I didn’t give Wonderbaby’s future a lot of really reflective thought while I was pregnant with her. Which is to say, to the extent that I thought about it, I simply assumed that her future was brilliantly, gleamingly bright. I didn’t know exactly what kind of person she would be, but I assumed that she would be, somehow, in some way, fabulous, and that, accordingly, her life would unfold fabulously before her.
What this really meant, I don’t know. As I said, I didn’t really give it a lot of thought. I suppose that I assumed that she would be tall and attractive and kind and funny, like her father, and smart and curious, like me. If I had any specific worries, these were along the lines of what if she doesn’t turn out to be a book-lover? or, what if she has my nose? I didn’t worry about the basic constituents of an ordinary life, beyond the usual maternal concerns about her natal and post-natal health and safety. If I could keep her safe, then she would almost certainly have a wonderful life, right? Whatever that meant.
When we learned that this baby, this Sprout, Wonderbaby’s babybrudda, might very well face substantial obstacles to an ordinary life, that his health and well-being – that his prospects for a quote-unquote normal, never extraordinary or brilliant, future – were threatened at the very outset of his life, we were forced to examine exactly what it meant to speak of a wonderful life. I was forced to examine it. What would it mean, for my understanding of a wonderful life for my child, if it might not include all the hallmarks of normalcy, let alone brilliance, conventionally understood? What would it mean if this child were different – different in the most difficult, challenging ways? What would it mean for him, and what would it mean for me? What would I dream for this child, if I could not dream my own dreams, or variations thereof, on his behalf?
Therein lay the problem. I have only ever entertained – consciously or otherwise – dreams, for my children, that are variations on my own, most dearly held and largely unquestioned dreams. Dreams of more or less conventional happiness. Dreams about pursuing dreams and fulfilling ambitions. The specifics haven’t really mattered – love men or women, study the works of Plato or Stan Lee, explore sea or sky or invent things or make movies or climb mountains or write books, whatever – but the scale has always been consistent. These have been big dreams. Extraordinary dreams. Dreams for an extraordinary life, a big life. Dreams that had to be – or so I thought – scaled back, dramatically scaled back, for a child whose future might very well be severely limited in scope or scale. Limited, perhaps, to the barest extremes. I had to ask myself, what could I dream for this child? And more to the point, could I be happy, really happy, for this child, regardless of what dreams, what ambitions, what hopes – however modest, however limited – would surround his life?
Of course I could. Our children are the very definition of happiness for us, regardless of the obstacles/challenges/limitations they face. We dream for them, no matter what. We all know this. But what I learned from this brush with the more complicated variations of hope, what I really learned from this, was that I not only know this, I believe this. I really do believe – feel right down to the marrow of my bones – that any child of mine will have a wonderful life – no matter what challenges that life brings, no matter how short or difficult that life – because I will (and do) love him, and love him well. He will be surrounded by love, and that really, really is all that matters. Not whether he is smart or fast or agile or especially talented with language. Just that he is loved. Trite, maybe, but true, really, truly true. Know-it-in-my-bones true.
We know, now, that the specific limitations that we were worried need no longer be worried about. But the lesson holds. We will, I will, let this child shape his own dreams. We will let his happiness be defined by loved. Everything else will be gravy.
That said, it’ll help if he is fast, at least – he’ll need to be if he’s to keep himself out from under his sister’s (benevolently) tyrannical control. And I certainly wouldn’t mind if he preferred books to stinkbombs. But end of the day, nothing – nothing – really matters except the love, for his – our – wonderful life. It really, really doesn’t.