Living With Gusto
By Gina Badalaty
As I sit here and watch my daughter, Amelia, watching “E.T.”, I’m thoroughly amused. She knows all the words and shouts “Oh no!” when E.T. gets sick. She skips in place when they are peddling, and shouts, “he can fly, he can fly!” All I can think of is that is that old, silly phrase, “living with gusto”. I don’t exactly know what gusto is, but if it’s a passion for life, Amelia has it.
Of course, my daughter doesn’t realize the extent of her disability, and even if she does, it doesn’t bother her. Amelia has Down syndrome, and she’s ok with that. Part of why she doesn’t feel sorry for herself is this “gusto” is part of her personality.
I’d be lying to you if I said that some of her intense joy has not rubbed off on me. If you think, though, that I’m happy all the time, you’d be wrong. With two disabled children, I spent a good deal of both their young lives crying. I was great at throwing myself pity parties and wondering why I deserved such rotten luck.
But I believe there are no accidents, and that God put Amelia in my life to show me that if you are going to cry while you are in pain, you’d also better laugh when you feel joy. In the teeter totter that is life, I’ve learned that lesson the hard way. Three years ago, Zoe’s diagnosis of autism was terrifying. Could she be happy? Could we be happy? It didn’t seem like it at first.
The answer was yes, but understanding that had to do with a change in my perspective. I learned to love my kids for who they are in this moment, even when it’s difficult. That does not mean that we will not experience pain or grief, but I think about another lesson I learned from Amelia. This week, she took a bad tumble at school. She came home and made a big deal about her knee, bragging about her injury. When I read the teacher’s report, I was surprised to learn that she had really hurt herself, and was crying and asking for mom and dad. Once it stopped hurting too much, she was happy to show off her big bandage.
What a lesson for us adults: move on from the pain. Instead of reliving a past hurt over, just accept it and stand and face the present. Learning to live this way takes time, but the rewards are worth it! You should plan for the future and learn from your mistakes, but it is only in the moment that we can feel great emotion, and we get to pick those emotions. Nowadays, whenever I can, I choose joy. In fact as I write this, Zoe is cuddled in my arms, giving me hugs and raspberries. I hold her tightly to minimize the “head butts” – a sign of affection. This reminder of her disability used to sadden me, until I learned to appreciate the moment. I’m aware that very soon she will not want me to hold her like this anymore and I am determined to enjoy it while it lasts.
I challenge you to let go the things you can’t control and savor the time with your children. Appreciate the people they are right now, whatever the difficulties, and hold on to the laughter, the excitement, and the good you find in their presence. If you do, you will find that life is better when it’s lived with gusto.
Gina Badalaty is happily married, lives north of Philly and is mom to two special needs girls. She works from home as a web designer, mommy blogger, blogging trainer, and aspiring novelist. Since surviving a stroke at age 33, she counts every day as a blessing and an adventure. She is passionate about finding and telling compelling stories that touch the spirits of women everywhere. You can visit her at www.mom-blog.com.
Tags: Autism, disabled children, Down Syndrome
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