Earlier this year, our family took a little vacation to sunny California. We had purposely planned it to be right after Carter’s birthday so to have a little pick-me-up. As we were planning, it seemed odd to imagine a family vacation without one of our most important members. It really hit me that we would never be able to go on a vacation as a complete family, but this was just one of those things that we would have to learn to get used to.
Soon after we arrived, we took a drive out to Huntington Beach. What a beautiful place it is. Our children had never seen the wide ocean, so to see the wonder in their eyes was simply inspiring. At first, Mikey was tentative about walking into the water. He would only stick the very tips of his toes into the edge of the waves and I could see the fear in his stance. After a little encouragement, he built up enough courage to let the water surround his feet. I watched as he played with the sand between his toes, and felt a sadness that Carter would never be able to experience that feeling of the soft mud against his skin. I watched as Mikey’s steps became more purposeful, and soon he was knee deep in the water. The current was anything but calm that day, and at times the waves were big enough to soak his shorts. He stood strong against the current and let the waves crash into him. Mikey wasn’t going to let them deter him from enjoying this moment. Although at times the chill of the water would cause him to shout out in pain, a giggle was soon to follow. He felt the initial shock, and as soon as it began to wear he could feel the joy that followed.
As I watched my son play in the water, I began to think a lot about Carter. I drew his name in the sand, and thought about how I was tentative in the beginning of his life too. The world of special needs seemed so wide and scary, but once I dipped my toe into the edge I began to find my courage. Soon I was walking further into this different life, and I began to let it surround me. I felt the initial shock leaving my skin, and the comfort started to creep in. I began to accept that this was how things would be, and I realized that although it may have seemed cold in the beginning, it really was a warm place. This place felt right to me now, and I began to experience the joy that came with it. It seemed as though there were always waves crashing into our family, and we had to make a decision to drown or stand strong. Of course we stood strong. As long as we had Carter, those waves could crash into us forever and we would enjoy every single moment. I wish that we could have stayed in that place forever.
Now that we’ve left that place, I feel as though we are still waiting for the shock of this place to wear off. I have dipped my toes into the edge, and I have started walking into it head on. I can always feel the waves crashing into me, and I am choosing to stand strong because I’m hopeful that one day we will be able to feel the joy that follows. It’s just a little too soon for that now.