This is a Simple Story About Love

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All a mother wants, above and beyond anything else in life, is for her child to be happy. It’s a subliminal inclination fueled by emotion, like the echo of a throb…a primal instinct driven by that first, curious flutter in the womb.

And it never goes away.

My grandmother is no different from any other mother in this respect, even though her youngest was born with an umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Unable to breathe, my Aunt Micki was rushed to a nurse instead of Grandmother’s open arms while doctors worked to change Micki’s color from a pallid shade of blue to something that looked a little more like life.

Micki survived only to suffer her first seizure when she was nine months old. It was the earliest of many signs that something about her seemed different. Abnormal. Uncommon. Not right.

As months turned into years, “different” transitioned to “retarded,” a term loaded with so much meaning that it overflowed, creating a non-navigable chasm between Micki and other kids her age. Words can be transformative in both good ways and bad, and “retarded” became a life-size label that would shade just about everything she did, starting with the length of the bus she boarded for school.

Both Grandmother and Micki learned to move under a cloak of filtered light that could only throw shadows on the stolen glances and downcast eyes of the world at large. Yet in those everyday moments where growth can’t really be measured, the bond between mother and daughter grew.

Given enough time, life will teach you that the only thing you can count on is change. Yet Micki’s role never has. She is and always will be my grandmother’s constant companion. Not her retarded companion, just a loving daughter and friend.

When my mom left home for college, Micki stayed. When my uncle took the same path seven years later, Micki stayed. When my grandfather died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-one, Micki stayed.

We don’t use the word “retarded” anymore, or at least, we don’t admit it when we do. From my grandmother’s perspective, that word has always misrepresented her youngest child. If you ask, she’ll say Micki came into the world just the way she was supposed to be.

Today, at almost ninety-three, the time-honored light in Grandmother’s eyes is fading. She’s more feeble now than even a few years ago, and bones that used to bend under the weight of life now break. Yet she pauses and lingers longer than most because her remaining purpose sits beside her, quietly holding her hand. Theirs is silent proof that under the right conditions, the narrative of a love story can last forever.

My grandmother will tell you that she’s here today because of youngest child. Not her abnormal, uncommon, retarded child, but her sweet, loving, beautiful daughter.

She’s not a surgeon, or a star, or even that girl from high school you wish you still knew. Yet if you ask Micki if she’s happy, she’ll nod her head and reply, “Yes. Yes I am.”

You don’t have to ask Grandmother the same question. The answer is obvious in the way she looks at her daughter, without bias or pity or doubt. To a mother, a child is simply a child and love is just love. Micki is her life’s greatest gift. We should all be so lucky.

On October 5, 2010, President Obama signed legislation requiring the federal government to replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in many areas of government. This measure, known as Rosa’s Law, strips the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal health, education, and labor policy. According to the World Health Organization, about 15 percent of the world’s population — or 785 million people — has a significant physical or mental disability. 

For anyone accustomed to my attempts at more humorous, light-hearted posts, I’ll be back next week to talk about either what I found in my neighbor’s trash, or the time I spent in my version of prison, or both. These topics aren’t remotely related, but probably should be.

86 responses »

  1. OMG! I am bawling! The way you write, Stace, is amazing. I can feel grandma’s love for Micki just reading this. AWESOME, is the only way I can describe her love, and your writing. Kuddos to you, my friend.

    • I appreciate your support, Bill, and by my count, you’re a little overdue for a post yourself, so stop pole dancing and get to work. As Dick Clark once famously said, “I don’t make culture. I sell it.” That dude was Bad. Ass.

      • I really need to post something soon. It’s gonna happen at some point. It’s inevitable. But the pole dancing will go on until you peel the pole from my cold dead thighs. Because that pole was extremely expensive and my wife insists that I (she) get my (her) monies worth.

  2. Wow, it’s about time. You don’t expect me to hold up this WordPress thing by myself, do you? Jk, Jk. Seriously though, been missing your posts. I learn to write with more humor thanks to you. Great story and a tearful one. They are lucky to have each other. Looking forward to what’s in your neighbor’s trash. Do your neighbors read your blog?

