Acting—and Feeling—My Age

“What age would you be if you didn’t know what age you were?” –Satchel Paige, American Baseball Player

As I celebrate my birthday today, I’m inclined to reflect on my younger, early-30s self. Knees that carried me on long runs. Dark brown hair with just a hint of gray that added professional maturity to interactions with PR clients. Skin that didn’t dramatically change after removing the headband for my nightly face-washing and moisturizing routine. The joy of my fun-loving husband Rob and two young kids, just 17 months apart, with all kinds of firsts and thrills.

My earliest childhood prayers and birthday wishes had been answered! No more pretend play, reading to and feeding my favorite dolls and tucking them in at night. No more anticipating whether I’d find the life partner of my dreams. And no more worry about carrying my two pregnancies to term and hearing those repeated reassurances from the doctor for both: your baby is healthy!

But then, there’s the post-30s me and the value of experience and perspective. Life’s lessons that lead to wisdom after getting through some really tough stuff…like the gnawing pain that something was wrong with Matt.

So many questions. Was it his hearing or his older sister Ally simply doing the talking for them both? Were serious digestive issues keeping him from eating solid food and what we puréed? Could this really be “autism,” something Rob and I knew only from the movie Rainman? Should we follow the doctor’s counsel to love Matt, accept his profound autism and plan to institutionalize him?

In an instant, the hopes and dreams for our family took a dramatic turn.

More questions followed—Would Matt speak? Eat on his own? Go to school? Work? Would he have friends or ever live away from our family home?

Today, I can comfortably and confidently answer “yes!” I do so with a full head of gray hair and character lines that can’t be smoothed away by any product. Admittedly, some sleepless nights persist as I process what I learn through Matt’s daily experiences at First Place–Phoenix and continue dreaming with eyes wide open about his future—and that of those we serve.

Back to Satchel’s question. I wouldn’t choose a different age than the one I am today. I wouldn’t go back to relive those parts of my 30s, 40s or 50s fraught with worrisome questions and a desperate search for answers. If I weren’t this age, I wouldn’t be pinching myself each time I get to witness Ally in motherhood mode or each delicious moment I get to be “Dede” to two extraordinary grandchildren. And I wouldn’t change for one moment all the love and support we’ve experienced from those in our corner, propelling big plans through SARRC and First Place—and encouraging us to dream bigger.

Getting outside of the autism and disability bubble has led us to push for more innovation and impact by collaborating with broader, aligned interests, such as Home Matters® to Arizona. Through tri-sector leadership and teamwork, we are boldly advancing our vision for more inclusive communities and more housing choices everywhere.

On this treasured birthday, I wouldn’t trade my age or turn back the clock on our ability to create and celebrate steady, exciting progress—but I would gladly add more hours to my days!

Thank you for the gift of returning my calls, rolling up your sleeves, answering my prayers—and letting me appreciate that 61 is exactly where I want to be.

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