Today is my son’s birthday. He is a healthy and vibrant four ….. I mean five ….. year-old. It’s still hard to believe that this time five years ago, Alex and I were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our second child. Now, I am simply trying to rub out the pain in my knees and back from a day spent celebrating his birthday.
We held Danny’s birthday party a day early at a place called Pump it Up. It’s an indoor gym of sorts, with varying inflatable play areas. You know, the typical slides and bounce-houses and obstacle courses. There were about 25 kids there, and they all appeared to have a great time. Even the adults got into it. Although I was first consumed with camera-man duty, Daniel later grabbed me by the hand and implored me to race him in the obstacle course and slide down the 30-foot slide with him.
It was wonderful and magical and everything a kids’ birthday party should be. At the end of the party, Daniel was treated to his birthday cake and got to spend time on a giant, inflatable thrown in the party room at the facility. He reaped up the plethora of gifts he received and we all called it a day. After getting home and standing in the shower until all the hot water ran out, I barely had the energy to call the kids and wish them goodnight before I dozed off. As is usually the case, I woke late in the evening and turned on SportsCenter to catch up on the days’ events in the world of sports. And as is usually the case with the Sunday evening SportsCenter, ESPN has a heartwarming piece to fill time on their show. This week’s feature was about a Pop Warner challenger league in New York.
The challenger league allows kids with disabilities to play football. ALL kids, regardless of their specific disability, get to play. The ESPN segment focused on the inclusion of all the children, and how parents and other family members contribute to produce these wonderful memories, both for the children who play as well as for themselves. The stories were varied, from healthy children diagnosed with Downs Syndrome, to a child confined to a wheelchair because of his battle with a rare form of cancer. As his mother described how her son new he will soon die, it was hard to see the TV through the tears in my eyes.
Just as it is hard for me now to see the words I am typing as I tell you this story. When I think about this segment, and all the other stories I’ve heard about children living, and sometimes suffering, with disabilities, I can’t help but pause and thank God for the two beautiful and healthy children I have. I can’t help but choke up at the thought of how incredibly blessed and fortunate I am to be able to watch and partake in a day full of physical activity with my son. I can’t help but cry with the appreciation that I don’t have to deal with wheelchairs and surgeries, medical facilities and treatment plans.
Instead, I am blessed with the simple joy of picking my kids up from school and chasing them around my apartment as we play tag. I am honored to have the ‘burden’ of taking them to the pool and catching them as they jump into my arms. My biggest concern is the never ending hope that my children will always stay healthy and happy.
I think it is human nature to take things for granted. We grow so accustomed to a situation or environment that we adapt to it and ignore those things we once saw as obstacles. Being a parent is about having a relationship with your child, and as with all relationships, it’s easy to grow complacent and ‘bored’ at times. I like to think I will never take my children for granted, and it’s special segments like the one aired on ESPN that make me appreciate my kids, and the very special joy it is to have them, even more.
If you have kids and they have the ability to walk on their own, get dressed on their own, play, smile and just be a kid; take a moment every day and thank God for that blessing. If, for whatever reason, you are the parent of a child with special needs, then I pray that God continue to give you the strength and courage to endure. It takes a special parent to care for such a special child, and your strength and determination is admired by so many people. It is, at least, by me.