A ’90s Television Show Taught Me an Important Life Lesson

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“Life’s not gonna go the way you figured.”

I’m 31 years old, and I feel pretty privileged to only just be figuring this one out. I heard this gem while watching “Third Watch,” a ’90s emergency services drama featuring ridiculously good looking New York firemen, cops and paramedics.

During the episode the characters sat and talked about the moment when this revelation had dawned on them — that life wasn’t a story written for them. That it wouldn’t always go the way they had imagined. That they weren’t necessarily the protagonists.

I’ve had sad and hard things happen in my life. Break ups. Family issues. Grandparents dying. Friends in car accidents. While these events were all hard, when they were over and the grief process had been worked through, I was still me, and my life was relatively similar to how it had been before the event. My options for the future were unchanged and while it might have taken a while to work through the emotions attached, I knew my life could still be the way I envisioned it.

I didn’t expect a ’90s TV show to give me pause to reflect, but hearing a character say this made me realize everyone does have that point. Some people will go through most of their life without realizing this, and others will be unlucky enough to discover it at an age where they should be innocent to the realities of the world.

I’ve led a fairly sheltered life. I have a loving family. I’ve never wanted for anything and have had food, a warm home, a good education and a future full of possibilities open to me. I have fantastic friends and have had some great relationships.

But at 30, my eyes were opened, and I discovered that while we make our own choices and can plan as much as we like, life has a way of turning our best laid plan on its head. Life doesn’t care about your career goals or plans to have however many kids. Things happen. People get sick. People die. And while we can plan, we can’t control everything. Anyone who thinks they can is in for a rude awakening.

It’s not that I thought I could control my life. It’s just that I never thought that certain things wouldn’t eventuate for me. I thought I would get married and have a couple of kids. I imagined having a long career in either writing or teaching and maybe writing a book one day. I saw myself living to an old age, and when I pictured that, I saw my friends and family living alongside me.

I didn’t picture being a solo mum with a special needs child. I didn’t picture hospital stays and operations and a realization that my daughter’s life would not follow the same path as mine. I certainly didn’t imagine that if I did write a book, my daughter would be the inspiration.

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But I’ve realized we can’t ever expect that ideal life. There is no ideal. We can’t expect anything. I say this not in defeat, but in acceptance. In the last few months I’ve seen a few good friends get worrying medical news that could change the course of their lives. I’ve watched other friends go through emotionally crippling divorces and others have their parents die too soon from cancer. Adulthood is hard. And at a certain point, just like the “Third Watch” characters, we realize that life isn’t a story written for us.

Then I see the blissfully unaware who have managed to scrape through so far unscathed. While it’s easy to think they’re the lucky ones, I’ve come to realize everyone has their tough times. No one is untouchable. Some are just able to get through more years before they figure it out.

I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. I know life’s not done with me yet. I’ve got through one hurdle, but there will be others. Some will be related to the Peanut, but many will not. But having experienced this jolt in my best laid plans, I feel like I’m more prepared to appreciate what I’ve got. It sounds cliché, but I feel like I can find more joy in the little things.

I always thought that seemed like a misnomer. I thought the people who said they could appreciate the little things did so because they didn’t have the excitement of the big things. They made themselves feel better by finding enjoyment in the little things. They had to. Otherwise life would be miserable.

But I was wrong.

Since the Peanut has been back with me I find myself looking at the world differently. I see a beautiful view and just feel awestruck. I watch the Peanut smile and feel a warmth and happiness I haven’t experienced before. It’s not that I see that view or that smile and think, “This is as good as it gets; I better enjoy it.” It’s that suddenly those things are not small things anymore. There are no small things.

Life is not about waiting for the big things to happen. We don’t know how our lives are going to pan out, and only the most fortunate will win the lottery and never have tragedy or grief befall them. I don’t think that’s even possible unless you live your life without loving anyone or anything.

