God's Grace Helped Her Meet the Challenges of Special Needs Parenting

God helped her to be the best mother for her daughter with Down syndrome.

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Posted in , Jun 25, 2021

A angel mother cradling her child; Illustration by Orlando Hoetzel

Kids ran back and forth across the soccer field at our YMCA. I watched from my canvas chair on the sideline, cheering on my eight-year-old son, who had just joined the team. Suddenly, another child took the field—my four-year-old daughter. “Selah, come here!” I cried, jumping out of my seat. “You’re too small for soccer.”

Selah turned her head, grinned and veered toward a group of children playing tag nearby. They were closer to her age, but I ran to her anyway and scooped her up in my arms. She squirmed in my embrace, kicking and flailing, wanting to play with the other kids. She didn’t understand that I was only trying to protect her.

“Play with me,” I said. “Mommy will play with you.”

Selah has Down syndrome. Her communication skills were delayed. She doesn’t sound like other kids. Or often act like them. It scared me to think of her trying to mix in with kids who didn’t know her. What if she got hurt trying to keep up? What if she was ignored? Or laughed at? Selah would be devastated.

“Here we go,” I said, pulling out a miniature soccer ball from my bag. Selah took the ball but gazed longingly at the field. She wasn’t afraid of anything, as far as I could tell.

She toddled after her brothers wherever they went, waved at passersby, offered hugs to strangers. This year she’d started developmentally delayed pre-kindergarten class—seven hours of classroom time with intensive physical, speech and occupational therapy. I sent her off every day, asking angels to watch over her. But the school environment didn’t faze her. At my last parent-teacher conference, along with telling me how Selah had learned to take off her own coat and hang it on a peg—a skill requiring fine motor coordination—her teacher told me she was the most outgoing student in the class. “Selah makes friends so easily,” she marveled.

So far the angels and teachers and I had protected Selah from the kinds of interactions I was afraid of, but this wasn’t the schoolyard, where the kids were used to who she was. I led Selah back to my chair and sat her on my lap, the ball in her hands. I wondered how much longer I could keep her entertained. I pulled out my phone to check the time.

A Facebook alert popped up, and when I clicked on it, a “memory” post showed a photo of me holding Selah on the day she was born. The comments on the picture were full of congratulations, but I could see that my smile was pained, my eyes swollen from crying. I was terrified back then. I had confidence in my ability to be a good mom to my two sons, but mothering my third child would be different. The doctors tried to prepare me for looming health complications and the day-to-day challenges we could expect as Selah grew. All of it came as a shock, and I asked God how to be the mother this child needed. How do I protect my baby from what might come? There was so much for me to learn and to accept—and to worry over. I thought of how far God had taken us since then.

Selah looked up at me and put her chubby hand on my cheek. Didn’t I have something better to give my daughter than my never-ending fears?

If the frightened woman in that photo could see me now, she’d see a mom whose daughter brought her joy every single day. A mom who wouldn’t trade her little girl just as she was for anything in this world. A mom who wanted to support her daughter in any and every challenge she might face. Encourage her to try new things. Be her strength when she didn’t trust her own. Protection was only the beginning of a mother’s job. I had so much more to offer Selah.

She wiggled off my lap and walked toward the gaggle of kids, her arms swinging in happy anticipation. Out of habit, I started to call her back. Instead I watched and listened, holding my breath. Selah gave a loud hello to the group as clearly as she could, completely unaware that she had made a bold and courageous move. When she reached her arms out wide for a hug, she got several takers. She’s in! I thought, my heart beating fast as the children invited her to play.

I closed the Facebook post and put away my phone. I wouldn’t let fear be my guide in mothering my brave girl. Selah had courage enough for both of us. She would show me the way to be her best mother ever. God had made sure of that.

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