I’m sitting down to write on the first open-yer-windows day of 2021. Birds are hollering at the humans to get outside and soak up the sunshine. Walks with our girls on days like this are a gift. Though we loved the wheelchair skis on snow, it is easier to move wheels on bare pavement and wide worn paths.
Mind you, this column could be arriving with a spring snowstorm. The time that passes from writing to publishing is about a month, and much can change with early spring weather!
As a kid, I was fascinated with how much we change over the course of time. Certainly, photographs can offer a glimpse – with haircuts and hair loss, wrinkles, relationships and wallpaper. I remember spending hours looking at old family photo albums, wondering about the younger versions of my parents and extended family members.
At the age of 13, I started writing letters to myself, nudged by the work of L.M. Montgomery in Emily of New Moon. My first letter was not to be opened until I was 23. Without divulging details, my 23-year-old self was in stitches over the determination and dreams of my 13-year-old self. I have since written several to-my-future-self letters. I highly recommend this activity.
I’ve also learned there’s something powerful but painful about reflecting. Since the arrival of Rachel and Janneke, I have found their birthdays to be emotional days of reflection – both of thanksgiving and grief. Last month Janneke turned 12, and in the days leading to her birthday, I sorted through boxes of cards I had kept from her birth. Reading the notes from family, friends and kind strangers reminded me of the questions and sorrow we carried in her early years.
Five years ago, I started writing this monthly column. The physical health of our younger daughters was top of mind, as the summer of 2016 was particularly challenging with a middle-of-the-night helicopter ride for Janneke from Parry Sound to McMaster Hospital and a less dramatic but still serious visit for Rachel at McMaster four weeks later.
Five years later, we are a bit older. I did not imagine a global pandemic or everyone clamoring alongside me to buy hand sanitizer and non-latex gloves. Now, the emotional health of the rest of the family is more concerning, as we learn to live with mental health challenges that have since developed.
One way to describe how we change over time is with the word mindshift. As mother and primary caregiver of daughters with disabilities, my mind continues to shift in thinking about disability and normalcy. I’ve also learned to recognize that I don’t know much about living with disability; my insight is from the caregiver’s perspective, and I can’t pretend to know more.
Grow as we go
And maybe that mind shift is part of the iterative process of living. We get up, go through our day, end our day, sleep a bit – and then start all over again. Events happen, relationships evolve, pandemics are declared, children are born, diagnoses are determined, hair is lost, weight is gained and we keep learning.
Make some time this month to open the windows and write a letter to your future self, even if it’s the three-months-from-now future self. You won’t regret it.
“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed” (Lam. 3:19-22a).