I know these revelations are not new or revolutionary. Countless people must have had the same realizations that I’m having after life-changing events. I guess what I’m feeling most fortunate about is that instead of feeling bitter that life isn’t what I thought it would be, I just feel thankful for what it is.

I may not have the picture I imagined in my head growing up, but I have a lot. And I’m lucky.

This post originally appeared on The One in a Million Baby.

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When strangers used to ask Rachel and Sam Callander what was wrong with their daughter, the parents offered a lighthearted explanation: superpowers.

At the time, Evie Callander, who was born in 2008 with a rare chromosomal disorder, clearly experienced the world differently than other 2-year-olds. Certain sensations — the sound of electric sliding doors, for example — overwhelmed and upset her.

But that lighthearted answer — “superpowers” — turned out to be more true than her parents first realized. Because in her short, 2-year-long life, Evie exhibited a deeper, stronger, practically glowing sense of strength and love. It doesn’t get much more super than that.

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1001163_157163784469083_432214190_n When Evie died, her parents kept her close to them. Her pictures cover their home. They talk about her often.

“We knew we had been changed for the better because of her and people could see it too,” Rachel Callander, 33, told The Mighty. “They knew it was hard and we were really struggling. However, within all the sadness there was always a sense of pride of who she was and what she brought to the world.”

The entire experienced inspired the Callanders to celebrate other children with superpowers. They began photographing kids with disabilities in New Zealand and surveying their parents. The main question? “Tell us about your child’s superpowers.”

Portaits and quotes from 72 families now make up the “Super Power Baby Project” — an art book the Callanders hope will inspire others to look past disability.

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“We want people to see humanity — to see the images and smile and say things like, ‘What a lovely child, how beautiful,'” Rachel Callander told The Mighty. “We want them to be struck by the children’s uniqueness, their innocence, their bodies, their eyes, their deepness — just as they would a stunning image of any child. We want people to see the children as their parents see them — with eyes of love.”

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“These kids really do have a deeper capacity for unconditional love, empathy, compassion, and they do bring out a deeper sense of love in people.They do promote a greater patience in others,” Callander told The Mighty. “When I think of the things the world needs right now, it’s love, patience, kindness and acceptance of others. These qualities are world changers in our opinion.”

Below, you can watch Callander’s TEDxAuxland Talk, where she further explains the project. And if you’re interested in ordering a copy of the book, head here. You can also get updates on Facebook.

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unnamed A few months back, I got an email asking a few of us special needs moms to share the gifts of special needs parenting. The responses would be published, and the world would probably be a better place. I like to see my name in lights as much as anybody else, but I looked over at my autistic son who was talking to a crayon, I looked down at the stack of bills due this month, and said, yeah, maybe not today.

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I have great attachment, however, to the hope that he is happy.

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In the middle of a hardware store, I stumbled upon the special needs parenting pot of gold. If my son were typical, if we didn’t work so, so hard on what comes naturally to other kids, I can assure you that I would have his happiness tied to long-term education and career goals, all bundled together with socially-praised measures of success.

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I want my son to find his place in this world, wherever that is, and I want him to be happy. That’s it. I think this is about as pure and lovely as it gets. For the first time ever, I can honestly thank autism for something.

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This post originally appeared on Sincerely, Becca.

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It’s hard out here in these parent-of-a-child-with-special-needs streets.

People have no common sense or just don’t know no betta. That’s where my public service announcement comes in. I figure it can’t hurt to educate folk as to what the experience is like on the backend of some of their ignorant (meant in the truest form of the word) comments. This time it’s me having to respond to the question, “What’s wrong with his legs?” from a stranger… in a motorized chair… with a cane… at a Wal-Mart. Seriously.

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A Message to the Good-Intentioned People Who Pray for Me to be ‘Healed’

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I’ve consciously identified as a Christian since my early teens and simply put, this means accepting that I am imperfect in my humanity and doing my best to show tolerance and love to everyone I meet, as Jesus did (including those who don’t share my beliefs).

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