I don’t say this to paint a perfect picture. (It’s not perfect. I did say 364 days. The first day was awful.) I say it because it’s true.
The day Jillian was born, all Kerry and I wanted was for someone to tell us everything would be OK. We learned quickly that sort of verbal hug was either (1) hollow, and delivered by someone with compassion but with no hands-on experience or (2) not coming at all.
I have 28 years of experience to tell you, it’s all true. It is going to be OK. Better than OK. It’s among the greatest experiences of our lives.
New parents, this is what you have to look forward to:
- An individual without agendas or guile, who passes no judgment. Someone who, when he/she asks you how you’re doing, actually is interested in the answer.
- A person who, with help, will come as close to fulfilling his/her potential as anyone you know.
- A person who represents the human ideal more closely than anyone you know.
- Someone you’d treasure as a friend, a co-worker or a close relative. Whose compassion and empathy are always available.
- Someone who really doesn’t Sweat The Small Stuff. Who values the people in his/her life above all else. “If you love someone, they’ll love you back,” Jillian said to me when she was in middle school. Life should be so easy.
Jillian was born the day of the San Francisco earthquake, Oct. 17, 1989. We spent the day angry, grieving and cursing God. Mostly, we were sad and scared. I’d asked God to take me, in exchange for a Jillian without Down syndrome. Request denied.
I’d shaken my fist at the world, cried a Mississippi of tears. We spent that first night in the maternity ward. In the middle of it, we went down the hall to the NICU and peered through the window to the tiny crib where Jillian slept. And we decided the grieving was done.
What happened next was a wonderful alchemy of our desires and Jillian’s will. What resulted was a lifetime of learning we’d never have experienced without our daughter with the supposed disability.
As the singer Guy Clark wrote, in the tune The Cape, “She did not know she could not fly/And so she did.”
Jillian is married, living entirely independently with her husband Ryan in a 2-bedroom townhouse for which they pay all the rent. They each graduated from high school and attended four years of college. They each work full time. They cook, clean, do laundry, walk the dog, watch TV, have date night. They are our better selves.
We learn from all our kids. They own a future we won’t see. We raise them to leave us and make the world better. We are a reflection of how well they do.
Kerry and I wouldn’t be who we are without Jillian’s instruction. We’re the lucky ones. It’s an enduring good fortune. I swear.
As always: Expect. Don’t Accept.
An Uncomplicated Life, a memoir of raising Jillian, is available on all platforms at Amazon.com. To book speaking engagements, contact Paul or Kerry at pdaugherty.com or 513-313-9981