Monday, February 14, 2011

Forks and Curves

Life is full of forks. Yogi Berra famously said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” I have always loved this quotation and use it for inspiration whenever I need to summon the courage required to take the leap of faith necessary to choose a dramatic new direction. Forks are fun. Forks are exciting.

It is life’s unexpected twists and turns that I find more difficult to navigate. Yet I have found that one of the secrets to happiness is learning to embrace these surprising twists that life brings. For years, I have had a recurring dream that I am driving on winding roads, lost and unaware of where each curve leads. Our family’s Master Teacher, Jukie, leads us down many an unchartered path as he shows us the blessings and the beauty to be found.

Our life twist this month transformed from the metaphorical to a literal reality as we listened to our 13-year-old daughter Geneva’s doctor explain that her spine had so severe a curve that she must wear a back brace 23 hours a day for the next three to five years, that is, until she finishes growing. The doctor said many encouraging words, advised her to continue living her life as close to normally as she had, although he advised against taking up any new sports. Upon hearing that Geneva is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, he acknowledged that she might need to make some modifications in her spinning kicks, but she will find a way to keep doing what she loves. And when the doctor said that she’d be wearing the brace 23/7, he stressed that he didn’t mean 20 hours a day, or even 22 hours a day. Geneva is allowed freedom from the brace exactly one hour each day – for the rest of her childhood.

As the doctor left the office I watched Geneva take in this life-altering piece of news. She looked out the window, down at Sutter’s Fort, five stories below and remarked that she had loved the field trip she took there in 4th grade. I thought about how much she has grown and matured in the four years since that field trip. We were quiet for a short while until she said, “it’ll be OK, Mommy…at least it’s not a corset.” My remarkable girl immediately considered how the situation could be worse. And throughout the month Geneva has commented that the brace “will become normal for (her),” and “just part of (her) daily routine.”

I marvel at Geneva’s ability to feel so sanguine in her response to this curve that life threw her way (while her mommy quietly freaks out in private). But it’s different for moms, isn’t it? We mothers often feel the pain of our children’s hardships more intensely than our kids do. I’ve run a support group for new moms for all of Geneva’s 13 years, and when those new mothers express a dread of the baby’s first shots, or dropping their child off at daycare for the first time, I usually say the same thing: “it’s usually harder on the mommies than the children.” Moms seem to be hard-wired with an intense empathy for their kids. We do not like to see them hurt. We can’t stand to see them suffer. We feel their pain more than we feel our own. And my own mother tells me that the feeling continues no matter the “child’s” age.

Looking at my daughter’s twisted spine X-ray absolutely breaks my mommy heart. I am struck by memories of watching the ultrasound images of her tiny spine when I was halfway through my pregnancy – so straight, so strong. I have been thinking about the endless hours I spent patting her sweet baby back throughout her colicky infancy. And I find that I’m drawn to her back since hearing the news; knowing that I soon won’t be able to rub or scratch her back, I try to get it all in now.

Fortunately, Geneva is an exceptionally resilient and confident girl who has always felt happy to be different from everyone else, even her closest friends. In preschool, when most of the girls dressed as fairies or princesses for Halloween, Geneva insisted on dressing as a painted bunting. Having reached an age when most kids are trying desperately to be and look like one another, she still says things like, “why would I want to be just like everybody else?” I am thankful that Geneva has the inner strength required to navigate these unexpected life curves. And I have no doubt that this experience will increase her confidence and shape my girl into the amazing young woman she becomes. Once again, my children show me the way. We love you so much, Geneva – and we’ve got your BACK!