What LOVE CONQUERS FEAR means to me:

 

It’s 3 words, but encompasses so much more. It’s what we do, it’s how we live.  It’s kindness, it’s compassion, it’s tolerance, it’s patience, it’s listening, it’s teaching, it’s learning…LOVE CONQUERS FEAR allows us to experience and allows us to share.

 

And I think for a lot of us, we live it without even knowing it or defining it. When your child shares her lunch with a classmate who forgot theirs. When a neighbor’s car gets stuck in the snow and you rally with other neighbors to free the car. When you pay for the next 3 people behind you in the Tim Horton’s drivethru. These are small examples. Nothing grand scale. But multiplied daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, it becomes a powerful statement.

 

When Kevin asked if I’d like to be part of this LOVE CONQUERS FEAR project, it made perfect sense. It summarizes how I try to live my life. How I try to approach the unknown, the scary, the unfamiliar. And I think the biggest, most life changing LOVE CONQUERS FEAR experience I have is with my son, Zach.

 

Zach was born 3 1/2 weeks early, emergency c-section. Nothing earth shattering. All seemed great. He was pretty cute, pretty huge (33 lbs at a year), loved to snuggle, made me laugh…I noticed, however, that he was late in crawling and walking (10 months to crawl, 15 months before he walked). I chalked it up to his size and his pediatrician didn’t think too much about it. He started talking at around a year, and developed a sizable vocabulary. But seemingly overnight, at 18 months old, Zach lost language. One day he knew “clock,” “duck,”  “mommy,” the names for colors…. The next day, his speech was essentially gone. I was terrified. My heart sank. His comprehension was outstanding. I’d tell him to get a towel, and he’d drag a towel from the laundry basket and hand it to me. But where’d all his words go? 22 years later, I still find it hard to express the panic, fear, confusion, and helplessness I felt. 

 

We took him to an audiologist, to several pediatric neurologists, to other ologists that I can’t remember. Test after test. Yes, he had some markers for autism (he liked to line up his matchbox cars hood to trunk, instead of door to door. I was told that’s a marker). He also tested highly on the several IQ tests he was given. So much so, that the one Dr. stopped the test because she couldn’t keep up with him.

 

So what was going on? Why wasn’t my baby like other babies? I was frozen with fear. Fearful of what his future will be. Fearful of him being teased. Fearful of limits being put on him by teachers, his peers, my friends, and society as a whole. Fearful of being judged by other moms. I cried. All the time. How did this happen? Did I do this to him? Was this it? Was this his capacity? What if it was? But more importantly, what if it wasn’t?

 

As the weeks turned into months, his speech didn’t improve much. The doctors didn’t have answers. So I decided I had to find and create my own. I needed to stop crying. I needed to face my fears. I created a menu for his meals. He had to say his choice of food before being fed. I sang “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” into his Fisher Price tape recorder day after day, leaving more and more words out of the song, not continuing until he filled in the blanks. I sat in a VERY small chair every day at preschool because when he couldn’t communicate he’d get frustrated and act out on the other kids. We employed physical therapists and occupational therapists. We had a sign language teacher (he learned 500 words the first week). We’d sing songs, recite the names of all the Sesame Street characters over and over and over again: “Big Bird, Ernie, Bert, Mr. Hooper…”

 

And then one day I thought we’d write a series of stories together. I’d say a sentence and he’d fill in the last word. And we kept going. Week after week, sentence after sentence, until Mr. Snail and Other Tales was created. And then I illustrated the book. And Zach picked out and named all the colors for all the illustrations. We read the book every night. And every night, Zach was able to fill in more and more of the words. Until one night, he read the entire book to me. My heart nearly gave out.

 

Four days after my 3 year old read our book to me (it was a Saturday morning at around 7AM), he came bursting through my bedroom door and my husband and I jumped up. I asked him if he was okay and he replied, clear as day, “I want popcorn.” Of course you do. He had a big bowl of popcorn and a sippy cup of milk for breakfast while watching Blues Clues. And I cried. A good, satisfying, cleansing, loving cry. I couldn’t have been happier.

 

Footnote:

 

Zach is 23 years old. He self published a children’s book when he was 9, he was his high school class salutatorian, he graduated with a 4.0 GPA from Cornell with degrees in English and French. He’s going to law school in the Fall. He uses his voice often. And it’s full of laughter, joy, thoughtfulness, and compassion. Love absolutely, positively conquers fear. 

 

                                                                                                                                                                       -Beth Smeader

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