Early Summer 2008
[''Sometimes you read something so powerful, so profound, that it affects you for a long time, changing the way you look at or think about something. The following Dear Friends letter had that affect on me. We first ran this letter in 1994, a few years after Janet's daughter Kathryn was born. Since so many of you may have never had the chance to read it, we're running Janet’s letter again. I hope you are as moved by it as I am.'' -- Ann]
Ten years ago I was ecstatic in my new role as ''mother,'' full of hopes and dreams for my new journey in life -- loving and nurturing my baby Ann. I loved being pregnant, giving birth, and most of all, getting to know Ann. But staging a repeat performance wasn't so easy. I soon immersed myself in the world of basal thermometers, ovulation kits, and fertility graphs. And then there were the miscarriages, one after the other. So when my beautiful Kathryn was born seven years later, I felt my prayers had been answered. I cried for joy when she was born and the doctors said she was okay. But as I looked into her eyes for the first time, my joy went right out the delivery room, along with the assurances of the doctor. Call it mother's intuition or whatever, but I knew something wasn't right. As the weeks went by, it became more and more apparent that something was seriously wrong. My pediatrician continued to assure me that Kathryn was fine, but deep inside I knew my journey through motherhood had taken an irrevocable turn. Finally the doctors made Kathryn's disability diagnosis ''official.'' They offered plenty of terms to describe her condition: autistic-like, severely mentally retarded, cerebral palsied.
Having come of age in an era of ''positive thinking,'' I shouldn't have been surprised by people's responses. ''Oh, she'll be fine! Think positive!'' people would cheerfully exhort. I quickly learned that it wasn't socially acceptable for me to use words like ''disappointed'' or ''sad'' to express my feelings. Well-wishers wanted to ''encourage'' me with their positive talk and philosophy. At times I just wanted to shout, ''Doesn't ANYBODY think this is sad? Is there just one person who will cry with me instead of trying to be so UPBEAT?''
At just such a time I had a dream that changed my life almost as much as the little girl it was about. The dream began with everyone around me preparing to drive from San Diego to Bellingham, Washington. I watched people wave to each other as they got in their big, comfortable cars. Beside me was a tiny, paint-chipped tricycle. Someone cheerfully told me that this was what I would be driving. As the other cars sped off down the freeway, I stood there in disbelief. How could I go anywhere on a tricycle? I was angry, confused -- and all alone. Surely it was a mistake and someone would soon be bringing me a car too. A tricycle simply wouldn't work for me. Tricycles are too small, they're slow, and well, people stare at adults riding tricycles. All of which I found to be true -- at first. But after a while, I noticed that all that pedal-pumping was creating some nice muscles in my legs, and the brisk air against my face did feel kind of good. I began to smile, and before long, children and a few knowing adults began to smile back at me from their cars.
Soon the cars could only be heard in the distance. My little tricycle and I were on a beautiful path reserved just for bikes. What joy I felt when I spotted some exquisite wildflowers beneath my feet and a beautiful stream on my right! I looked off in the distance at the speeding cars and felt fortunate to be experiencing these hidden treasures. Pretty soon, 10-year-old Ann pulled up alongside me, she too on a tricycle. She seemed right at home in our new environment and glad we could experience this unexpected joy together. ''Ann,'' I shouted, ''the sign says it's only 41 miles to Bellingham!'' I had been enjoying my journey so much that I hadn't even been thinking of Bellingham or the other cars that were no longer visible. At that point I woke up.
It's been a year now since I learned about life on that little tricycle. I'm a different person now. Yes, sometimes I feel tearful when I see a walking, talking 2-year-old and think of what might have been. But then I think of wildflowers and strong legs. I think of a quiet little path and hidden treasures. And I look at my special 2-year-old, and I know my prayers were answered indeed.