Many thanks

By Matthew Hennessey

In the short time that I have been writing this column I have received many wonderful e-mails and kind words from readers of Fairfield County Catholic. Often, they have specifically mentioned my 5-year-old daughter Magdalena, who has Down syndrome, and expressed support for her and our family. I am grateful for all of these messages.

As I think about it, the Hennesseys have been blessed with an embarrassment of unexpected kindness since landing in southwestern Connecticut a little over a year ago, and it has changed our outlook on life.

It began even before we arrived: Our local school district expressed willingness to have Magdalena attend the developmental pre-K over the telephone. This helped us make the final decision to leave New York City, where we had lived for nearly 10 years.

Leaving was not an easy decision. It never is. But thankfully the differences between city and suburbs revealed themselves early.

For instance, the school bus comes on time here. Seems like a small thing. But we would sometimes wait for an hour or more in the freezing cold on our Manhattan street only to find out that a new driver on the route had forgotten all about us. There seemed to be a new driver every month. We got used to it, and came to expect the worst.

There have also been countless neighborly gestures. If you have little children, you know how uncooperative they can be in the late afternoon. If you have a Nissan Versa, you know how nerve-destroying it can be to jam three kids into the backseat. And if you’re a mom, you know how grateful you’d be if someone in the neighborhood also happened to be going to religious ed at 4:30 on Tuesday and offered to drive your 1st grader and bring her home. Every week. Never expecting anything in return.

You remember how it was this past winter, don’t you? How could any of us forget? One morning, I woke to find the driveway blocked by a waist-high, back-busting, shovel-ready wall of snow created by repeated night visits from the municipal plow. The first few thrusts of my plastic shovel had little effect. The job was enormous, and would have easily taken half the day.

Luckily my new neighbor saw me struggling and took pity. Powering up his “snow thrower,” he solved the problem in a matter of minutes. He certainly saved my work day. He may have saved my life. People do die while shoveling snow.

Speaking of snow, I’ve lost track of the number of total strangers who have stopped on wet or snowy mornings to offer me a ride to the train station. I am ashamed to say that years of city living have instilled in me an unreserved fear of kindness, so I have yet to take any of them up on it. But one yucky day I will.

Have I told you about the network of families of children with Down syndrome that we are a part of? We couldn’t have coped had we not hooked up with this group when we first arrived. They have helped us find doctors, connected us with neighbors, arranged “Mom’s Night Out” dinners, and generally eased us into our new life. The two women who do most of the organizing are each a mother of six. Yet, incredibly, they still manage to find the time to arrange holiday parties, group play-dates, and amazing celebrations geared toward our special families. It’s inspiring, to say the least.

Some people never grow tired of life in the city. We did. The lifestyle that suited us so well as young adults gradually lost its luster as we became a young family. We feared that our kids would end up inheriting our cynicism and distrust.

In our defense, we came by these traits honestly. Drivers in our old neighborhood didn’t stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk like they do here (some actually sped up). We once had our stroller stolen right off the street. And the month before we moved I caught and killed a rat in our apartment.

These are the kinds of things that change you. And not for the better.

The truth is: We are more comfortable here than we ever imagined we could be. We are shedding our protective outer shells, though my wife tells me I still have some work to do on this front. With the faithful example of the good people of Fairfield County and the Diocese of Bridgeport, I know I can change my crazy ways.

So while I appreciate all of your letters and e-mails, it is really I who should be thanking you.

From the July/August 2011 edition of Fairfield County Catholic, the monthly newspaper of the Diocese of Bridgeport.

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