The Recordon family’s unexpected joys
Ellie Gwilliam caught up with the Recordons, a family with a contagious passion for life and a home filled with faith, hope and happiness.
James and Zara Recordon live in a charming little bungalow in Onehunga with their three children. While the floor area may appear small, the heart of this home is massive. There was an obvious ease to the bustle and flow of family life here on the Saturday we visited them, camera in tow, and I would suspect it’s a fairly consistent seven-days-a-week vibe. Two delightful young boys met us at the door and showed us around the house, a tour that quickly led out to their tucked-away, expansive back garden. This home is full of pleasant surprises like this.
James is a doctor at Auckland Hospital and Zara is a teacher, currently on maternity leave. Six-year-old Ollie and four-year-old Boston are constantly in motion and love rugby, dress-ups, Star Wars and toasting marshmallows. The newest member of the team, nine-month-old Esther, sits peacefully on the couch smiling at everyone. It’s as if she already knows she’s found a very special place in the world.
James and Zara both grew up in central Auckland, about five minutes from each other, but they first met as teenagers at church. “We spent a few years as friends before we found a sparkle in each other’s eyes! Life together is far better than we ever could have imagined” says Zara.
While the couple gave medical school and university the required diligence and focus, theirs has not been a life structured and confined by five-year plans and sequential goals. Career, marriage and family life have all fallen into place with a grace that comes from letting go. “Ollie was a surprise honeymoon baby for us. Not having decided we were ‘ready’ actually made it so much easier. We were the first of our friends to have a baby, and because we didn’t have many expectations, we felt like we just got to enjoy our gorgeous little boy for who he was. We stumbled across this lovely truth that a good life isn’t always one that goes strictly to plan or looks a certain way” says Zara.
Working out the balance
James is at work from dawn until dusk while Zara takes care of the kids, ferrying them to and from school, kindy and various activities. Extended family live nearby so someone usually drops in for a visit and to help fold washing. “We are very lucky to have such close family. Our kids spend countless hours on ‘dates’ with their aunties and uncles, and on sleepovers with their grandparents. It is very much a village!” says a grateful Zara.
With James’ job at the hospital being so demanding, Zara intentionally keeps the house running smoothly, so when work is done for the week, the family can focus on the more important things – like play. “We found it took us a while to get the rhythm of life with small children. They don’t need big adventures – a walk down the road dressed as Santa and an elf, stopping at every tree/crack in the path/piece of rubbish on the ground can be even more fun for them” reflects Zara. The dynamic is fluid, and now with the arrival of Esther, Zara acknowledges the need to be more flexible about what everyone can do and to keep things simple. “Joy comes in ordinary moments”, she says.
On a fine weekend you will find them outside, the boys especially love going ‘troppo’ at the park, the beach or on their bikes. “Good coffee is essential”, James and Zara agree. “There is a major Lego obsession in our house. Rainy days are spent on the floor building. There will also be some epic arguments over Monopoly Junior or Guess Who. The boys spend most of their lives in crazy dress-up combinations. Essie loves joining in now, she is a mean Darth Vader.”
Zara and James hope their children learn to work hard at something they love and are able to relax and enjoy each other’s company at the end of the day. “We had the opportunity to have a go at everything. We hope to offer our kids the same. We hope to raise young people who are curious about life. People who can find adventure in going to the supermarket, as well as foreign lands” says Zara.
Esther’s arrival changed the family’s life, but in the most positive and incredible ways. “We decided not to do the prenatal screening with any of our babies because we knew it wouldn’t change the way we acted. I had a stress-free pregnancy and delivery with Esther, and finding out she had Trisomy 21 was much easier when I was holding her beautiful little body in my arms. I have since met the most wonderful people who also have children with Down Syndrome. Some knew the diagnosis before their baby was born and found that time to be very stressful and unnecessarily scary. We think that knowledge is power, but sometimes the testing only gives us a certain kind of knowledge – we can end up with some information about a condition and forget that that is not the complete definition of who our child will be. Every life is beautifully different and interesting; letting go of our narrow view of what we think we want lets us step into a glorious freedom”, Zara concludes, with the poise and strength of a mother who sees the bigger picture.
💗Hey, sweet girl.💗
You have rocked our world in the most spectacular way. It’s not what we would have expected, had we known that you’d surprise us with an extra chromosome at birth. So, I have been musing on all of my pre-conceived ideas and notions, and thoughts and fears about you having Down Syndrome, and I’m mostly left with questions, and a lovely sense of awe about the joy the unexpected can bring.
You’ve arrived in a world driven by fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of difference, of awkwardness, ugliness. A fear of things being hard. I felt great joy when you were born, but also fear. Fear that you might not fit in, that your life wouldn’t be as good because you were different. But you were perfectly beautiful and hungry and cuddly, just like your brothers when they were born.
I’ve realised that there are no guarantees, for any of us, in life. I cannot be certain that my boys will get married, have children, or succeed in all of their endeavours. None of us can be sure we will be free from hardship or suffering – would we even want a life without it? We’re losing a generation of people who lived through the depression, the World Wars – people who learnt that there was joy in the hard places, that life wasn’t necessarily better if it was easier. Have we lost their perspective already?
Our culture lusts after consumption, and therefore production. We’ve come to value things and people based on what they can produce, despite the fact that constant consumption has made us more depressed and lonely than any generation before. You have reminded me of the value of a person’s mere presence. Perhaps this is the joy we experience when we encounter a baby; the simple joy of their smile, their innocence, and the peace that is in their non-striving presence. You’ll always have this gift.
It would seem our goal has become control – we desperately grasp at ways to be in charge of our lives. We call it being safe and sensible, or sometimes even wise and compassionate. But when did we decide that we could be so arrogant as to say we’re in charge of life, specifically which ones are worth living and which ones aren’t? This obsession with control has led us to vastly underestimate ourselves – our ability to love is so much greater than things going to plan. The human spirit steps up in the hard places. When we lose our sense of fear about something going wrong, the liberation is glorious. So glorious we realise the fear was worse than the experience itself.
With the focus on the potential problems associated with Down Syndrome, we risk missing, or dismissing, the things only you could bring. The extra dose of peace that you exude. The knowing way you look deeply into people’s eyes. The immense joy and satisfaction that you find in the parts of life we rush past. The way you bring out the very best in every person you encounter. And that whole-face smile, oh my heart! As well as doing basically everything else a typical human being does.
I don’t feel any of the heaviness I may have expected when I look at your darling face. I feel lighter than ever. You’ve brought all the love. I’ve never felt embarrassed introducing you to people, nothing but pride. I’m learning not to spend time worrying about the future. Your presence has taught me the art of that hugely popular practice we call mindfulness. Even as a baby, you ground us in the now. You remind us what it means to enjoy each day, just as it is.
The unexpected life is more wonderful than the run-of-the-mill life we had before. Given the choice, I would never go back. I hope I can enjoy your sweet presence every day of my life.
Taken from Zara’s blog, June 2017.
Zara would like to recommend the Facebook community ‘NZ Mums of Kids with T21’ to any parents with a new diagnosis, so they can easily get connected.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 40 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW