Snow in April

When I look out the window and see white on the trees, I smile. After all, there couldn’t be better weather for this time of year.

OK, now that you think I’m nuts, let me explain.

Snow in April is one of those things that can boggle a Front Range newcomer. One minute, the sun is shining and the leaves are budding … and then, just like that, your neighbor gets to explain why you never plant flowers before Memorial Day.

Even when you know it’s inevitable, an April snow shower always has the power to catch you by surprise. And it changes everything when it comes. So for our family, there couldn’t be a better setting for this time of year.

After all, April is also when we became “Missy parents.”

For those who haven’t met her yet, Missy is my wife Heather’s developmentally disabled aunt, a woman who’s my age chronologically but often greets the world from a much younger place. Sometime after her parents passed away, Heather and I moved in to take care of her … 13 years ago in April, as it happens.

Needless to say, all three of us found ourselves with a lot to learn.

We entered a world where the morning must always start with tea, and where the best end to the day is always a bedtime story.

We learned a certain amount of translation (Heather had a massive head start here) to understand Missy’s needs. “Book” could be an actual book or purse, “Up” was usually a request for help and “Mom” could be any parent figure, male or female. But in moments of high excitement, new words or even complete sentences could enter the fray. (The most astonishing remains the “Hallelujah” she picked up one December.)

We discovered just how intense even simple things can become when life is lived without filters. A piece of peanut butter pie. (“Wow!”) The much-awaited climax of a favorite book. (“Yeah!”) The sudden appearance of a much-loved movie character. (“Look-look-look!”)

She demonstrated for us how much a purse can hold, how loudly a stereo can be cranked, and how many different ways the same jigsaw puzzle can be put together if you apply enough force. And that there could never be “enough” when it came to Christmas music, cutting up magazines for artwork, or cute dogs on the street. (“Hi, you!”)

And as we loved and exasperated each other, we re-learned every day that “family” isn’t a one-size-fits-all term. And that we had a pretty darned good one.

The world changed – and we couldn’t see how much until we were in the middle of it. Like snow in April. Powder on fresh grass.

I suspect many of us have a moment like that. The ones where you take a step forward and everything changes. Where you thought you knew what was coming, only to realize how different everything looks from the inside.

It can be humbling. Frightening, even. But it’s also those moments where we truly learn. Where we’re forced out of the comfortable and the familiar, and have to see the world with new eyes.

After all, spring is the season of rebirth. And when your perspective gets reborn with it, anything can happen.

It’s something not to be missed.

But it just might be Missy’d.

Beyond the Limits

Once upon a time, 2010 was the Parenthood Year. 

No, not the Steve Martin movie. Rather, that’s the year all our grown sisters started becoming parents and my new job title became Uncle Scott.  We welcomed our niece Ivy into the world that July, followed by our niece Riley in September and our nephew Gil right before Christmas. 

Well. far be it from us to buck a trend. That Thanksgiving, Heather and I stepped up with an announcement of our own. 

“We’ve decided to move in with Missy.” 

And by April 2011, the world would never be the same. 

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If you’re new here, you might not have met Missy yet. She’s the disabled aunt of my wife Heather, a woman who’s about my age physically but much younger in mind and heart. She also frequently graces this column as an artist, a dancer, a softball star and a ruthless Candy Land player, but that’s another story. 

This month marks 12 years since we began taking care of her. And like many first-time parents of whatever kind, we had no idea what we were getting into. 

We learned. Oh, did we learn. 

We learned that a grinning “Uh-oh!” meant something mischievous had just happened, like hiding a book in the linen closet or a toy in the laundry chute. 

We learned that “Mom” was a job title that could be addressed to either of us and that my other name was apparently “Frank” (the name of her late dad). 

Out of necessity, we learned how to get paint out of cloth (mostly), how to smile when out-of-season Christmas carols were replayed for the 57th time and how to hide a broken purse so it could finally be replaced. We discovered just how magical bedtime books can be, wandering from secret gardens to hobbit holes and beyond. 

Most of all, we learned we could do it. Even on the days when we thought we couldn’t. 

And that may be the most valuable and challenging lesson of all. 

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Most of us have a pretty solid self-portrait. We like to think we know who we are and what we’re capable of. The trouble is, once we’re past the age of six or so, that picture tends to include a lot of don’ts and can’ts. 

“Oh, I can’t draw a straight line to save my life.” 

“Green thumb? More like a black thumb.” 

“You don’t want me in the kitchen; I think I burned soup once.” 

I’m guilty of it, too. And the trouble is, it becomes self-perpetuating. When you think you can’t, you don’t. Your skills never become sharper and the next failed attempt becomes proof instead of an opportunity. 

But sometimes it’s not as impossible as it seems. 

The one that Heather and I hear most is “Oh, I could never do what you do.” These days, that always has us scratching our heads. Do what? Be a family? That’s a job all three of us take on daily. And sure, some days are harder than others … but when has that not been true for anybody? 

The job that once looked so big from the outside – that frankly had me nervous as heck at the start – turned out to be quite different when it became a life. And a pretty cool life at that. 

Twelve years since we joined the parenthood parade. We’re not ready to surrender yet.

No matter how many times I end up crying “Uncle.”