“Just one, Daniel!” I whispered as his chubby, dimpled fingers grabbed for a handful of sacrament bread. He hungrily stuffed the pieces into his mouth before I could catch his lightning-fast hand. At age two, Daniel thought the sacrament tray was a lunch tray, even though we had tried to teach our little one how sacred it was.
Many a Sunday the congregation would be reverently harmonizing “Abide with Me!” or some other quiet song when suddenly a Disney song would burst forth from his angelic lips as his red hair bounced with enthusiasm. His vivacious voice would carry to the far reaches of the chapel. Every Sunday seemed to bring a new form of embarrassment from Daniel.
My husband and I were the inexperienced, often exasperated, parents of three children under the age of three; wise Grandpa Geilman patiently reminded us, “They’ll teach you far more than you’ll ever teach them.”
Yeah, I thought, but you didn’t have Daniel.
Daniel’s sobs, pouring from the front room one afternoon, brought me running, wondering if he had eaten my decorator soaps—again. There, to my surprise, I found him, face buried in the recliner, terrified by the Count, a character on his favorite TV show, Sesame Street. It was my first hint of the tender heart inside his mischievous little body. And when he ran out of the room it began a tradition of Daniel always leaving a situation he didn’t feel right about or that he found offensive.
When Daniel was 10, we moved from Mississippi to California. It was a sweltering July day. Daniel carefully packed his beloved goldfish into a plastic milk jug filled with water and wedged the jug under the seat of the cluttered van. We never dreamed that the searing heat from the road would kill his cherished pets. I expected tears and devastation when he noticed them floating. Instead, with simple faith he replied, “It’s OK, Mom. They’re in heaven now.” I learned a sweet lesson that scorching day in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
California brought new adventures for Daniel, such as a paper route. He made little money for his efforts because he didn’t have the heart to collect from his customers. However, at Christmas he more than made up for his losses in the form of generous tips from the lonely and elderly patrons on his route, where he would often stop for a moment to talk to them. On occasion, I would substitute for him; more than once I was stopped by one of his customers to tell me what a wonderful son I had. I pondered these comments, for this was the Daniel I had chastised just that morning for leaving a big pile of wet towels and smelly clothing on his bedroom floor. Perhaps my criticisms of my 10-year-old were blinding me to the gold at his center.
Time continued to pass, bringing increased size and maturity to Daniel. Time also brought an unwanted intruder into our peaceful lives: adversity. My muscles began to go rigid, especially after a bump, a startle, or a sudden noise. I was devastated when the doctors could find no answers and the disorder rapidly progressed. Nine years were to pass before a diagnosis was made. I had Stiffman syndrome, an unusual and incurable muscular disorder.
Daniel was now 12, a deacon, towering over the other boys, gawky and unable to coordinate all the growth invading his body. His Sunday pants always seemed too short for him; his legs were growing so quickly that we couldn’t keep him in pants that were long enough. I became teary watching him reverently pass the sacrament to each row—in pants that embarrassed him.
Don’t get the mistaken impression that he was ready for translation, however. He was a normal 12-year-old who, once seated back with his family, would quickly flick a sibling in the back of the head and then gaze innocently at the speaker as if he had not missed a word.
Nor was I a perfect human being. Sound often triggered my muscles into uncontrollable spasms. At times I would lash out when my body would not function correctly. But forgiveness always flowed from Daniel when I apologized.
“I know it’s hard, Mom,” he would sympathize and then immediately forget the incident had occurred.
By this time, athletics brought a new dimension to Daniel’s life. His size caught the attention of coaches who saw him. He started with basketball, and I tried to support him by attending a game. The constant noise and vibrations threw me into a convulsive-like episode of muscle spasms. I was carried into the principal’s office, where I writhed on the floor, muscles alternating between rigidity and violent spasms. I could hear a crowd forming outside with someone shouting, “Some lady is having a seizure!” I was embarrassed, both for myself and for my son. I was not used to having a disorder make me the center of attention.
Suddenly, above all the other voices, I heard Daniel—almost proudly—calm the crowd with “It’s just my mom. She does this sometimes.” In he came, not embarrassed at all. The first words out of his mouth were, “How ya doin’, Mom?” His total acceptance meant more than words could express.
Daniel then moved on to football and taught me the importance of not quitting. He was a lineman and took hit after hit when on the field. Though he often stood at the sidelines instead of playing in the game, he did not give up.
He was my steady friend, belting out a “Love ya, Mom,” as he headed for the refrigerator after school. I did wonder at times if he loved me or the food more.
Daniel became my chauffeur when I reluctantly gave up the independence of driving at the age of 39. One evening he dropped me off at Relief Society and sternly warned me, “Now, I’ll be back here at 8:30 and you’d better be where you belong, young lady!” Then with a playful grin, “Now, you remember who you are and what you represent!” We looked at each other and burst out laughing. Repeatedly, he taught me to laugh over the bizarre twist our lives had taken.
When Daniel was ordained a priest, I remember watching through misty eyes as he blessed the sacrament for the first time. I knew deep in my heart he was worthy.
Soon afterward, my husband had to be out of town one Sunday, so Daniel took his father’s place at the side of my wheelchair. As the organ played the sacrament hymn, its musical strains stimulated my hands to curl and go rigid; my head became glued to my left shoulder, immobilized by a neck as hard as stone. Warm tears of love and gratitude slid from my left eye as Daniel gently placed the sacred bread into my mouth and quietly chided, “Just one, Mom.” Then, with the same gentle care he wiped the sacrament water that dribbled from the left side of my mouth.
I thank Father in Heaven for Daniel and our other children. They have indeed taught me far more than I have ever taught them. Grandpa Geilman knew.