A Tosa resident for almost 20 years, Karen is a mom and freelance writer, addicted to playing tennis. When not on the tennis court, she spends the fall and winter in the stands at Green Bay Packer and Marquette basketball games.
Karen is the author of “Grab a Bite,” a dining out column and the former community columnist for the Wauwatosa NOW newspaper.
Twenty-four years ago, on November 18, 1986, my husband and I were given an unexpectedly beautiful gift – our son, Andrew. That day, our lives were turned upside down. A day that began with the hopes of a family started, ended full of heartbreak, sadness and despair. Happiness seemed out of reach. You see, Andrew was born severely developmentally disabled.
The story of Andrew’s medical odyssey has been chronicled here. What needs to be said is that we all survived – Andrew survived (for a while), we survived, other children followed and life went on. And yet, when I look back on it, our lives were profoundly changed that day.
Somehow, amidst the tragedy and grief that comes with parenting a child with devastating disabilities, came grace and love…in abundance. I need to say it now and remind myself often – if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a special village to raise a special child. For us, Central Wisconsin Center for the Developmentally Disabled was that special village.
On January 7th, 1987, we walked into Central Center carrying Andrew. In the weeks leading up to that day, we had made the decision to place Andrew in the care of the people there. We had no idea what to expect.
(I want to make a side note that placing Andrew at Central Center was a difficult decision that we made after much research, discussion, love and prayer. It was not easy to choose to place our only child in a facility 75 miles away in Madison. For us, it was the right decision and we never, ever, for a moment, regretted doing so. For those that have questioned our decision and/or our motives, I say to you with the utmost clarity: You know NOTHING about Andrew or Central Center. Thanks to Central Center, Andrew survived MUCH longer than anyone expected.)
Anyway, on that fateful day, when we walked into Central Center carrying our tiny baby boy who recently had a feeding tube inserted and whose health and future were frail and in question, I remember the VERY first thing said to us upon our introducing Andrew: “Oh, he’s so beautiful and we’re SO happy to have him here!” Suddenly, in that moment, the clouds in our hearts opened up and a crack of sunlight came streaming in. Our baby WAS beautiful and it took an angel from Central Center to look past everything he wasn’t to point out everything that he was. Plain and simple, they accepted Andrew for what he was. Parents of children with special needs understand that this is the most amazing gift that anyone can give them. It is pure grace wrapped up in love.
To make a long (20-year) story short, life went on. We visited Andrew often and soon brought him a brother and a sister who learned from birth that families come in all shapes, sizes and configurations. They grew up to be caring, compassionate and mature beyond their years, something they owe to their older brother. We met teachers, caregivers and other families who understood that even a life that is fragile can be so packed with love and grace, that it is simply the greatest gift of all.
24 years ago, we were blessed with the gift of Andrew. Along with Andrew came the gift of the incredible people at Central Wisconsin Center for the Developmentally Disabled. I am eternally grateful for both of these gifts. God bless all of them and, happy birthday Andrew! Thanks for watching over us!