Today was my 35th birthday.
It was going to be a great day… until everything went wrong.
We rose early with the first child waking at 6:15am, but Tracy let me sleep in and spend some time with Jesus before we headed down to the beach house to meet the rest of the family on the sixth day of our vacation. After our daily ritual of sun tanning, swimsuits, and beach prep, the entire family excitedly hit the beach early for the first wave of fun and let me have a little bit of birthday introvert time by myself back at the beach house. I definitely enjoyed the time to myself, but I was looking forward to hitting the beach with the girls in the afternoon, maybe stealing away for a matinee movie with Tracy, followed by a nice dinner out with the family later that evening. It couldn’t have been a better planned out birthday. It was just what I wanted.
After the girls were beached out that morning, they came back up for showers and lunch. Tracy showered off Ally who sat her little naked bottom next to me on the couch, wrapped up in her oversized yellow beach towel. I asked her how the beach was and what her favorite part of the morning had been and then reached down to pull something disgusting out of Adalie’s mouth that she had discovered on the ground and was promptly trying to eat. After that was taken care of, I circled back to Alethea who was sitting next to me. I started to unwrap her tightly wound towel from around her when I noticed that she was hiding in her towel like I couldn’t see her. Eventually I told her, “Ally, help daddy out and let’s take this towel off so we can get you some lunch.”
That is when I noticed that she wasn’t playing. The limpness of her body and the slouching of her head wasn’t a game she was playing like she usually does.
She was having a seizure.
Tracy and I immediately went into parental seizure mode. We went through the memorized routine of taking a deep breath, trying to stay calm, laying Ally on her side, and then determining which emergency medicine to distribute (since Alethea’s body doesn’t stop the seizures on her own). As the seizing started to increase, we called 911 as back up like we always do. Tracy normally gives the medicine if both of us are there and I assume the role of the clock-watcher.
One minute. I time how long the seizure goes on before and after the medicine is given to gauge whether or not we are going to need the paramedics to give a second, much heavier dose of drugs to help eliminate the immediate epileptic threat.
Two minutes. The seizing begins to increase and the repetitive tick starts moving from her eyes to her head to her arm, raising both of our alarms because of the potential severity of the increasingly active seizure activity.
Three minutes. Tracy is talking to the paramedics now, trying to assess the situation and whether or not we need them to come.
Four minutes. Alethea’s eyelids start to get heavy and the ticks begin to subside.
Five minutes. Ally picks up the toy she was playing with and begins to softly cry as she comes to. She’s back with us.
Tracy calls off the paramedics. We gingerly take Ally into the bedroom and get her little body settled. I lay down beside her and gently caress her head and whisper to her that it is ok to close her eyes and that her body needs sleep. Eventually, she fades into a restful slumber for the next few hours as her brain and body reset from the traumatic experience she just endured.
So much for my birthday plans.
But as I lay there beside Alethea, watching her sleep and monitoring her post-seizure breathing, I realized something about parenting. I realized that there are three intricately interwoven elements of parenting that every parent needs to know and embody in order to be a good parent. Some of this comes naturally to some parents while others learn it the hard way.
But lying there beside my sweet baby made me realize that firstly, parenting is a lot about perspective. My child’s seizure totally ruined my birthday… or at least that is one way to look at it. I see a lot of parents say that they count down the minutes to bedtime, or complain about how much work kids are, or gripe about how kids ruined their lives. I guess I can see where they are coming from, but I just simply don’t subscribe to this notion that kids are burdens in my life that I am forced to love out of obligation. You see, perspective plays a huge role in how we view our children (and how they view themselves). As I was laying there beside Alethea, I thought to myself, “I would ruin every birthday I ever have for you sweet girl. Every single one.” Because that is my girl. MY girl. I don’t see her as a hindrance. I don’t see her as a chore. I see her as my child of endless worth that I would do anything for. Anything.
Are there moments when I wonder what it would be like to not have the multiple hours daily that we give specifically to her special needs on top of all the other normal kid stuff that we take care of on a daily basis? I would be lying if I say those thoughts didn’t cross my mind. But this is the child God gave me and so this is the child that I will take care of the rest of my life. It is my joy and honor to do so. I do not let the “what if?” perspective control me or anger me, because it is a moot point. The way things currently are is our normal in the Ulrich household. We have a 45-minute bedtime routine that consists of foot bracing, three medicines, and other regiments that do not need to be detailed out. We have PT multiple times a week. We fight seizures regularly. But perspective is everything.
And having the right perspective leads us to the next element of parenting that is so critical for every parent to embrace: parenting is a lot about sacrifice. Parenting is synonymous with sacrifice. Every family looks different, but there is not one parent who does not sacrifice regularly for their children if they have any worth as a parent. Whether that is changing diapers, staying up late to finish school projects, traveling across the state for sports or music, taking care of medical needs, or giving emotional consolation… parents run the gambit for their children with little to no fanfare. We sacrifice for our children and try to give them everything we did not have so that they can be better off than we are one day. Rarely do you see that type of sacrifice for that end outside of parenting.
But sacrifice is wrapped up in a proper perspective. When it is not a duty but instead a delight, parenting is fulfilling and sacrifice brings joy. When we grumble and complain about how our kids are robbing our happiness, then sacrifice becomes a bitter root that will never be satisfied and parenting becomes a stage you are just trying to escape in your life. But it is part of the deal, so we as parents must embrace sacrifice as a way of life from here on out. If you are not ready for that, then you are not ready to have kids!
But the cornerstone of parenting that truly makes this all work is unconditional love. Perspective can change even if you are currently in a rough spot parenting wise because of unconditional love. Sacrifice can turn quickly into joy because of unconditional love. And there is no other relationship where unconditional love is so naturally displayed as a parent-child relationship.
With your spouse, there are expectations and assumptions that can undermine a marital relationship. With coworkers there is competition and self-preservation that even at the most communal workspaces still reside in the back of our minds, even if not outwardly communicated. But parents have an innate unconditional love that their children cannot mess up enough to dislodge. It is the closest to a grace-love that we naturally experience here on earth. This is why parents always think their kids are the best. This is why mothers of death row inmates defend their children literally to the death. It is simply wired in us: we love our kids no matter what.
So parents, love your kids. Take a deep breath, get some clarity and proper perspective. Let sacrifice be something you take deep delight in instead of constantly being upset at how your kids are disrupting your life. And let unconditional love be the driving force to make these changes.
Sure, they may ruin your birthday, but you know what? I would take a bum birthday with my two daughters and the beautiful chaos that is our lives over a perfectly lined up party every time. Every time.