Happy Birthday

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Fifty years ago on July 18, 1970, I was headed to St. Luke’s Hospital to have my first child. I had no idea whether my baby would be a boy or a girl because there were no ultrasounds back then. My husband and I had picked out male and female names just in case. We wanted to honor our incredible mothers if our child was female and combining their names into one gave us “Maryellen.” We never had to use our other choice because after eighteen hours of labor our beautiful daughter was born and my brother Pat changed his pledge to take a boy on his first fishing trip to accompanying our girl to her first dance.

Maryellen was a big baby at nine pounds seven ounces and the doctor had to pinch her shoulders together as she was emerging into this world. She began life with a broken clavicle which was the first of many challenges she would overcome. She was the delight of our lives and that of her grandparents and our world began to center around her.

Maryellen accompanied me to my first time voting for president of the United States when she was barely four months old. It was a cold November day and she was dressed in a sweet pink sweater with a little hood that an aunt had made for her. It was a doubly proud day for me as I cast my vote and smiled at all of the compliments that she received. She would always be my very good girl.

Maryellen was sick a great deal. She endured one ear infection after another and I spent so much time taking her to see her pediatrician. On many nights a sat awake with her as she raged with fever. She seemed to have allergic reactions to any foods I gave her. I worried incessantly about her health even as she grew but while she had once smiled and loved to sing she grew ever more silent. When she was one year old she still had not walked and some of my friends suggested that there must be something wrong. My anxieties only grew.

Maryellen did eventually walk. In fact her first steps were a run to reach a ball that rolled past her. Because she was always dancing around the house I took her to get lessons and she had an unexpected grace and talent for creative movement. She still got more ear infections than I was able to count and we became more and more frequent visitors to her pediatrician’s office but she always sprang back from her illnesses.

Soon it was time for kindergarten which turned out to be a painful time for both of us. I contracted hepatitis and was sick for over three months. My husband later developed a rare disease that required months of chemotherapy. In the midst of all this her teacher called me to a conference in which she intimated that Maryellen’s intellectual abilities were not as well developed as the other children. The woman used a single worksheet as proof of her theory. The exercise required the student to draw a connecting line between a household implement and either the mommy or the daddy. Maryellen had “failed” the test because she joined the lawnmower, the rake and the hammer to me. I remember laughing my head off because I was indeed the person who maintained the lawn and often repaired things around the house. Sadly the poor teacher would not agree with my arguments about stereotyping the sexes. Instead she insisted that there really was a right and wrong set of answers. Furthermore she informed me that Maryellen was also socially inept.

I grieved for my little girl but then came first grade and a most wonderful teacher who changed Maryellen’s life. This educator had been given suggestions for grouping students according to their abilities. Maryellen began in the section for those with learning disabilities but before long she was doing so well that the teacher moved her to the next group and then the next until she was keeping up with the supposedly brightest children in the class. The teacher also noticed that Maryellen’s eyes followed her like a hawk. She observed that Maryellen appeared to be reading lips and so she scheduled an emergency hearing test with the school nurse. The results were astonishing. Maryellen had an almost fifty percent hearing loss!

I made an appointment with a well respected specialist and Maryellen was soon having surgery to fix the problem. I’ll never forget her reaction as we were taking her home from the hospital and she heard clearly for the very first time. Her eyes widened and she looked around with a smile on her face as she asked, “What is all of that?”

The rest of the story is so wonderful. Maryellen became a top student in high school where she also excelled as a dancer and a leader. She went to the University of Texas at Austin and was accepted into their school of business. She earned a degree in four years along with making wonderful grades and experiencing many friendships and adventures. She met her future husband, Scott, there and once he graduated they were married and began to build a life and a family.

Maryellen now has four magnificent boys of her own. She works as an accountant but is first and foremost an incredible mom. Each of her sons is unique and she has helped them to develop their own talents. Mostly she has taught them how to be fine men with respect for all people. She has done this through one challenge after another always being the steadying force in her family.

Maryellen has always made me puff out with pride and she has lived up to the legacy of the grandmothers for whom she was named. They were strong women with gentle hearts and like them she is a warrior whose cause is to compassionately love and care for all people. She is her own person and with a quiet steeliness that champions the causes of equality and justice. She is exactly as I hoped she would be.

Happy Fiftieth Birthday, Maryellen. The world has always been more wonderful from the day you were born. Here’s to many more years of making a difference in people’s lives. 

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