That September morning, piles of dirty carpet and crumbling carpet pad overwhelmed my house. The combination of exposed tack strips and little bare feet turned the dreamy event of getting new flooring into kind of a nightmare.
As we watched for the bus and I kept Jack, my mentally disabled nine-year-old, from menacing the tools littering the floor, the carpet installer watched Jack with curiosity. He told him hello and asked where he went to school. When Jack left on his bus, the carpet man went to his truck and returned with a laminated obituary of a woman with special needs who had passed away a few years ago in her fifties.
“That’s my little sister,” he said.
The high points of this woman’s life were written by someone who knew her well. Some of my favorite parts: she liked Big Red gum, Pepsi, eating out, singing duets with her brother (our carpet guy), and shopping at the dollar store. She had more friends than anyone else in her family and always had to have two dollars in her purse.
Her personality shone from the laminated newsprint.
My toddler and I left for a walk that day and I considered the carpet man’s sister and her list of simple pleasures.
When we passed the school where the sixth-graders were wrapping up recess, I casually tried to spot my kid in the sea of navy and red polo shirts. I wanted a peek of my eldest in his element. Just before I rounded the bend in the path, half of the sixth grade spotted and recognized me, yelling, “Hi Henry’s mom!” Henry gave me a wave and a “Hi Mom!”
I decided that moment was worthy of a laminated obituary. My simple pleasure: being known as my kid’s mom by a happy crowd of sixth graders.
Before the walk and my celebrity moment by the school, when I finished reading the obituary of a woman I didn’t know, I thanked the carpet man for sharing it with me and handed it back to him.
“You know. You understand.” he said. “She was a joy…….and a chore.”
At this statement my mind raced through myriad images of my family’s life, like the shuffling of a deck of cards.
I saw myself holding my redheaded baby as a geneticist diagnosed him with a rare syndrome.
I remembered feeling like I lived at Primary Children’s Hospital and at Early Intervention, or at least on the freeway which ran between them.
I imagined every time a Code Brown covered the carpet, walls, and furniture and squashed my will to live.
I grimaced at the memory of ten years of difficult Sundays with Jack kicking me in the church foyer, screaming during the sacrament, and having no place to fit in during the two long remaining hours.
I recalled kneeling helplessly beside Jack’s toddler bed as he cried, listening when the Spirit whispered “Jack is a child of God.”
I thought of my first two little boys kneeling by the electric train set, two pleased sets of eyes following the Lionel Polar Express around it’s oval track.
I saw myself on my back, lifting my smiling nonverbal three-year-old son on my feet like an airplane, our hands clasped.
I pictured the after-bath miracle when three-year-old Jack, who had never before mimicked things we tried to teach him, imitated my husband opening and closing his mouth, saying “ah” to his hooded-towel clad reflection in the mirror.
I tasted the sweetness of the evening two Christmases ago when my family sat together on the couch through an entire viewing of Fantastic Mr. Fox without a single person freaking out.
I swelled with emotion remembering when the bishop asked me at Jack’s eight-year-old interview if I believed Jack knows his Savior, and deeply knowing that he does, even though he can’t say it.
I recalled the recent day when my boys and I walked the long gray windowless hallway leading to the university behavioral health clinic, and I realized that place no longer holds any power over me. Victory and acceptance have replaced anxiety and despair.
I felt the lightness that accompanied a dream I had where a neighbor leaned over and whispered to me at church, “You don’t need to worry what people think about the challenges you have raising your children. You’re doing a good job,” and knowing it was actually God saying it to me.
On that September morning, my mind fanned through the everyday images of parenting a joy and a chore. I solemnly nodded at this knowing man stapling carpet to our stairs, who in five words summarized the essence of my life.