“Elaine? Honey we’re gonna be late!” Her husband’s irritated voice drifted up the stairs.
“I’m coming Brian!” She snatched up a sweatshirt, and hurried to join him in the car.
The trip to the high school was quick and comfortably silent. Normally their daughter Karen would be chattering away, filling the stillness between them, but she was already at the track with her team. In her absence, an unnatural stillness occupied the back seat.
The parking lot was more crowded than she’d expected it to be; the look Brian shot her as they got out of the car shared her anxiety. She paused at the side of the car, and he came around to take her hand and lead her to the track.
“Elaine, it’s going to be fine.”
She nodded and offered him a small smile, but her stomach was twisting painfully. The muffled boom of each step on the metal bleachers echoed like cannon shots of dread through her tense body.
“Mom! Dad!” Karen’s voice pierced the noise of the gathered crowd and drew Elaine’s eyes down to the field where her daughter was waving frantically.
She and Brian waved back with their free hands, leaning into each other as they watched Karen’s coach direct her to the first event.
They were caught up in waves of jubilant noise surrounding them at the first shot of the starting gun. Elaine’s heart leapt into her throat as Karen shot away from the starting block and quickly took the lead.
All of her worries, her objections, melted away as she and Brian watched their daughter cross the finish line and fall into the arms of a waiting volunteer. Incandescent joy lit Karen’s face and eclipsed the frustration Elaine had felt at the endless challenges they’d faced.
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Today, on this track, their daughter was more than a syndrome. She was stronger than a diagnosis she couldn’t understand. Elaine turned her face into Brian’s shoulder, tears flowing freely into his shirt.
“First time at Special Olympics, huh?” A strong hand accompanied the soft voice, patting Elaine’s shoulder.
Brian nodded wordlessly, and the woman smiled warmly.
“I almost didn’t let her do this,” Elaine confessed. “We’ve been so focused on making things…”
“Normal,” the stranger finished, and Elaine blushed.
“Normal is good, as long as you don’t lose sight of the special.” The woman grinned at them, “No chance of that here!”
This post is a response to a prompt from Write On Edge to write a piece about athleticism using one of two pictures as inspiration. I chose the picture above. When our youngest son was in kindergarten, we had to make the difficult choice to move him into the “exceptional” classroom (what I knew as “special ed” when I was in school). He had multiple developmental delays, but no one could tell us why…only that he would probably catch up…someday. I was still reeling from that blow when they approached us about Special Olympics.
I volunteered with Special Olympics when I was in high school and loved it, but when they suggested our son participate, I refused. Sure, he had some challenges, but they weren’t permanent. Somehow, letting him be a part of Special Olympics was like admitting there was more going on than a few delays. It was like saying there might be a problem I couldn’t solve. I wasn’t ready for that.
Every parent has regrets, regardless of whether their child is special needs or not (if you don’t, you aren’t doing it right). Denying our son the joy of succeeding, the wonder of winning, remains one of my biggest regrets.
As always, thanks for taking the time to read, and please let me know what you think in the comments!