The hard feelings surrounding the realities of my daughter’s life ebb and flow for me. There are times her voice is so happy and full of life that it is easy to get on with mine, reminding myself that any 21 year old would be on her way to independence and I’d do well to catch glimpses of her as she left the house for yet another adventure if she were home from college. This year, I’ve struggled.
Sherod and I spent some time this year doing the legal updates required of us every few years so María will be as well taken care of as possible when we are no longer here. Writing the very specific directives for what will happen to María when both of us are dead is wrenching. Her dependence on others is so great. I think I speak for Sherod and me when I say, for us it’s not a burden but a privilege. For those left to watch out for her, the burden will be significant.
We are incredibly fortunate to have some financial means that can help make María’s life more comfortable. I am especially grateful to the Episcopal Church because she will receive survivor benefits from both of our pensions for the entirety of her life. But I make sure not to fool myself: what we will leave behind can only supplement the benefits available to her through Social Security and Medicaid. The cost of her care at BARC runs well over $150,000 a year right now. When I hear men like Paul Ryan, who’ve been shaped by the philosophy of Ayn Rand, talk about “taking on entitlements next year to manage the deficit,” I fear for my girl. She is a speck of nothing next to the greed, the expediency and the insularity of the people making decisions about the financial future of this country. Doing our legal work and listening to the stuff coming out of Washington DC would plunge me into absolute despair if I let it. I try to stay busy instead.
For those and a number of other reasons, I have missed my girl something fierce this year. As Advent gets started, I start holding my breath, hoping she will be in good enough shape to come home for Christmas. And I start preparing. Today, The pajamas are made. Each year, I try to decorate Maria’s room with a Christmas-y and here in Alabama, wintery theme. This year, it is snowflakes. There’s also a reminder that a couple of years after we brought María home, the movie Elf was on infinite loop in our home. She and I must have watched that movie hundreds of times together. There is something hauntingly, magically similar between the innocence of Buddy the Elf, and my girl’s innocence. I simply adore that movie for giving my girl a way of looking at her own self in ways that make sense to her.
One of our favorite scenes is the one where Buddy starts singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with Jovie. Now, I am one of the ones who grows increasingly uncomfortable with the subtext of this particular song. But before I had read this powerful piece, I ordered a wall decal knowing Miss María would love that connection to happy memories of us singing along with Buddy and Jovie. I debated whether or not to put it up and finally decided the memory was just too sweet to ignore. Along with that decal and one of a tree with birds on its branches, there are snowflakes gently drifting down the walls of her room and this week I’ll hang some paper ones I made for her from her ceiling as well. The sheets are flannel with snowmen and snow drifts, the comforter is white and the IKEA star-lights are up. God willing, Sherod and I will be standing where passengers come out into baggage claim at the Atlanta airport this Friday, anxiously watching for our daughter.
Last week during the time I spent with a group of women at my church who do a Bible Study together and who also observe Advent together for an hour each week, we discussed the notion of preparing. Several talked about those final days in a pregnancy where the impulse to ‘nest’ is strong and how that describes part of what Advent preparation is all about: creating a space to welcome new life. There are so very few of the things I would want to do as María’s mother that are possible, so many things I was not there to do for her as she came into the world. I imagine I will always find myself ‘nesting,’ preparing for her arrival at Christmas, not because I can make up for what she didn’t have but because mothering this miracle of a person is always new and extraordinary to me. It is such a joy and such a gift. I also find it a way to understand that extraordinary piece by Meister Eckhardt:
“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.” -Meister Eckert (1260-1328)
Maria continues to teach me the miracle of incarnation.