“You plant black-eyed peas, that’s what you git,” my daughter’s friend says in an Oklahoma drawl she exaggerates whenever she wants to make a point. I laughed when I first heard this phrase some 20 years ago, but it’s a saying our family quickly adopted.
I found myself thinking these words while listening to my granddaughter Lucy belt out the score from “Gypsy” on our drive home from seeing the play last week.
Fourteen years ago when my granddaughter was born, we were certain there were no black-eyed peas in store for us, no family traits that would be passed on to her. We believed that Lucy would not resemble any of us in any way because she was born with Down syndrome.
We knew so little about Down syndrome back then. We were ambushed. Unprepared. People said, “Sorry.” Friends said it with their words. Strangers said it with their eyes. We said it with our tears.
We were scared and worried and ignorant.
Someone gave us the book “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People” and we didn’t howl and say, “Lucy isn’t a bad thing!” What did we know? Everything seemed bad. What she had was bad. What we were going through was bad. Jump ahead, and the future looked bad.
“You plant black-eyed peas, that’s what you git.” Not one person said this to us.
Who is Lucy today? She is a black-eyed pea. She’s a girl who loves musicals because her mother loves musicals. “Gypsy,” “Grease,” “Hairspray,” “Hamilton,” “Annie” — she knows every score. She’s a girl who loves movies, not just the ones made for kids, but adult movies, too: “The Goodbye Girl” and “Gone with the Wind” and “The Way We Were,” because her mother loves movies. She’s a girl who binge-watches “The Miracle Worker” because she learned about Helen Keller at school. She’s a girl who loves books because we all love books and we read them to her and read them to her still. Her hair curls on humid days just like her mother’s. And on days when her mother’s not in earshot, she listens with her father to opera because he loves opera.
Because her parents take her to fancy restaurants, she likes oysters. “Want to try this?” they ask, and she always says yes. She’s not afraid to try new things. She also tries very hard. She’s like her father in that way, too. She never gives up. We were at a party last month. There was a ring-and-hook game. It’s a game that requires patience. Attached to a long string is a ring that, to win, has to land on the hook. Think ring toss at a carnival, only much more difficult. Everyone was playing it, cursing and laughing.
Lucy tried again and again and again. She realigned. Gave it her best. Kept missing. Kept trying. And when she got it? When the hook landed on the nail? She whooped with joy.
She whooped for everyone else, too. She always does. She is empathy incarnate. Someone cries and she cries. A friend falls and twists an ankle at cheerleading and Lucy limps off the field with her.
Lucy’s 10-year-old cousin, Charlotte, sang the national anthem at a fund-raiser last Sunday. Charlotte has a beautiful voice. Lucy stood next to me as Charlotte sang, and I watched her watch her cousin without a molecule of envy, with only pure love.
No one ever said to her mother or father when Lucy was born, “I promise you that someday your daughter is going to dazzle you by simply being who she is.”
But this is what I would say to someone whose baby isn’t Grade A perfect: You will be proud. Your child will dazzle you. One day, when you least expect, you will feel your heart stretch. And you will discover within yourself, a kind of love you never knew you had.
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