True beauty isn't in the eye

By Angel Perkins
Because of the gift that is my youngest daughter, I have found beauty in many more things than I think the average person sees. I call her a gift because after my oldest daughter was born, I "lost" four pregnancies before giving birth to my second daughter. As it was, when she was ready to enter this world, there was no stopping her — not the fact that I wasn't really ready, that no hospital staff was even in the room yet — or that I hadn't even had so much as an aspirin for the pain (no I am am not, and never was a fan of natural childbirth). She was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, which caused global brain damage. We realized there was something "wrong" within the first few weeks. She was blind in one eye, had deformed toes, scoliosis, ataxia, hypotonia and had a long, tough, ugly road ahead of her.
She showed no emotion other than anger until she was almost four years old and exhibited many autistic traits. We did the only thing we could. We adored her and protected her. Unfortunately, like the fact that there are no tests to pass or requirements to fill to become a parent, there are also no rulebooks that tell you exactly what to do for YOUR child. So we let her take on the world as she chose to, with a strong guidance of therapies (eye, brain and body), braces (feet and mouth) and lots of love and encouragement.
As a 17-year-old, she has faced much, but has come almost full-circle. She has a full range of emotions, can see (with glasses at 20/40), walk, run, ride a bike and do most things young women her age can. She can't however, get any more ... mature. Though she may appear to be a frumpy 28-year-old, she still sees the world with the innocence of a child and regularly reminds me to look at clouds, smell the flowers, think of others' feelings and laugh. Though she may be about 10-12 years old mentally, she is ironically often the voice of reason as she sees most things quite literally and doesn't have the presence of mind to guard her speech ("The place closed five minutes early? Well, that's not what the sign says. That's a bunch of crap!" —OR— Whoopsie, that's definitely gonna leave a mark!)
We kept her in "regular" classes in school, with the "inclusion" belief that she would learn more by association than singled out with a room full of children that were less-abled. She did, but it also put a target on her head. And as her peers continued to progress, and she didn't, the target got bigger.
Recently, with the help of the greatest special education advocate in the county (if not the state), we got our girlie involved in the Special Olympics program. I have been to MANY events, sporting, amusement, etc. and NEVER have met a more exuberant, fun, loving, open, honest, hardworking group of individuals in my life ... and I'm not talking about the volunteers. Through tears I watched my daughter, for the first time other than being at home or with family, just be herself and not get funny looks or rude comments whispered behind hands.
And I'd never seen so many people smiling! Young, old, lovely, funky, incomplete, athletic, all sizes, shapes and colors and not one person judging another(except for the competition judges and they were using stopwatches and measuring tapes). They cheered for each other, even when it meant that they'd lost. There was nothing but togetherness, the kind of which even the most potent 60s-drug-induced euphoria couldn't conjure. Never had I felt I'd been that close to heaven's angels.
True love ... true beauty.