    • PLEASE hold up WP by yourself, because if you do I can go walk my dog. =)
      Thanks for reading and commenting, Lisa. I haven’t been doing much writing or reading lately, so I apologize for not stopping by. You’re a true talent and I look forward to seeing your work on a more regular basis.

    • Thank you. I always love seeing you here Laura. Don’t forget, you’re a critical piece of the blogging bestie triangle! I went back and forth about posting a pic and decided not to for various reasons. Maybe I’ll go back and add one though, they’re two special women. xoxo

  3. This is a beautiful post about a mother’s love for a child. I had an aunt who lived until she was 102. I am convinced she stayed because of her intellectually challenged youngest child. Love is that strong for a mother!!! I’m sure my aunt is watching over my cousin always and still protecting her.

  4. Dang you! Making this cynic get a tear in her eye. That was so lovely, Stacie. Really beautiful, both the content and the writing. I hope you are working on a novel, because I guarantee I would read anything you wrote, no matter the genre. You really have a gift.

    • Coming from you, a PUBLISHED writer (subliminal message to anyone reading this comment: buy The Seneca Scourge), means that your comment counts ten times over what anyone else says. Just kidding. It’s really only nine. =) I haven’t worked on my novel for ages (cue heavy sigh), but I swear I’m going to finish the first draft by Christmas. Not the edits, though. That will take me until about 2017. Thanks for your sweet words, Carrie!

  5. Beautiful post, Stacie. Such a loving tribute and a perfect illustration of why we shouldn’t just casually throw around the word ‘retarded’. Glad to be reading you again too.

  6. On a day where I stressed going from one hotel to another sending FedEx packs and fax (yes I sent a fax today for the first time in a long time!) you made me stop and realize how unimportant all of that noise is and how a minute spent reading a beautifully written short piece can be the best minute I have had all day. I felt like I could see the frailty of your grandmother and feel the pulse flowing from Micki. Thanks…

  7. So glad you are back! That was truly touching and poignant…thanks for sharing their story so beautifully :-) you have a gift Stacie!

    • Thank you for your kind comment.

      I love it when people post anonymously because my mind spins off into strange places trying to figure out who it is. Maybe it’s Miley Cyrus, considering using my blog as a platform for redemption. Maybe it’s a five star general, up late at night an unable to sleep until my words lull him into a coma. Maybe it’s my mom. Yeah, you’re probably my mom, which is still pretty cool. =)

  8. YOUR post gave me goose bumps. Stuck in Tokyo right now as I missed my connection to Manila, and your writing was truly a welcome respite. Totally moving and inspiring. Thanks for coming back and please don’t take too long next time. I would love to learn about your neighbor’s trash and share prison stories. ;-)

    • Stella,
      I recently missed a connection in Chicago and had to stay over night. Somehow a missed flight in Tokyo seems worse. I hope you made the next one without major changes to your travel plans. Thanks for your kind words. The fact that you take the time to read what I write and comment when your a million miles away makes me smile. Safe travels, and let’s finally catch up when you return.
      Stacie

  9. My oldest sister, Candy, was born in 1945 with Downs Syndrome. The doctors at the time told my mother to put her away, her life expectancy was 12 years. She has exceeded their expectations, in every way she exceeded their expectations. Candy was my mothers first born, her birth was hard but at no time did she ever consider the not loving her.

    Thank you for this, beautiful.

    • Thank you for sharing a piece of YOUR story, Val. My aunt is in her mid-50s now, and when she was born, “institutionalizing” challenged children was just about the only answer out there. I don’t think it was suggested out of malice, just ignorance. My grandmother never went that route. She always kept Micki at home with her. Micki is a kind, gentle person and the way Grandmother has nurtured her all of her life has a lot to do with that.

      • Same with Candy. My beloved mother (some day I will write this story) kept her at home, challenged the school district to educate her, challenged the Texas Dept of Education to provide appropriate materials to educate her and others. Candy worked at the school when she graduated for 20 years. Her greatest joy was Church and family.

        There are many stories about her interactions with people in the small town. She taught people many lessons.

