I carry a little bit of guilt with me.
I think that part of it will be with me forever. I’ve spoken about this guilt before. I’ve written about it here on the blog, I have even shared it in public forums and intimate gatherings.
I suppose it’s the one time in my life that I can say I am ashamed of how I behaved.
When I was first handed Gelli’s diagnosis of Trisomy Twenty-One, I had imagined a daughter who would grow up to be fragile, limited, and incapable.
The words “Down Syndrome” immediately gave me visions of a child who would be limited in what she would be able to accomplish.
I automatically put all these limitations on her because of her diagnosis. Because of that label. Because of my ignorance.
Gelli is nothing like this at four years old. NOTHING. She is capable.
There is a reason why I recall this particular point in my parenting journey with Gelli. So often, I have tried to put myself in another mother’s shoes. I didn’t used to do that before Gelli’s birth.
In fact, I was guilty of passing judgement on other mommas. I’m not proud of that either, but it’s a flaw I can admit existed before my daughter with an extra chromosome came into my life. I can admit this without reservation only NOW, because I know I have moved on from this negative behavior.
This past Monday, when my friend Dolores, from The Center for Possibilities invited me to listen to inspirational speaker Jessica Cox, I made sure to fit it into my Monday morning schedule.
Jessica Cox was born without arms. Her mother may have initially been shocked with Jessica’s rare disorder which caused her to be born without her upper extremities, but she never let that get in the way of raising her daughter to believe that she can do anything.
In her book, she acknowledges her mom in the very first few paragraphs.
“I am grateful to my “nanay” Cora, whos unshakable faith opened my eyes to the greater plan.”
Jessica shared how she overcame some of the challenges that life presented her, during a short talk with the students of Reach International School.
Jessica goes around the world giving inspirational talks to students, young adults, and even companies providing growth for their employees.
She shared a little bit about her childhood, about “thinking outside the shoe,” and how she became one of the most accomplished individuals in the world, even holding titles in the Guinness Book of World Records.
- She earned a degree in psychology from the University of Arizona.
- She is the first person without arms to earn a BLACK BELT in Taekwondo from The American Taekwondo Association.
- She is an ATA Champion in her age division for FORMS.
- She is the first person to earn a pilot’s license without any arms, and holds the world record in the Guinness Book of World Records for this feat.
- She surfs.
- She skydives.
- She paraglides.
- She has earned her SCUBA certification.
- She has spoken to and inspired tens of thousands of people all over the world in more than 20 different countries.
- She has been named as one of the 100 Most Influential Women in the Filipina Women’s Network.
- She has given inspirational talks to several Fortune 500 companies.
- She has volunteered on behalf of people with disabilities at governmental level lobbying to ratify the UN Disability Treaty.
- She is a Goodwill Ambassador for Handicap International.
- She has spoken at The Pentagon and at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland.
And she’s just getting started….
I look at all that Jessica has accomplished and I am in awe. I am in awe of her calming presence, and self assuredness. I am inspired by her willingness to give of herself and share her experiences growing up in mainstream Arizona. She defied the odds, she succeeded and she has accomplished more in her life than most people have, without a disability.
And she did this because she said she removed two words from her vocabulary.
“I CAN’T” does not exist in Jessica’s vocabulary.
During our short time with Jessica, she was candid, open, and honest. When asked if there was ever a time when she wanted to give up, she said, that giving up wasn’t an option. She said that with the support of her mother, and those that loved her, she knew she could accomplish anything she set out to do.
When she shared how important her mother was in her life, I found myself thinking about Gellibean. I found myself thinking of all of the ways I treat Gellibean exactly the same as my three big kids. While I may have adjusted my timeline of expectations for Gelli to achieve certain milestones, I know that she can do all things she sets out to do, if she sets her mind to it, just like Jessica…
My biggest take away?
Each of my children, GELLI MOST OF ALL, needs to know that I believe in them.
That they are capable.
That they can do anything they set out to do.
I want my kids to be courageous in what ever it is they choose to accomplish.
“My mom is a registered nurse, and she’s originally from the Philippines. She’s delivered babies there. In developing countries, children born with disabilities often have uncertain fates. They can be shunned, abandoned, or put into institutions. So when she had a disabled child herself, she was just overwhelmed with anxiety and depression, concerned about what kind of future would be in store for me.
But she pulled herself out of it, and she resolved that she was going to do everything in her power to give me a normal childhood.
Sometimes it was hard. We lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona, a small town with about thirty thousand people in it. She’d go to the grocery store with me when I was a baby and a toddler just to grab a gallon of milk, and everywhere she went she’d be inundated with questions. “Oh, poor baby!” strangers would say. “What happened to your baby?”
My mom always told them, “Don’t feel sorry for her. She will be fine.”
I think this is another take away from my time with Jessica…
Gelli will be fine.
I haven’t finished reading Jessica’s book, but one thing I did, was ask Jessica to sign her book and dedicate it to Gellibean.
If Gelli can learn from Jessica’s formula for flight, she will know that she can do anything through adventure, desire, courage, innovation, balance, persistence, support, authenticity, and faith…
Because I know I have faith in her too 🙂
Thank you Jessica for sharing your Monday morning with the students of Reach International School, and with all of us who were lucky enough to be there as well.