Charlie turned 3 years old! The Husband and I share the three best lessons we've learned during Charlie's short little lifetime — so far!

While our son has Down syndrome, and his extra chromosome has introduced us to new ideas and experiences, I'm pretty sure many first-time (and second- and third-time) parents can relate to these revelations.

1^ Communication without words

His love of the dramatic marries beautifully with his flair for the funny.

We've perhaps worried most about Charlie's ability to communicate despite his speech delays. At 3 years old, his most-used word is a vehement, “No!” Coming in second: “Da!” Recently, he added “buh-buh” (to mean bye-bye or bubbles, depending on the situation – because a toddler sometimes has occasion to bid a bubble farewell).

But what my son can communicate through facial expressions and gestures is practically a monologue. His love of the dramatic marries beautifully with his flair for the funny. While I fall silent watching him work a room, his thoughts, intentions and ideas fill the air. And sometimes, his conversations with adults are more productive than mine!

2^Love from all directions

I'm talking about the immeasurable love that pours from strangers, friends and loved ones. Unexpected acts of kindness and remarkable acts of warmth, not just embracing differences but celebrating them. I can't count the times The Husband and I have remarked how truly lucky we are and how thankful we are for the individuals in our lives. When I think about the hours of worry and heartache during my pregnancy, I so wish I could go back in time and give myself a glimpse of what I know now.

I know we'll have moments that might even be called incidents. But sharing them with our team restores any faltering faith that Charlie is going to live a wonderful, loved (and loving), productive life. Without question. You haven't seen a rally until you've seen our team think Charlie has been wronged!

3^Unexpected patience

One of my first concerns when I learned prenatally that Charlie had Down syndrome was that I would never be patient enough. What I've learned is that I have the ability to exude extraordinary patience over the things I know Charlie is working hard to learn or do.

Don't get me wrong. The spirit of Mother Teresa won't be appearing to anoint my saintliness anytime in this lifetime (in fact, she's probably saying a few rosaries to keep my children alive). When they're naughty, I lose patience and any memory of an inside voice. And it's true — frustration can be a frequent companion. But that's different from patience. I may be frustrated at Charlie's refusal to bend his right knee, but I can stay patient as we work on it. I never expected that.


Life is good

Imperfection is my new perfection, which it turns out, is just what I needed.

(Because a bonus revelation is always a good thing, and this list just isn't complete without a sweeping dose of gratitude.) With our third child scheduled to arrive before our first turns 4 and just after our second turns 2, life is a carefully coordinated chess game filled with such laughter, joy and thankfulness. Life is good. We will all be OK.

Imperfection is my new perfection, which it turns out, is just what I needed.

More about parenting a child with special needs

Chasing Charlie: Realizing I'm not alone
Imagining a future for my son with Down syndrome
The truth about my child with Down syndrome

Photography by Stephanie DeMoss Stum