In a world often in hot pursuit of the coolest holiday toys, designer duds, and state-of-the-art techno gadgets, most people would never define having a child with special needs as a great gift.
Eric entered my life dramatically in 1990, diagnosed with cerebral palsy. In an instant, my family went from living a “perfect” life complete with a beautiful 6-year-old daughter, fulfilling careers and white picket fence, to facing big family challenges that redefined our definition of a gift.
Parenting Eric was the most demanding and most rewarding experience of my life. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Like many families, we had celebrated parenting and professional achievements and overindulged our kids with shiny gifts piled high under the Christmas tree. Eric challenged us to redefine gift giving with valuable lessons about the power of faith, unconditional love, standing up for a cause, and honoring servitude, charity, and the sacred parenting role. My son granted us appreciation for the human-rights struggles of minorities and those living in poverty, including in our backyard.
He taught us to open our eyes wider, and then act.
Eric’s hugs took years to enjoy because of limited motor skills that prevented him from eating yummy holiday treats or pizza with extra cheese. He couldn’t rush downstairs to witness Santa’s magic, unwrap his own gifts, or sing Christmas carols. As Eric struggled to say, ‘I love you,’ he taught me the power of non-verbal communication and how to stop talking and really listen to and connect with others. These priceless gifts were realized only after years of participating in innovative programs headed by skilled professionals with huge hearts. The simplest gains were hard won through gutsy determination, sweat and tears, and laughter.
Unfortunately, Eric passed away in 2003 at age twelve. Devastated, we knew he would want us to share his remarkable gifts. Today my son’s magic nd legacy lives on through my work honoring children with special needs and through RicStar’s Camp, an annual summer music therapy camp at Michigan State University for individuals of all ages with special needs and their terrific sibs. Camp has provided us with many gifts, including life-saving healing.
Remember to celebrate the season’s true gifts, and share the bounty, too.