The ‘Jerry Maguire’ Line That Helped Me Accept the Unknowns of My Child’s Diagnosis


We have a motto in our family when we are facing the unknowns in life: “Surf or ski.”

Our “Surf or ski” mentality started when I was pregnant with our daughter. Like many expecting parents, we were regularly asked if we wanted a boy or a girl. Of course, this was before we knew that my “typical” pregnancy was anything but. And like any naive parent, I said, “I don’t care, as long as the baby is healthy.”

My husband had a much better response. The day before the ultrasound that would reveal our baby’s gender and a brain abnormality, I asked my husband what he wanted: a boy or a girl? He looked at me and said, “Ali, I really have no preference. It’s a miracle either way. I am like Cushman in ‘Jerry Maguire’ when he didn’t know if he’d get drafted by San Diego or Denver. He didn’t care; he was just excited to play pro football. He told the reporters, ‘I’ll either surf or ski.’ I just want to be a dad. It doesn’t matter if the baby is a girl or a boy. l will either surf or ski.”

Surf or ski. I chuckled to myself. Both are enjoyable options. You can’t really go wrong either way.

However, I didn’t realize how much those words, that sentiment, that way of looking at the uncontrollable in life, would affect me until the following day.

We waited for what seemed like hours to speak with the doctor after finding out we were expecting a girl. When the doctor finally came in, he delivered what seemed like devastating news at the time: my unborn baby may be “incompatible with life.”

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of stress and tears and worries. I spent the majority of my time crying, praying and Googling. The “what ifs” kept me up at night. What if our daughter didn’t live? What if I could have done something to prevent this? What if she was healthy? I lived in a conflicting state of anxiety and hope.

One night, my husband spoke to me about the unknowns surrounding our daughter. “Ali,” he said, “No matter the outcome, we will give her the best life possible. We will love her for as long as she is with us. When the time comes, we will either surf or ski.”

He was right.

Not long afterwards our daughter was born, and for the next two months following her birth, we enjoyed every sleepy smile, each early morning cuddle and even all the late night lullaby sessions. Everything was as I liked it — controllable, predictable and free of any unknowns.

Until the day our pediatrician told us our daughter may have a genetic condition that affected her muscle tone and eye shape. The words “genetic disorder” echoed in the air. I sat frozen, unable to process what was happening.

As we waited for the results of the genetic testing, worry consumed me. I had no idea what a diagnosis would mean for her or our family. Tears streamed down my face.

And then, I thought back to my husband’s words, “We will either surf or ski.”

I realized, in that moment how very little power I have over many things in life, including our daughter’s potential diagnosis. The only part of the situation I had control over was how I would choose to move forward. I could sit and worry and cry my days away. Or, I could laugh and love and live.

More than anything, I wanted to be her mom. It didn’t matter if she had a diagnosis or not. “We will surf or ski,” I told myself. Either way, surfing or skiing, we will surely laugh and love and live.

And, in the end, we did.

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