Tasha, surprisingly, was the same age as Kaitlyn, looked like her, acted like her, and found herself facing challenging dilemmas, many that paralleled situations Kaitlyn faced or would someday face. I shared many stories that randomly came to mind. These included what to do when a stranger followed or how to handle disappointment with a friend. They addressed how to find Mom or Dad if you became lost and how not to forget a kid who needs a friend, to name a few. The moral of every story was to do the right thing, no matter how difficult and no matter the peer pressure or what other kids thought. I so loved watching Kaitlyn listen to the stories, imagining every detail and asking questions as we talked into the night. I hoped the stories would someday take root.
Today, Kaitlyn is twenty-two and beginning a new chapter of her life. She is starting graduate school for a combined Dietetic Internship and Master’s Degree program in Nutrition. She has worked hard to get to this point of her life, succeeding in challenging environments from rigorous schooling from grade school, high school, to college and competitive swimming from YMCA beginner lessons to NCAA Division I athletics. She has forged her own path, achieving academic lists I only dreamed of while she competed in a sport that demanded significant and valuable time and energy. Through it all, she has stayed humble and always strived to do her best, which is all a parent can truly task of a child.
She now applies herself in hopes of becoming a registered Dietician. She chose this profession to help kids with nutrition and weight issues, such as those experienced by Alex and other kids with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The journey to becoming a registered Dietician will be challenging. It demands clinical and academic expertise, diligence, and a well-rounded knowledge of arts and sciences. It requires compassion, empathy, and patience, as well as the ability to encourage and motivate various personalities. It requires long hours and commitment to better a life other than your own. It requires passion.
It’s no wonder Kaitlyn chose this profession. Dietetics aligns well with her wish to help those who struggle to help themselves. She understands how Duchenne has impacted Alex’s life and our family. She hears Alex’s frustrations and witnesses his physical and emotional pains and hardships. She watches him lie in bed and adjust to his declining health and the decreasing number of visits from friends. She sees the battle between joy and heartbreak and always is quick to help in any way she can, even it is just to sit and listen. She sees how the simple act of kindness or inclusion can produce a beaming smile. She knows how time spent together can yield laughter deep into the night. She knows how a caring heart can make pain go away. She knows the needs of Duchenne, and has decided to do something about it through her chosen career. She wants to make a difference with kids who need help. Her decisions to this point could not make us any prouder.
We reflected on Kaitlyn’s choices as we helped to move her into a new apartment this past weekend. It was a bittersweet move, as most parents understand. We unloaded, unpacked, cleaned, and assembled. We drove to the store to shop for last minute items. We provided input on furniture and decoration placement. We helped where we could, but all we essentially did was busy ourselves to avoid the inevitable. We then ordered (veggie) pizza and laughed as a family deep into the night, all knowing a goodbye was fast approaching.
As the night became early morning, one of the last things we did was to help Kaitlyn hang pictures in her bedroom. One of the pictures was of Kaitlyn and Alex at her recent college graduation. That picture is shown above. It’s one of my favorites. It exudes mutual love and respect, and simple joy to be together. Another picture she placed above her desk was a white-framed saying that simply read…Shine Bright.
When we finished decorating and my little girl was ready to tackle her new world, we said our goodbyes and headed for the door. I thought about the pictures and couldn’t help but reminisce of our young girl turned into a woman. I then remembered, oddly, our long-ago Tasha stories when Kaitlyn was a young girl and smiled with pride. The stories had taken root.
Shine bright, Kiddo, shine bright!