~As I sat at the juvenile officer’s desk in October, 2001, signing the papers that would give me legal custody of my (then) three-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth, I silently asked myself many questions.
How would I be able to manage a child at my age? I was almost 52! My children were grown. Could I do this again?
~I had been a drywall finisher for 25 years but work had slowed down terribly. I tried to make ends meet by selling yard sale items on an internet auction but that didn’t bring in very much. How could I afford another mouth to feed when I could barely manage myself?
I had surgery on my foot just three weeks earlier and it was still throbbing. I was still hobbling on crutches and I had back problems. How would I carry her?
I had been in bankruptcy for a year and was still having major financial problems. How would I be able to work and take care of a three-year-old?
All my doubts and fears vanished when Elizabeth looked up at me and smiled. In that instant I knew everything would work out.
~At three years old, Elizabeth, a smiling, brown-eyed little darling, had never been able to walk. She was small for her age, even though she weighed a normal 7 lbs. 11 oz. at birth, and wasn’t talking at her age level. Her mother had taken her to several doctors who dismissed her condition as “just being slow”. One doctor fitted her with thick glasses that we later found out she never needed. After Elizabeth moved in with me we began to start over.
~Children’s Special Services found her a very good doctor, who in turn referred us to several specialists. After many office visits, x-rays, MRIs and other testing we finally had an answer: mild Cerebral Palsy. As Elizabeth sat playing on the floor without a care I quietly asked the neurologist, “Will she ever walk?” She replied, “There’s really no way to tell at this point.” I was disappointed at her answer but was grateful that at least we had a name for her condition.
~I enrolled Elizabeth in special pre-school last November. She smiled and played quietly through all of the meetings and evaluations. The teachers subtly argued which one would get her in their class. They all wanted this happy little girl.
Before meeting Elizabeth one Special Ed. Bus driver called to let me know what time she would arrive in the mornings to pick her up. As we discussed her disability and where she would be seated the driver asked, “Does she bite or kick?” I replied, “No, she smiles.” Elizabeth’s face still lights up when her bus pulls in the drive. She can barely keep still.
~Elizabeth now walks with a small walker. As I see her struggling with every step I can’t help admiring her determination. She has fallen occasionally but always gets up to try again- and she’s always smiling.
Most people that meet her are infatuated. They ask, “Does she always smile like that?” I reply proudly, “Yes, all the time.” The lunchroom attendant even called my home to tell me how Elizabeth’s smile always brightened her day no matter what mood she was in when she arrived at work.
I went to the health department a few weeks ago for a copy of her shot record for school. When I mentioned her name a lady in the office asked, “Isn’t that the little girl that smiles all the time?” “Yes,” I replied. “That’s my Elizabeth.” The lady went on to say how she would just love to take her home. When we walk into Wal-Mart Elizabeth always says “Hi” and smiles to every passing shopper. Most reply with a friendly “hello”- some don’t. It’s the ones that don’t acknowledge her that I have pity for. They don’t know what pure happiness it is to know this little girl.
~Then, of course, there are a few who don’t understand her condition. On one of our week-end yard sale hunts (which Elizabeth loves) we encountered a middle aged lady who, after learning that Elizabeth was disabled, actually had the nerve to say, “Oh, she could walk if she WANTED to.” I was furious and wanted to blurt out sarcastically, “Yes, lady. She’s only doing this for attention!” But I said nothing. Elizabeth just smiled.
~She graduated pre-school last May. I was so proud as I stood at the back of the room filming the event that I could barely hold the camera still. The teacher handed her a little diploma and set her in her walker. I was overcome with emotion as she took each deliberate step toward me, smiling and trying to hold her diploma high in the air.
~She is in pre-school again this year. I meet her when the bus pulls in. As the driver carries her off the bus Elizabeth proudly hands me her artwork and smiles. “I made this all for you.” She says. When I tell her how beautiful it is, her smile gets even brighter.
She tells me daily that she loves me and always gives me a big smile and a hug. We lie side by side on a blanket in front of the TV with our heads resting in our hands and look at each other. “I love you Grandma.” She says. I say, “I love you too Sweetie.”
~Elizabeth has touched so many lives in her (now) 4 short years. She taught me in a way that words could never express. She taught me with her smile.
It took me 52 years to accumulate all of my problems and one angelic smile from a four-year-old little girl to make me realize that my problems aren’t so bad after all.
The therapists have hopes for her walking eventually and I can’t wait until that day comes. In the meantime Elizabeth can’t run and play with the other children, but she smiles as she watches them. She is a special child with a unique ability to make people happy.
As I write this, Elizabeth is watching her favorite cartoon video. She notices me looking at her out of the corner of her eye, and smiles that beautiful smile.
~When I see her courage I know that life will only get better. It already has, since God blessed me with this tiny smiling angel.
Edited 7-18-03 & 8-2-03