Thursday, May 3, 2012

Life is a Highway

When my daughter2 was a tiny tot she latched on to the Tom Cochrane song called Life is a Highway. The song was later made popular by Rascall Flatts but their version wasn't around in 1992 so it was Tom on our radio.

I have a very clear memory of my blonde-headed, blue eyed toddler girl strapped into her car seat, sunglasses on and feet a-tapping, singing along (loudly!) with Tom Cochrane and the radio. It made hubs and I laugh but she didn't like that so we did our best to stifle the giggles. She was small but mighty.

Uber confidence in a child can be a little tricky to manage. Kids without opinions about everything under the sun are so much easier, aren't they? God in His infinite wisdom though, knows exactly what each one of us will need in order to face what's coming our way in this world, and He knew my little girl needed a healthy sense of self and an abundance of confidence. Eyes like the sea on a sunny summer day didn't hurt either.

When daughter2 was 12 years old we made our yearly trek to the pediatrician for the usual height-weight-wellness check. The first thing the doctor mentioned was that her vision in one eye might be a little weak so perhaps I should get that checked out. Daughter2 used to hound me for glasses because she liked the way they looked and I suspected that's what this was all about too.

The doctor also noted an ever so slight curve in her back and recommended we follow that up with an orthopedist. Again, I didn't think too much about it but made the two appointments, added in the orthodontist for good measure, and we were off.

She needed braces. Two phases of course.
And glasses were a necessity, not an option.

We saw the orthopedist too on a crisp September day, and he used words like S-curve, back brace, scoliosis. He talked about degree of curve, surgery down the road, and time is of the essence. So far year 12 was not going as planned.

Daughter2 took it all in stride.

We arranged to have a back brace made and it was a medieval looking contraption if ever there was one. None of her clothing fit over the brace so we had to buy things too big and trousers with drawstrings. Do you know how much 13 year old girls despise wearing baggy clothes?

She did it though.
She went to Middle School not looking like everybody else.

She was to wear the brace for 23 hours a day, 7 days a week.
She hated that first brace. I didn't blame her though, I hated it too.

Less than a year after we had the first brace made we moved to England. We were referred to a wonderful specialist who is known around the world as an expert in the field of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.

This doctor was warm and smart and looked Daughter2 in the eye as he asked her how she felt about things. He had six children of his own and recognized a strong and determined spirit inside the small American girl sitting opposite him that day. He recommended a different brace which could be worn more easily under her clothing and she leapt at that.

She still had to wear it 23 hours a day, still 7 days a week.
And she did.

She wore it to birthday parties and sleep overs, to school and around the house, on field trips and family trips including one memorable day spent in Paris where the temperatures soared into the 90's.


I thank God every day for moving us to England just as we were entering this phase of her life. I had no idea what we were in for in terms of managing her scoliosis but we were in the right place at the right time. She attended a small private school with kids from all around the world and her back brace was no big deal to them. I can still see us crowded into a bathroom stall in the 8th grade hallway with several of her girlfriends as I demonstrated how to get her back into the brace after gym class. They didn't tease..they helped. They asked questions and saw this as just another part of what made Daughter2 the girl they knew and loved.

There were belts to be cinched tight..."pull it as tight as you possibly can and then pull it some more", buckles to be buckled and adjustments to be made. Daughter2 just got on with it. I can count on one hand the number of times she complained. Her doctor told her once that everyone has something they have to deal with in this life and maybe hers was her back. If only all doctors were so wise.

Growing even a little bit meant a new brace had to be constructed and she had five made while we lived in England. Having a back brace made meant a trip to the orthotist. Mr. Jones was an older man who'd been in the business a long time. I will never ever forget him. He was a true gentle man and treated my daughter with such kindness and respect it made me want to weep.

She was a teenage girl...13, 14, 15, 16, 17.

Teenage girls care about how they look. They are generally modest. They don't want to stick out. Daughter2 did what she has always done. She saw it as a challenge and plowed full steam ahead.

Having a brace made meant stripping down to the knickers. It meant placing her chin into what was essentially a traction harness, holding her arms all the way out at her sides and then being completely wrapped in a gauzy plaster. The plaster would harden and the orthotist would use tools to carefully remove it from around her skin. That was used as a mold to make the brace.

