| This is the 291st story of Our Life Logs |
All of us have been given a purpose—I believe it. Finding it is the challenge, and once finding it, taking the risks necessary to fulfill it can be daunting.
Unfortunately, it has never been my nature to take risks in anything. You could even say that I never have lost that Midwest attitude to “just settle.” I get that. I grew up through the 1960s and 1970s in the heartland of America, just outside Kansas City. I was surrounded by loving parents, five younger brothers and an older sister, both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins by the dozen. No one, it seemed, ever moved far from these roots.
Before I finished college in 1979 with degrees in English and journalism, I was told over and over again that I’d really shine as a teacher—that, and the supporting comments of, “There’s nothing much to do with those degrees, except teach.” I have to admit, the thought of commanding a classroom was appealing but, as stubborn as I was, I wasn’t ready to give in to that cookie-cutter profession. Instead, I found an entry-level position as an assistant director of and publications editor for a nearby university.
I dug in my heels and simply let myself be swept up in the tide. If that meant I found a pearl, great. If that meant I came crashing down on the shore, oh well. Kansas was my motherland and as Dorothy Gale’s philosophy states, “There’s no place like home.” I chose to let life happen and see where that took me.
Then came Tim. He has been the best thing to happen to me, not because we ended up marrying, but because he saw something in me that I did not see in myself. Together, we moved out west to Portland, Oregon in 1983, we had three wonderful children together and closed out the 1980s with Tim building his medical practice and I managing things on the home front. I know: how boring in the day and age of women embracing both motherhood and a professional career. As it was, this was where I felt most comfortable. No risk.
When our youngest was five, Tim thought it would be a great idea for me to go back to school to earn a master’s degree of all things teaching. All that time I spent trying to avoid a career I knew was a natural fit for me was now staring me in the face. While completing a three-year degree, I trained and obtained teaching certification in language arts and social studies. I also secured a position teaching writing and grammar to middle schoolers.
The odd thing was that I really liked it. I even liked middle schoolers. They were that perfect blend of child and adult, and it appeared that Tim’s encouragement was paying off. I found professional satisfaction and was out in the world serving others by training minds to critically analyze and communicate their thoughts in writing with clarity.
But I was but a mere novice in the realm of purpose—and it was a problem.
Absorbed as I was in the personal and professional success I was having, I neglected to see that my own children were suffering. Our family was suffering. With their father working long hours as a physician and me with my cares and concerns of the classroom, our two sons and daughter were being neglected. We stopped doing things as a family.
No family meals where we shared our joys and sufferings of the daily grind.
No family outings which allowed us to enjoy each other and the diverse activities that we liked to do.
No playing games together on game night where character and virtue are allowed to grow and blossom.
Our oldest was the first hint that things were amiss. He had always been an inquisitive and intelligent child, but in the time, I was in school and the children in after-school care, he began to act out. It was only when he was going to be dismissed from the school and the daycare that we sought help. It turned out that he had Tourette’s syndrome—and neither his father nor I had seen it. Counseling sessions were added to our chaotic schedule. Medication was prescribed. We were back on track as professionals and a family. All was right with the world. At least, that’s what we told ourselves.
The truth was, our son’s condition was not what had derailed us and, without addressing the root cause of our family issues, we hadn’t healed.
In 1995 at the age of 38, I was handed my Master’s in Education. A few days later, I was also handed a positive pregnancy test.
The one time I set a goal, worked long and hard to achieve it, my success came to a crashing halt because I had to go back to what I had been doing. It was difficult to think that I would need to give up something that was giving me such joy—watching students become better thinkers and better writers, embracing the challenges I put before them. I took a risk, set a goal and path, and it failed. Needless to say, I went through some emotionally draining months.
All the bitterness and distress was abruptly put aside at 32 weeks into the pregnancy. The little girl I was carrying had developed a problem which would necessitate surgery within hours of birth. There was also the possibility she would be born with Down Syndrome.
This news forced me to “abandon” my beloved students to be in the confines of home. I had to protect my unborn daughter by trying to hold her in for just eight more weeks. I have to say that in the ensuing wait I didn’t really consider what the future would bring. Old habits die hard and I fell back to living as I had, back to letting life “just happen.”
She did not last the eight weeks.
Jeannine was born four weeks premature, and indeed carried the genetic characteristics of Down Syndrome. She also required abdominal surgery to correct an intestinal issue and stayed in the NICU for three weeks.
While I was on the other side of the NICU glass, I guess I should have been expecting the worst. I don’t remember thinking anything like that. I only remember an overwhelming sense of purpose. For Jeannine, and for my children, I would no longer “just settle.”
With my solid background in education, I spent the next years as a strong advocate for her and her education. Her presence in our life enabled me to homeschool her brothers in their middle school years, which gave them a solid foundation for their high school experience. They also learned the value of giving themselves in serving others.
For the past 14 years, Tim and I worked in Tim’s “Mom and Pop” medical practice which we set up after he left the confines, pressures, and demands of corporate medicine. Not unlike her role at home, Jeannine became an integral part of the office routine as both staff and patients enjoyed and relied on her to make appointment confirmation calls and otherwise assist in our serving the health and medical needs of those who came to us for help.
I now see and understand that in receiving Jeannine, our family was given a tremendous gift. She has been the glue that brought our little family back together, and she has been my push to seeing my own worth. My challenge now is to take the risks needed as I put my work out in the world. For better or worse, it has to be done. I have been given the life experiences. I have been given the ability. I need to do the work.
This is the story of Barbara Cleary
Barbara grew up with no real sense of purpose, letting success and failure fall on her like rain. But just as she decided to actively pursue her interest in teaching, she got pregnant—with a daughter who was anticipated to have special needs. Instead of derailing her dreams and goals, Barbara found her life and purpose to be strengthened by this new addition to their family.
Five years ago, Barbara became a certified health and lifestyle coach, assisting others in finding optimal health, eliminating the need for medications, getting back to creating the life they want to live. To this day both Kevin and Brendan, now living with families of their own, never fail to seek out Jeannine when they FaceTime or come by the house. Mary, Barbara’s other daughter, is herself a mother with a young daughter. In spite of the busy-ness of life as a mother with a career outside the home, she engages Jeannine—her Beanie—on a regular basis, by including her in their family activities. Barbara’s stories about raising a child with Down Syndrome, managing the challenges of a solo medical practice, and random thoughts about life, in general, can be found on her blog lifeintervening.blogspot.com and on Medium.
This story first touched our hearts on December 22, 2018.