Attending the big games, I thought about the many ways we’ve been programmed to measure success. How do you measure success? Did you get the promotion you’ve been working so hard to receive? Is your retirement portfolio sufficient to live the rest of your life comfortably? Perhaps you’ve met the love of your life. Maybe your children have grown up and have lives of their own. Now you are ready to travel the world. Success has many different meanings. Sometime we forget the many great things we’ve accomplished in life. Sometime we focus solely on the things we haven’t achieved. Sometime we take for granted that other people’s struggles are far greater than our own.
It was an honor attending the Special Olympics with my son. The proud moments of accomplishment expressed by the children involved melted my heart. The athletes lined up at their respective starting marks. Their eyes remained sharply focused on the finish line. Eagerly, the trained Olympians awaited their signal to go. Suddenly, a piercing whistle blew in the background and off they went. And although some ran through the finish line, others ran around it. Some remained still at the starting mark while others jumped joyfully in circles. Victory was not only expressed by the blue ribbon recipient but by every competitor involved. Stations were set up around the field and each athlete did their very best. A feeling of pride was evident throughout the events.
I watched as Cade enjoyed his favorite pastime; lunch. The children shared a picnic basket filled with their favorite foods. No doubt competing gave them quite an appetite. There were smiles adorning the faces of the many classmates sitting atop the blanket. All but one, that is. A beautiful young girl shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Her long brown hair swayed as she wriggled side to side. Her magnificent amber eyes filled with tears as she moaned in isolation.
“What is she thinking?” I wondered. “What would I do if trapped in a body I could not control?” I thought for a moment as I approached to greet the lovely young athlete. Not knowing where to start, I just started. “Do you believe the Jonas Brothers split up?” Rambling on a subject I knew so little about, I Googled on my phone. Does she even like boy bands? She could very well be a rock fan or maybe even a country girl. I had no idea. Regardless, I used my newly gained knowledge of Kevin, Joe and Nick and I rambled away. Then, with a twitching movement her hand slowly wiped across her mouth. She stared for a moment then gradually lifted a slice of pizza from her lap. Grease marks tinged the plate from which it lay. Her splendidly crooked smile parted and she nibbled at the crust. While our encounter was brief, she made a lasting impression.
The Special Olympics proved to be a great day for Cade. He won first place in the tennis ball throw event. His sense of happiness and pride was evident as we left the field. Of course it was a proud moment for me. I am his dad. Be that as it may, I couldn’t help but think about the girl with the big brown eyes. “What if she hates boy bands?” I asked myself. “What if she hates boy bands and pizza?” Imagine a world where we have no choices. Where someone else makes all of our decisions.
The bells clattered as I entered the diner. “Have a seat wherever ya like,” the waitress shouted peeking through the top of her dark crimson framed glasses. Margie was her name. Heeding Margie’s instruction, I advanced toward an empty booth. The cracked vinyl covering scratched my leg as I scooted along the bright red cushion. I pressed my elbows against the metal blinds and glanced over the menu. Breakfast on one side, lunch and dinner on the other.
“I’ll have the bacon cheeseburger and a root beer.” Although I normally make healthy decisions, it was a cheat day. With an undeniable sense of guilt, I placed my order. Eagerly waiting, I tapped my feet to the oldies but goodies echoing from the jukebox. A little Smokey Robinson and the time zipped on by. Soon I would be feasting on fat and carbohydrates. Finishing six weeks of nothing but grilled chicken and broccoli, the anticipation was killing me. After all, this place was voted the best burger in town four years in a row.
Abruptly, the kitchen door swung open. Margie stood there a moment straightening her apron. Carrying the goods, she approached my booth in the adjacent corner. I had been waiting six long weeks to bite into that burger. Just like Pavlov’s eager dog, I was salivating before the plate even touched the table.
“Grits and whole wheat toast,” declared Margie as she strutted out of sight. “Bon appetite.”
Life can be very challenging but I am thankful for the ability to make my own decisions. My heart aches for the many typical things that my son may never experience. However, I am thankful for the many things that he will achieve. Is this counting my blessings? Or is it just taking comfort in knowing that other people’s lives are more screwed up than mine? Whatever it’s called doesn’t really matter.
So how do you measure success? To me, it depends on the challenge. Hearing your teenage son or daughter use complete sentences may not excite most parents. But to me, it’s worthy of a blue ribbon. Success in raising a child with disabilities is best measured by small accomplishments. There are days that can be very dark. It’s on these days that it’s best to look back and realize how far you’ve really come.
I hope one day, following your youngest child’s wedding, you find yourself traveling the world with the love of your life. I hope this elaborate trip is paid for with just a small piece of your investment portfolio. I hope one day, while relaxing on the shores of Fiji, exploring the pyramids of Egypt or safariing through Africa, you get a call from your boss. You’ve just received the promotion you’ve been working toward your entire life. I hope one day, when this new job brings you stress, you can lay back, prop your feet on your desk and smile. You recall the day that you informed that asshole from accounting that you’re his new boss.
Kelly Jude Melerine