We have a motto in our family when we are facing the unknowns in life: Surf or Ski.
Our "Surf or Ski" mentality started when I was pregnant with our youngest, Ceci. As many expecting parents, we were regularly asked if we wanted a boy or a girl. Of course, this was before we knew that my "typical" pregnancy was anything but. And like any naive parent, I said, "I don't care, as long as the baby is healthy." One particular time, I even followed up that statement with, "I would not be good at parenting a child with special needs."
I regret ever saying those words. Because, besides being filled with unknowns, life is also filled with "prove-you-wrong" moments.
My husband had a better response. The day before the ultrasound that would reveal our baby's gender and her brain abnormality, I asked my husband, what he wanted: a boy or a girl? He looked at me and said, "Ali, I really have no preference. It's a miracle either way. I am like Cush on Jerry Maguire when he didn't know if he'd get drafted by San Diego or Denver. He didn't care; he was just excited to become a millionaire and play pro football. He told the reporters, 'I'll either surf or ski.'" I smiled as my husband continued, "I just want to be a dad. It doesn't matter if the baby is a girl or a boy. l will either surf or ski."
Surf or ski. I chuckled to myself. Both are enjoyable options. You can't really go wrong either way.
However, I didn't realize how much those words, that sentiment, that way of looking at the uncontrollable in life, would affect me till the following day.
We waited for what seemed like hours to speak with the doctor after finding out we were expecting a girl. When, the doctor finally came in, he delivered what seemed like devastating news at the time: my unborn baby may be "incompatible with life."
The next few weeks were a whirlwind of stress and tears and worries. I spent the majority of my time crying, praying and Googling. The "what ifs" kept me up at night. What if our daughter had a gentic condition that would limit her quality of life? What if she didn't live? What if she was healthy? I lived in a conflicting state of anxiety versus hope.
One night, my husband spoke to me about the unknowns surrounding our daughter. "Ali, " he said, "No matter the outcome, we will give her the best life possible. We will love her with every fiber of our being for as long as she is with us. She may be born with a disability. She may be born without one. When the time comes, we will either surf or ski."
He was right.
Ceci was born healthy, and for the next two months following her birth, we enjoyed every sleepy smile, each early morning cuddle and even all of the late night lullaby sessions. Everything was as I liked it -- controllable, predictable and free of any "what ifs".
Until the day our pediatrician told us Ceci may have a genetic condition that affected her muscle tone and eye shape. The word Down Syndrome echoed in the air. Tears streamed down my face. My knees gave out. I fell to the floor as my dreams crashed to the ground around me.
Once again, I found myself surrounded by the unknown. As we waited for the results of the gentic testing, I was consumed by an almost paralyzing sense of worry. What if she has Down Syndrome? What if she never gets to drive a car, go to college or get married if she wants? What if she doesn't have Down Syndrome?
And then, I thought back to my husband's words, " We will either surf or ski." I realized, in that moment, how very little power I had over many things, including her potential diagnosis. The only part of the situation I had control over was how I would choose to move forward. I could sit and worry and cry my days away. Or, I could laugh and love and live.
I wanted to be Ceci's mom. It didn't matter if she did or did not have Down Syndrome.
I was just excited to be a part of her life. "If she has Down Syndrome, we will surf," I told myself, "and if she doesn't, we will ski." Either way, surfing or skiing, we will surely laugh and love and live.
And, in the end, we did.