Before I was a mother I was many things.
A collector of vintage garments. A connoisseur of expensive footwear. An organizer of junk drawers. A library book smeller and a yard saler. A coupon cutter and a daily bubble bath taker. A fashionista and a cosmo drinker. A friend and a foe. A daughter, an aunt, a wife.
In our lives we expand until we could practically explode from the many shapes and forms we take. Changing and growing and always rolling along, adding to our list of undertakings and belongings and hobbies and personalities. Some we are more proud of than others. Some lead us to next. Some teach us and prepare us for our future, for taking on yet another hat to wear or burden to bear. They shape our subconscious that later guides us to make life decisions.
While they may have led me to the right path, none of these things could truly prepare me for the insane journey that is parenthood.
So what did prepare me?
I am a sister.
To three lovely brothers.
One who has Down syndrome.
He was born when I was 13, the height of self-consciousness and awkwardness. During my Tweendom, when everything different is bad, when out of the norm is unacceptable. When eye rolling and back talk ran rampant and parents and teachers just didn’t understand.
When my father told me of his genetic makeup, I was shell shocked. The blow hit me with a force I had never felt. I was ashamed to cry in front him. I held in sobs, pretending they were hiccups and rubbed my eye as if something was in it to mask tears until I could escape to the bathroom. I sat down on the cold floor, back pressed against a hard tub, and I cried. Whole body, rib cracking, breath taking sobs. I was so sad for him, for that perfect little baby I had met in a hospital room.
I mourned for my brother and his loss of normalcy. I mourned for the life I had imagined he would have, we would have together. The family vacations with pictures of perfect looking children lined up by height. The prom dates and driving tests. The careers I imagined he would take on. The books I dreamed he would read. I had dressed him for his wedding, named his children, and planned his retirement. Disappointments, anger, sorrow flowed through me. He didn’t fit into the picture I had in my head of what our family should look like.
Little did I know that that tiny, raven haired little boy would forever change my outlook of “normal.” The lessons he taught me were invaluable. I learned about true kindness and humility. Acceptance and Passion. Community and family.
I was old enough at the time to help with my brother. With all that was weighing on my parents at the time with tests and new doctors and early interventions, the least I could do was entertain the baby or change a few diapers.
So I did just that.
I played peek-a-boo. I kissed little hands. I tickled little toes. I chomped on chubby thighs. I wiped his little bottom, sterilized bottles, strolled up and down the street. I learned the everyday parenting basics that seem minor to veteran mamas but can scare the pants off a newbie.
But the lessons went beyond the simple swaddling techniques and bath tub etiquettes. I was taught how to soothe a crying infant. To ease discomforts and rub away tummy aches. To shush sad cries. To kiss away tears. To care for. To nurture.
Most importantly, I was taught the meaning of the word unconditional.
My brother prepared my heart to be mother. He opened it up wide and tall. I was smacked in the face with a love so deep it was incomprehensible. Indescribable. I learned to love someone so much it did not matter if they fit in or if the whole world made fun of you for loving them.
I learned to love him not just in spite of his imperfections but for his imperfections.
It is this little boy, that I am repeatedly told is mentally incapable of learning times tables or memorizing state capitols, who has the most in-depth perception of true love and its large landscape. His love looks beyond physicality’s and falsities and sheds light on the true. My brother may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, and yea, rocket science isn’t in his future but I’ll bet he’s a better character judge than Bill Gates could ever hope to be. The purity and simplistic nature of his love is grounding.
That extra chromosome has taught me that love doesn’t always come in a pretty package. That family doesn’t exist for outsiders, or pictures hung on a wall. That it’s about being there when things gets dirty. It’s about having someone’s back. Cheering someone on and getting all that back to you when you need it the most.
I am so grateful to have experienced a love like this before becoming a parent so I could know what it is to nurture. To know that I have the capability to love with an honest, open heart no matter the circumstances and to know what it is like to truly give myself over to that crazy little thing called (unconditional) love.