  10. I am so moved AGAIN by your writing! There is a reason you have won the Colorado Press Association 1st place category and then the National award 1st place! You are so humble and modest that most people don’t know about these incredible honors! You are so original and talented in your writing and the best judges in the nation agree! Keep the ink flowing…

  11. This is a beautiful piece. And as you say, “A Love Story”, in its purest form. We would all be much richer given the opportunity to know your Grandmother and your Aunt Micki. Thank you for sharing this personal glimpse of your family with us.

  12. Yes, well. There ya go. When you’ve read and re-read those comments perhaps you’ll stop willfully neglecting your adoring public and post a bit more often again. And by the way, everyone, I shamed her into it. It was me. Thank me. Send money. Love. Anything, really.

  13. Anyway, our first daughter, Rhiannwen Cari Yolland, got tied up in her umbilical cord coming out. No one ever told us shit like that really happened, so it was a hell of a shock. They couldn’t wake her. Then they did, and I will never forget how long it took. 22 minutes. There was a clock over the crib they put her in to work on her while my wife called anxiously from the bed as to what was happening, and I paced backwards and forwards, unable to find out, because the doctors and nurses were so focused. In the end she was awake, but she was really, really poorly. As they rushed her from the delivery room to the ICU in another big hospital in town, that’s what the paramedic muttered to me as they squeezed past me. “She’s a very very poorly little girl.”

    Later, from the outside looking in, she was perfect. I still remember her face today as if it was yesterday: completely adorable, black hair, slightly aquiline nose, from her mother’s side of the family, peaceful and calm with an inner grace. Except when he tiny body spasmed and contorted, and a little more damage was done to her poor, insulted brain. That’s what they call it, you know. A brain insult. Such a little word for such a thing. At five days, with no hope that she would ever see, or walk, or be free of the twisting and wracking pain, even if she lived for years, we let her go. And even then, stripped of the artificial support that had been keeping her alive, she took a deal of a time to go. It was like she wanted us to know she was tough. She didn’t need to tell us; we knew.

    We knew she could hear though, because if I spoke loudly, she moved, and her hand grasped my finger, even in the crib with more wires and tubes and sticking plaster and bandages that could ever look decent on her tiny frame. So when we held her, once all that had been removed, we spoke to her, gently, for what seemed like hours.

    Her name meant “beautiful Princess” and “darling” in the language of my ancestors, but the first name, Rhiannwen, we actually constructed from our knowledge of Welsh. We told her that. After her death, everyone always called her Rhiannon, (much more common, of course), and we had to correct them, because it seemed important that people got it right. It was part of her, and we’d only had such a short time with her, it would have been wrong to get it wrong. Another insult.

    Sometime later, still in shock and grief, a cousin asked a pyschic medium why a little baby would come into the world so damaged, so torn, needing so much help? Why do bad things happen to good people? She told the soothsayer nothing more about her other than the fact she was a girl, and she’d died after a few days.

    Without hesitating, she said that she was immediately in contact with our daughter, and the answer she gave to the question was “I came into the world to give my parents a gift of love.”

    A couple of years on, when our second daughter was born successfully, healthy and instantly wide awake beautiful, “a good unit” as the pediatrician cheerful declared, never was any child, I suspect, loved more fully or more appreciatively.

    And as a result, her life has been filled with joy and love from the first day, and every day, and as a result she is as confident, gentle, compassionate, generous-hearted and talented adult now as any parent could wish of the child. Not in the least because of the explosion of love and relief that greeted her arrival. We now knew how lucky we were and we shared that with her. And she has share her love with everyone she has met. She is adored by all who know her. She carries a light around inside her that warms and brightens the lives of everyone she meets.

    There’s more. The report from the medium – who had been told nothing, no detail, other than “a baby girl died” – contained one little line that caused us to sit wide-eyed and open-mouthed then, and still does now. Almost as if we could hear her voice, Rhiannwen Cari used her to pass on a special request to her still-grieving parents.

    “Could we please stop people spelling her name wrong, as it is very special to her.”

    Every child comes into the world to give us a gift of love. God bless Aunt Micki for hers.

