to the rest of the world. Being Lizzy’s mom is the one title I will always be happy to have.
This post originally appeared on the author’s blog
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