Mitch nervously reached for his mother’s hand, unsure of the adventure that stood before him. Natalie whispered, “It’s okay, Mitchie, mommy will help you.” This was Mitchell’s first day of pre-school and his first step into the brave new world that lay just beyond our fence. Mitchell’s little Spiderman backpack, tenderly filled with his blankets and favorite treasures, would bring him comfort while he was away from home. 

It isn't uncommon for children with DMD to need a little boost at the beginning of their school career. Little Mitch attended a pre-school for kids who needed that special boost. It didn't take much for Mitch to catch up and become mainstreamed. But his first day was delicate.

Natalie wanted Mitch learn independence, so she arranged to have the school bus make a special trip to pick him up. Each day she would help Mitchie board the bus, get his seat belt on and then kiss his face. Mitch would smile and say “Bye mommy.” Every single day, as the bus left our neighborhood my noble wife would jump in her minivan and shadow the bus that carried her precious cargo. She could have easily drove him to school each day and avoided the hassle of boarding and un-boarding – or she could have had the bus bear the burden altogether – but Natalie traded inconvenience for love.

Because climbing stairs was difficult [almost impossible] for him, she would greet Mitch at either stop and lovingly help him on or off the bus and into class. But she didn't encourage this routine to help him transfer from bus to pavement (others could have helped him with that), she did this so Mitch could learn to believe in himself – to know he could do hard things. That he was always capable of more.

I marveled watching Mitch hold his mother’s hand on his first day as he took unsure steps toward a new adventure. But even more, I marveled how Mitch became a little more confident and surer with each passing day. That was the gift she gave our son. 

Within about 7 years of this photo Natalie, with a broken heart, would hold Mitchell’s hand before he passed away: loving him, encouraging him and letting him know she was there – like always. At my son’s bed I heard her say those same words she lovingly said on his first day of school, “It’s okay, Mitchie, mommy will help you.” This time Mitch would take nervous steps toward a brave new world, just beyond a different fence. Because of his mother, who traded inconvenience for love, Mitch knew he could do hard things. 

Today is Mitchell’s birthday. He would have been twelve. When I think of all the gifts he was given as a child, there was none so great as what his mother gave him. The gift of confidence and assurance. The gift of love. For those are gifts money cannot buy – and oft purchased by inconvenience and love.

We will be doing something sacred in honor of Mitch this morning. Tonight we will go to The Olive Garden as a family and enjoy his favorite meal. Though my heart is broken and heavy, I am grateful for my son and my wife – who taught me how to love and so much more about life. 

When I look at this image I can’t help but be reminded of the meaning of life. I can see the Father of my soul do the same things to me: from holding my hand as I take nervous steps into the unknown, to the whisper “It’s okay, I will help you” and “You can do hard things.” I sense a greater purpose to everything.