Since most of our appointments were during the school day her sister only got to come with us one time. The minute daughter2's chin was placed on the harness Daughter1 burst into tears. Not daughter2. Daughter2 was stoic. She could even laugh about it.

I'm not implying she liked it. In fact she used her IB Art class to express some of the frustration she felt during those years with the brace. This is her artistic rendering-

Yes, those are nails inside.
No the real brace did not have nails inside.

Do you think she was trying to make a statement?
Who says schools don't need art?

She hated wearing that brace but accepted it as something necessary. When we said goodbye to the real brace at age 17 the doctor told her she might even miss it a little. That it had become a part of her and she would notice its absence, maybe even feel a little confused. How can you miss something you never wanted and didn't like? Turns out you can.

We had a lot of mother daughter time trekking back and forth to the orthopedist at least once or twice a month. We rode the train to London then got on the underground subway, and then had to cross a very busy street. Daughter2 will tell you I always grabbed her arm at that busy corner and she would always say, "Mo-om, I can cross the street without holding your hand." And I would say "I know you can but I can't." And we would laugh.

I've loved Daughter2 since I first laid eyes on her but these were the years where my admiration for her increased one hundred fold. I saw her strength and courage and wished for one tenth of her self discipline. Hubs and I say she has always had the the self-discipline of a Marine. From the moment she could walk and talk she's always been so sure of herself, always had a plan for her future, always embraced life. When you're around her you cannot help but do the same.

In just a few days Daughter2 will graduate from university. I asked if I could talk about her back on my blog and she said, 'Oh sure'. That's her...still full of confidence, still lovin' life. She knows her back is just one small but significant piece of who she is. She knows too, that wearing a brace all day, every day, for almost five years not only made her straighter, but stronger too. More compassionate, less judgemental. That everyone has something and for a time, this was her something.

I wanted to write this all down for her because it's part of who she is today. I hope it reads not so much as a story about a back brace, but about the bright gentle spirit that surfaced in spite of the brace. When I think of her teen years I don't wring my hands or sigh with relief that we made it through. I feel privileged to have watched my child turn from girl to young woman. I stand amazed and proud that she never let something hard, harden her. She learned early on that when life doesn't go as planned it's best to carry on and figure out a new plan.

As the song says, Life is a highway...sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand. With diploma in hand life's highway seems to suddenly stretch further than the eye can see.

And just as she's done since she was a golden haired toddler, I know she'll hop on and ride it for all its worth.


  1. An amazing tribute! Look at daughter2 standing so straight and so beautiful now! This is a very touching story Joyce.
    Again, congratulations on the graduation milestone! Way to go daughter2!

  2. I started reading your blog just during your A-Z travels, and they were fun and interesting, but this travel blog touched my heart. What a journey she went on.

  3. What an amazing child you have!! A beautiful tribute as well. She stands tall in many ways, not just in height but is spirit, in strenght, in courage.

  4. oh what a sweet post!! An amazing story in honor of your daughter. What a sweet and touching story, Joyce. Congratulations on her graduation. She is beautiful inside and out.

  5. What a courageous daughter you have but she couldn't have done all that without the support of her loving family. Sometimes it is harder for those of us who are watching the ones that are going through it. Well done to you all.

  6. I actually had to stop and wipe my eyes while reading this. What a wonderful daughter you have - how strong and brave! I am full of admiration.

  7. How sweet! Congrats to daughter2 on graduation! She is beautiful inside and out! :)

  8. Oh goodness - crying at work today! She's going to be a GREAT teacher with that kind of life story.

  9. If that doesn't bring the reader to tears, I don't know what will. What a lovely tribute to your lovely daughter. Thank you so much for sharing the story with us. And so thankful you found a kind and wise doctor. England was a blessing in more ways than one.

  10. Way to make me cry, Joyce! Oh, my goodness...that was so beautifully written! What an amazing young woman you've raised! You have every right to be bursting with pride! I had a friend in high school who was diagnosed with scoliosis...I'm the one who discovered the curvature of her spine. I was getting ready to jump on her back for a cheerleading stunt and saw that she had a huge lump on her back. Her mom took her to the doctor and that's when she learned of the diagnosis. She wore a body cast and a back brace for many months. Your girl has come a long, long way! CONGRATS!!!