    • Stephen,

      You’ve given me an entire life’s worth of goosebumps. I don’t usually say “God Bless” but God Bless you, Rhiannwen, and your entire family. Your comment could be a post in and of itself if you could stomach adding to it. I’m sure there are many, many parents would appreciate hearing your beautiful words. Thank you for sharing Rhiannwen with me. I have no doubt she was a special girl, and I believe her impact on your family’s lives will last forever.

      Lots of love,
      Stacie

  14. This would be one of the most beautiful posts I have read in a while.To me it transcends love to a higher plane of connectedness of the heart and the soul. Reading it somehow brought to me memories of very personal situations which I have seen in my own family and the plethora of defensive behaviours people adopt when they are unwilling to confront such realities.

    Thank you for the insight.

    Shakti

  15. This is wonderful, Stacie.
    In all seriousness, I think most people would envy Micki’s ability to confidently answer that she is indeed happy. There’s beauty to be had with innocence.

    • I agree (with your happiness comment). She leads a very simple life, but never has to experience feelings of malice, jealousy, regret, etc. There’s another side to that coin, but when you know what you know and you don’t know what you don’t, life can be a lot more…happy. Thanks for the read and visit, Calahan. I hope the book’s going well. =)

  16. As always, great writing Stac. The world would be a better place if we could all parent our children the way your grandmother does. If we could all learn to love our children for exactly who they are – their strengths, their weakness, their struggles, their gifts – and not attempt to make them what we want them to be. This parenthood thing is often harder than I imagined it would be – God bless your grandmother for doing it right. She is an inspiration.

    • I miss you Susan! Did you ever do anything with the piece you sent me? Keep writing.
      Thank you for your thoughtful, heart-felt comment. Your wisdom and support means a lot.

      I’m definitely coming home next summer so we need to figure out as much time as possible to catch up. =)

  17. I love all your writing, but this piece speaks to the educator in me that has witnessed a true change in how schools label and serve children. The label is only a requirement for the wealth of services that we can now provide. Most recently our local high school homecoming queen was a young lady with Down’s syndrome who had attended my elementary school. I was so proud! I don’t know your grandmother well, but I remember hearing of the pride she had and rightfully should have had in her youngest daughter when that was not what society expected. Shame on society of that time.

    • Thank you, Michelle, for your visit and comment. I love that you read anything I write and truly appreciate your thoughts on this piece. You and my mother are educators at-heart, and you share similar sentiments. So happy you’re both in the world and hope you and your family are well. Miss you guys! =)

    • What about a cocktail, a hug, and then a run? I’ve never tried it in that order but it could be kind of fun. Or disastrous, which makes the thought that much more intriguing. Great to see you here Kellie. Miss your regular posts. =)

  18. The irony, which seeps out from between every one of your masterful sentences, is that most of the world probably looks at Micki and her mother with pity, as though they’re the ones who are missing out on something. But it’s the world that is incapable of seeing and appreciating the depth of love those two women share. Thank you for writing this, Stacie. Your posts are always filled with some form of wisdom, humorous or not.

    • Your comments always make me smile, Charles. I know we’ve talked a little about writing from a longer work/novel standpoint. I can say without doubt that I see the novel unfolding with every wonderful post you write. =)

  19. Stacie, way to go. This piece was as ‘professional’ as any you have done. Writerly. And, it filled a hole – a very large one. Thank you for a touching, wise and enriching post that will be shared many, many times over the course of your beautiful life. Cheers to you.

  20. i read this the other day and wanted to comment on it but wasn’t quite sure what to say. i guess i just want to say that you’re really funny, but when you write seriously, it is very powerful. and it sticks with the reader. i have been thinking about what you wrote about the first feelings of a baby in the womb and i keep going back to it. it’s so true. from the first moments on, there is a deep desire for your children’s happiness. simple as that.

    • What a sweet comment, Terry. I like trying to be funny, but I have a seriously sentimental side that I try my best to hide. Comments like yours make me want to show it a little more. Thank you. =)

  21. Hello Mrs. Stacey, not sure how I missel this post, but better late than never. Very enjoyable read, lots of real emotion, thank you for sharing this.

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