Clubfeet & Other Imaginings
When I look out at the 20 students in my classroom, I sometimes wonder how many of them are in the present . . . and how many are already eating lunch or enjoying afternoon play date or up too late studying for test. What sets humans apart is our ability to imagine the future, to intellectually and emotionally inhabit a space that does not yet exist. Vision is a beautiful thing. Sometimes.
And then there are those moments when, say, my husband is an hour late coming home from an evening event, with no text-planation. By the time I hear the key in the lock, I have imagined the crash, the phone call, the funeral arrangements; I have made painful decisions about where to go, how to live, and shed a tear or two as I pre-live the stunning eulogy I will deliver.
Living in the present is often associated with Eastern religions and associated meditation. But we also have these words from the Sermon on the Mount:
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? . . . Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Last month, at the 20-week ultrasound, the doctor told us that our daughter had a clubfoot. She referred me to a high-risk fetal medicine specialist for a second opinion — and to check for other possible chromosomal disorders (which google instantly reported as: Spina Bifida, 13% concurrence rate).
In the five intervening days, I became an expert on club foot, the Ponseti method, techniques for bathing and caring for a child who would be in a cast for the first 8 weeks of her life and in braces for next two years. I learned that Kristy Yamaguchi and Mia Hamm had begun life with this particular challenge. I watched myself drive two hours each week, starting on my daughter’s fifth day of life, to the nearest medical clinic equipped to cast her little leg correctly. I imagined dragging her and my post-partum self through the Texas heat to multiple appointments. I saw myself sewing sleep sacks big enough to accommodate the bar between her legs.
And when I felt I could handle clubfeet – with aplomb! – I allowed myself to imagine spina bifida, to read those blogs, to envision surgeries and my heart coming undone at my daughter’s pain.
Five days later, when the high-risk doctor found a sealed spinal column, one vision of the future instantly melted away. But when he found two “normal” feet, I was disoriented. I had replaced one vision with another and now was returning to the original vision. It was exhausting.
I felt a surge of gratitude that this particular challenge was not mine and hers to bear. But I also feel a bit powerless, caught between the power of conjuring visions for the future I want to claim and the futility of trying to predict what next year, or even tomorrow, will bring. This I know (more than I knew a month ago): my daughter will experience pain, my heart will become undone. I just can’t predict the form.
The same day the doctor gave my baby a clean bill of health, I received a long letter from an old college friend. Two of her four children have significant developmental delays, and the physical and emotional burden of care is significant. Daily victories are measured in a four-year-old walking one more step today than he did yesterday. Yearly victories are measured in a 10-year-old waving instead of hitting for attention. I will not succumb to the temptation to say, “I couldn’t do what she does” or “I don’t know how she does it” – what choice does she have, really? This wasn’t the future she envisioned during our late-night college talks. But I will say that I deeply admire the depth and strength of my friend’s love. Just as I admire the strength Tracy’s love. Tenacious, beautiful, stubborn love is a vision worth embracing.
Perhaps that’s the only safe vision, though “safe” may be the ultimate irony. While struggling to “consider the lilies,” to live here now, I can allow myself to envision how much love I will feel for this baby girl, how much my heart will grow even as it sometimes breaks. Until then (and then and then), today’s challenges are sufficient until tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.