  11. What an incredible daughter you have, and what a courageous journey you both took. Thanks for writing this!

  12. So beautiful! I have a lump in my throat after reading that. Congratulations to your daughter as she graduates.

  13. What a wonderful tribute to Daughter2! (as I wipe tears) She is beautiful inside and out, what a trooper! Alot like her family! Isn't it amazing that God knew just where you guys needed to be at just the right time. The hardships we go through makes us who we are today! And it is pretty obvious she is a strong courageous young lady ready to face the world. Congratulations on your graduation Daughter2! And Congrats mom and dad!
    until next time... nel

  14. What an amazing daughter you and hubs have raised! She will be an amazing teacher, friend, wife and mother in the future. You must be incredibly proud!

  15. You must be so proud of her!

  16. Thanks for sharing this sweet tribute to an amazing young woman! Daughters are truly one of God's most amazing gifts! It is so nice you can have sweet memories of what could have been a trying time!

  17. That IS amazing.
    Your daughter is amazing.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  18. Love this story!
    It takes all the pieces to make us who we are.
    I also love when God gives us glimpses of what He has put in our children. He can use all things for our good.
    Congratulations Daughter 2!

  19. You made me cry! That was the sweetest story. I love reading the thoughts of a mom about her daughter. My oldest is graduating next weekend along with my husband (they will walk together) and then in July she will move to CO to begin seminary. I've alrady been emotional and it will only get worse, but like you, I'm so proud of the woman my daughter has become. It's amazing to see the personality and gifts the Lord gives our children and how he uses them in life. It might do me some good to see myself in a more positive light and recognize how God uses my personality and gifts, as well. Anyway, that was a wonderful story. Thanks so much for sharing it with us!

  20. Wow what a wonderful story your daughter is pretty amazing! You both did good raising such wonderful girls! I see a bright future for this one for sure! Congrats and thanks for sharing such an inspiring story.

  21. You know I love this tribute and will be sharing it with Daughter2's little cousin. Let's hope not only scoliosis runs in the family, but her fortitude as well. It was easier at ages 7 & 8 to convince him of the necessity. Age 9+ is proving to be a bit more of a challenge.

    Congratulations to Daughter2 and the proud parents this weekend!

  22. What a beautiful tribute. That art piece cracks me up. Wow...yeah.. a major statement. God certainly gave her what she needed to handle this affliction and I am sure she will agree that suffering made her a better person it.

  23. what an inspirational story and mother and daughter--it brought a tear my eye--how fast our time goes with our teenage daughters and young women---thank you for sharing this

  24. What a sweet tribute and hats off to you and your husband for raising her to deal with adversity in such a positive manner. There's no doubt she will be a blessing to a lot of students in the years ahead as she teaches.

    Blessings for a great weekend!

  25. Beautiful post Joyce. One thing I have learned in life and tried to pass on to my children is that we do not know the road others have traveled to be where they are today. What strength and determination she has. That was a heavy burden to carry and she did it with grace.
    Hope she has a wonderful graduation.
    Congratulations Daughter2! May you continue to forge forward in your life with the same fearlessness you have expressed your whole life.

  26. What an amazing story and an even more amazing young woman you've brought up!!! Very inspiring!

  27. I've visited your blog a couple of times, and I'm so glad I did today. This is a beautiful post, a lovely tribute, and makes me want to do better for my own girls (and son!). It is a treasure that she was able to go through that time with such support. What a strong young woman! Thanks for sharing her story.

  28. She's amazing. She sounds very much like my daughter2. I love your daughter's spirit, her willingness to just go with the flow, to just do it, and do it with great confidence and without complaint. I have a hunch that she takes after her momma.

    Congratulations to daughter2 and kudos to you for writing just a small part of her story in a poetic way once again.

  29. Your tribute to your daughter made me well up with tears... how beautiful, written from a mom's heart that ached seeing your daughter have to endure something so tedious, but being able to recognize the beautiful strong spirit that God created her with to rise above the challenges. And her rendering - wow.

  30. Thank you for sharing this about a very special Daughter2. She is indeed an amazing young lady not in spite of difficulty but through it. Very best wishes to her as she continues to wow the world she is yet to enter.


  31. It certainly did come through as a story about her amazing spirit!

  32. Hello,
    I am a new follower, today you shared this on the Hodgepodge. Thank you for sharing this amazing, inspirational story.
    xx oo