by Kimberly Carnevale
Author, motivational speaker and disability advocate
President of Canine and Abled Inc
Photograph courtesy Judy Baumbach
It's been a difficult year to say the least. My daughter, service dogs and I lost our home due to abuse right about this time last year. We've depended upon the kindness of others to provide temporary shelter; and are truly grateful.
For a while after the attack, I was numb. Post Traumatic Stress froze my emotions in an attempt at self-preservation. I tried to remain strong for my daughter, waiting until she was asleep to cry the tears of fear, loss, and panic that gripped my heart.
I tried desperately to rationalize the situation, but no matter how I looked at it, I came up empty. I kept thinking, "On the whole, I'm a good person. I give of my time, possessions and my heart to others. I treat people fairly and always try to do the right thing. I'm teaching my daughter the same morals and values that had been instilled in me as a child …" and yet, though I was a good person, and my daughter was an innocent; we sustained a brutal attack brought on by alcoholic rage of a once-loved and trusted family member. I couldn't get my mind around the betrayal. I prayed-a lot. I was disheartened that I didn't get any response, and felt that God had betrayed me as well.
I became obsessed with my loss, and the injustice of the whole thing. At one point, I felt as though my daughter might be better off without me, that I was holding her back from having a secure future. If she were placed with a real family, then she would have a chance at a good life … one with a roof over her head. I was the one who was disabled and unable to provide adequately for her; I was excess baggage. She had her whole future ahead, and I feared that having me in it ensured her a difficult and dismal one.
I felt as though I failed my little girl in so many ways. She misses having friends, a place to play, a room of her own with pretty things, and the security of knowing what tomorrow will bring. The guilt felt like a wet coat, gradually getting heavier, wearing me down and preventing me from moving forward.
Children are so resilient. I've learned so much from my little girl over the past year, and I look at her with a new wonder and admiration these days. Though she clearly remembers the horrors that no child should ever have been witness to, she forgives as we are taught early on. For most, true forgiveness is lip service. "I forgive you," is a benign phrase we are prone to say when we know we should, but we often lack the ability to truly let go. Not my little girl. She still remembers the attack, still feels the loss; yet she has somehow found it in her heart to completely forgive our attacker who hurt us so badly.
She never complains, although she has every right to. She went from having a beautifully decorated bedroom of her own, to having only what the police could load into our van that cold, scary night; and a few subsequent, police-guarded truck loads that permitted us a few more boxes of belongings. The rest was left behind...along with the only home she ever knew, all her friends, and the innocence and security that should be a child's right; all that was cruelly snatched away from her.
Commercials she sees on TV with toys and vacations to Disney World, (things that she knows she can't have), taunt her at every turn, yet she is the first to offer up one of her few remaining and cherished toys to another child who is sad or hurt. At bedtime, she offers up prayers to others, never asking for anything for her, because she feels as though she has all she needs.
She doesn't complain when I'm sick and can't play with her, or that I can't afford to give her the extra things I know deep inside she would love to have … only issues an "I love you Mommy...you're the BEST Mommy!" whenever possible, seemingly oblivious to my disabilities and my shortcomings.
I dug through the change at the bottom of my purse and bought her a lollipop at the store today. She'd had her eye on it the entire time we were in line to pay for our purchases. It was the kind of lollipop you'd see in days gone by that are twisted with different colors; a neat old-fashioned pop that cost $1.00. She never asked for it, never whined or even gave me the "look" that pleaded silently … which is exactly why I decided to get it for her. I really couldn't afford it, it's the end of the month and I only had $1.35 left to my name. I wouldn't have any more money coming until the first of the month, almost a week away, when my scant disability check arrives … but she'd been such a good girl, and I really thought she deserved a special treat. I foolishly worried that my last few cents should've been better spent.
When I reached into my purse and counted out enough for the pop, you would have thought I gave her the key to the magic kingdom! "Thank you Mommy! You're the BEST Mommy!" She shrieked with sheer joy, thankfulness gushing from her lips and unabashed love and joyous tears shining in her eyes as she hugged me with every ounce of strength her tiny body could muster.
All at once, the cloud of despair that had hung over me lifted and I shed the coat of guilt I'd been carrying for so long. I knew without a doubt in that very instant, that I was the family that my little girl needed. I knew that I wasn't baggage holding her back; I was the glue that was needed to keep us together. I knew that my daughter needed me and loved me despite my shortcomings, and despite our situation. I knew without a doubt that I had been blessed from above. With tears in my eyes, I realized that the angel that stood happily devouring her unexpected treat at my feet had also blessed me; and I was never going to be the same.
I had been awakened from my nightmare. I was ready to continue my journey, willing to embrace whatever challenges may lie ahead; secure in the knowledge that I already had all I needed; the rest was a bonus.
I was in awe at this child of mine, and I was so thankful for the lesson she'd taught me.... while I'd wasted my time feeling guilty and focusing on what we'd lost, my daughter had moved on and was focusing on what remained … something that was more important than anything else; through it all, we had each other. Though I only had 35 cents to my name, I felt richer than ever.
My daughter's youthful insight to an adult situation brought me to a place where there is no longer any room left for doubt or worry; leaving me with the ability to put all those useless feelings that had been cluttering up my mind behind me, ultimately freeing me up to enhance my life through opportunities I have since created from my new perception.
Though she's only four, my daughter has the ability to be able to look past what she's lost to find true joy and satisfaction of having only the very basic necessities; and being truly grateful for them. She rejoices in the simplest of kind gestures and goes out of her way to do the same for others. How many of us adults can claim that?
I've learned a lot from her; I hope you have, too.
In the spirit of giving, I wish for your life be blessed with the insight of my little girl, the shedding of your wet coat, a new and positive perception of life … filled with an unlimited supply of lollipops.
Proud to be the one Sarah calls, "Mommy".
Getting in touch
Kimberly Carnevale can be contacted at:
This article is copyright 2007 by Sarah Lynn Communications, L.L.C All Rights Reserved
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