A dear friend of mine says to her “special” daughter every morning as she looks into her chocolate eyes, “You are a gift.” It’s her daily mantra. Before the cares of the world set in, before the grind begins, before any reminders of the challenging journey she is on, before. She has chosen to remind herself, despite the hardships of having a disabled child, that her daughter is a gift. Everyday. To her. To her family. To the world.
My friend’s beautiful way of facing every day of her daughter’s disability has had a profound impact on me. That I need to adopt an “attitude of gratitude” about Ryan before my day begins. Armed with my morning coffee, I should clear my head of concerns and worries and to-do lists (so many of them!). As my earliest riser Ryan comes down the hallway, I need to hug him, look into his watery blue eyes and say, “You are a gift to me. You are a gift to our family.”
It sounds so sweet and syrupy and cliché sometimes. It’s very hip and chic these days to throw around phrases of thanks and take on a no-complaining-no-whining rule. We “say” we are grateful. We keep gratitude journals. We say having a disabled child is a “blessing in disguise.” We say it in our head. It’s true in theory. Yet when our hearts ache with the reality, and the on and off grieving we parents undergo, we quickly forget. We can so easily get swallowed up in just how darn hard our journeys are. And they are.
Therefore, in an effort to be proactively adopting a theme of gratitude in my head AND heart, I have compiled a list of things about Ryan that I am thankful for. Here are some examples:
- Ryan is very polite and appreciative.
- Ryan never complains about any meal or snack I make for him.
- Ryan never complains about chore time.
- When I say its time for a bath, he says, “Can I play in there?” versus “But I am not dirty, and do I have to?”
- Ryan is very enthusiastic about family outings.
- Ryan has language and uses it. (Yes, despite the 873 questions per day or per hour, I am thankful.)
- Ryan loves to go to school.
- Ryan never pops out of bed once tucked in. He’s asleep in 60 seconds.
- Ryan is fearless. (which leads to #10)
- Ryan loves roller-coasters, all sizes and speeds!
- Ryan is a go-getter at times and surprises us with great tenacity in physical tasks.
- Ryan is extremely thankful, for everything, even stickers from the Trader Joes clerk.
- Ryan hugs me and says, “I love you Mama” completely unprompted. He says it often.
Have you ever NOT OPENED a package or present? Just left it in the closet? By not listing, thinking about, and meditating on qualities and traits in Ryan I am thankful for, I am basically choosing to not unwrap a gift. That would be foolish at best and detrimental at worst. I owe it to Ryan. I owe it to myself. I am one of those people who, when receiving a birthday present in the mail, opens it immediately. My husband will tease, “Can’t you wait till your actual birthday?” And I quickly and sheepishly say “No!” I’m like a kid again on Christmas morning voraciously ripping through gifts with parents pleading me to slow down. So how can I NOT unwrap Ryan? He’s my sweet beautiful ocean-eyes blondie who is social, affectionate, and very complimentary. Who, despite his many limitations and anxieties, has a true zest for life, and family, and holidays, and of course, food. Ryan Bradley Patay is a gift, a gift I get to unwrap every single day.