January 1, 2010
The Packing List
Here at Down Home Ranch, the Ranchers are filtering back from time spent over the holidays with their families. Not all left, but most did.
We’re all feeling a bit bloated from an excess of holiday feasting, and a bit off kilter from too much time spent out of our normal routines, despite the fact we’d longed to get away from them a while. I’m in a pensive mood, somewhat put out with myself.
Over the years, raising our daughter Kelly (who has Down syndrome) I’ve had to face again and again the real implications of Kelly’s disability, and just how serious they are. Each time it happens, it’s like a slap in the face, and always because of what I should have been able to see, but didn’t.
My latest little epiphany on this front happened because of Kelly’s coming to stay with us over the Christmas holidays. When I drove over to pick her up, she had packed half her very extensive music collection, practically all of her clothes, and everything else she could conceivably cram into a bag, a backpack, or a suitcase.
“Kel,” I said, “for heaven’s sake, you only need stuff for a few nights.” To this she gazed at me wonderingly and asked, “I do?”
“Yes, my dear,” I persisted, my death grip on logic showing in my tone of voice. “Remember, you’re only a few houses away. We can go over any time to Martha House if we need to get something else.”
Whatever, I thought, too much in a hurry and too distracted to pursue it. I ceded the battle and hauled all her worldly possessions to Benedict House, where Jerry and I live, and installed them in the guest room.
This packing issue had come up more and more lately because Jerry and I recently bought a small condo unit in Austin. Every six weeks or so Kelly, and sometimes her boyfriend Sterling, spend the weekend there with us. Each time we go through the “Why-did-you-bring-all-this-stuff-with-you-if-you’re-only-going-to-be-here-one-night?” litany. (We go through this with Sterling, too.)
Well, the week after Christmas we’d been planning to take Kelly and Sterling to San Antonio for a night on the Riverwalk, but things came up at the Ranch and we decided we couldn’t afford to be away for two days. So as to not disappoint the kids, we decided to spend the night at the condo and take them out to a movie and dinner.
This time, however, I had a bright idea. I’d give each of them a packing list: This and no more! I carefully typed it out, along with place to check off each item, gave one to Kelly’s RA and emailed one to Sterling’s mom.
They were thrilled to have the packing list. They followed it to the T. No muss, no fuss, no bother. And they were proud of what they’d done.
How could I have been so dense?!
When the light bulb finally came on driving back to the condo after picking Sterling up I could have banged my head on the steering wheel in frustration—not with them but with me.
They hadn’t been ignoring me when I told them vague things like “You only need stuff for one night” or “Just bring what you need.”
All along, they’d literally had no idea what to bring for how long. All I’d succeeding in doing was to make them feel bad about having tried their hardest to cover all their bases.
I’d set them up for a failure each time we’d gone through that charade.
So my New Year’s Resolution is to try, harder than ever, to experience the world through their eyes.
C. S. Lewis wrote that Montaigne became kittenish when playing with his kitten, but the kitten never discussed philosophy with Montaigne.
Kelly can never discern the world as I do. The burden is on me to try ever harder to discern the world as she does, given her significant limitations.
This might seem a rather sad and poignant starting place from which to launch the New Year. It might be if I didn’t know the many joys that await me when I do slow myself down and try hard to see the world through my daughter’s eyes.
But I do know. And much more on that in the days to come…