Way back in November Lucy earned an “overnighter” at the zoo of all places.
You see, kids who stick with the “zoology club” the whole semester get the option of that little gem of a bonus.
Some of my other kids have done it, others haven’t.  It’s pretty tough to earn, lots of extra work and meetings during lunch at the school once a week.  So when Lucy told me she wanted to do it I told her that was great.

And I meant it.
But worry started seeping in when I thought about being a chaperone and the reality of what a dark night at the zoo might mean to the both of us.  
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love chaperoning field trips.  It’s such a great way to get one-on-one time with kids and to be able to observe them in their school/peer environment.  
But this one wasn’t on the top of my list.  I LOVE camping, but I’m not a huge fan of doing it with crowds of people I don’t know very well.  
And I knew this wasn’t an ideal field trip for Lucy.  She cannot see at night.  She doesn’t do well staying up late.  Too many variables.  
Maybe it would make her so sad to realize she can’t maneuver as well as the other kids…in the light or the dark.  Maybe she would be left out.  Maybe she would have a tantrum in the middle of everything and have her peers look at her like they do sometimes.
Maybe deep down I was even more worried about my mama’s heart and whether I could handle this. 
But what do you do when your daughter is willing to work hard and wants to set a goal to do something out of her comfort zone?

You go right along with her.
So I did…sort of guiltily wondering/hoping she may just want to opt out half way through the challenging extra work.  
I know, I’m horrible.
But that Lucy girl stuck with it all the way through.  She worked so hard and she learned so much and through doing so, she lit up with more knowledge and grit.  
Here is her final project for the zoology club:

So I geared myself up for what was coming and put on a happy, smiley face to match hers.

 This was going to be a great mother/daughter adventure.

At least that’s what I told myself.

We went out to dinner together first, just me and her.

She smiled.

She glowed.

We met up with her friends at the zoo entrance.

One of those girls stayed with her practically the whole night, holding her hand in the dark to guide her down the paths.  She is the luckiest girl ever to have such a wonderful group of friends.

We saw the zoo lights which was an added bonus of the night.

 We learned about all kinds of animals.

 We did an experiment about desert animals and their ability to retain water.

We had a “night walk tour” where everyone but Lucy could see outlines of animals and big wolves up close with flashlights.

Lucy couldn’t see a thing and was tired, but she was still full of wonder.

We headed to our gigantic tents and saw more animals.

 Then we rolled out all our sleeping bags by eleven o’clock among three large tents and slept.

Lucy’s most favorite animal in all the world is the lion.  She was so hoping to see one at the zoo.

Low and behold the next morning those lions there gave her a little show.

 She was over-the-moon about that little fact.

Despite these glowing pictures, this was as dark a night for me as it was for Lucy, but my darkness was in my heart.

It was black by the time I got home.

And there is still darkness lingering there to this day because of what I realized and learned that night about my girl and the future darkness that’s in store for her.

I won’t go into detail because it is not something I need to remember…it has been etched in my heart where unfortunately it can’t get lost.

I wonder if every mother has that darkness etched into her soul from time to time.  Whether it is with a child with special needs or a myriad of so many other variables.

Sometimes that elastic binding a mother/daughter heart-pair together is too much.

Too tight.

Too claustrophobic.

So much worry.

But how I hope that night will glow in Lucy’s heart despite the darkness that veiled her eyes.

And that she never felt any of my darkness seep into her own halo of light.

Because she has a good one.

And oh, how I love her.

So proud of her grit to push and learn and DO despite some things that should hold her back.  So grateful for her example to me as her mother.


  1. Shawni, you are such a beautiful writer. I am reminded everyday how much love hurts! Sometimes it shocks me how deeply I love my family.

    I know Lucy still goes to a mainstream school, but have you thought about activities for the blind? The zoo field trip actually reminded me of a trip I chaperoned at the zoo here for seeing and blind students. The activities were very similar except they were tailored for the blind. Having it at night was actually a plus because there were no special accomodations for the seeing students (like flashlights to see the animals). It was dark and everyone had to use their other senses.

  2. I think mother hearts are super human in their strength. Sometimes the sadness called upon us to bear is just too much. Yet we still are able to do it somehow. I'm thankful for great examples like you and others in my life who remind me that we don't bear them alone. We have each other and we have the ultimate partner to bear our yolk, the Savior. Many blessings for your good heart and for the light you share by telling your story. And many, many blessings for brave Lucy.

  3. Oh Shawni. My heart is aching for you. This is so tough. SO tough. Your beautiful words describing the mother-child bond are so true. We are so vulnerable and open to hurt because we love these little people so much. It's almost too much to contemplate. Especially in a situation like yours when you can see mapped out the hard stuff. You are such a wonderful mom. Grieve and love that little girl of yours.

  4. God bless you and God bless Lucy. You're a wonderful mom and she's a wonderful, strong girl. You're both so lucky to have each other. Being a mom is so so so hard, and I can't even imagine going through what you are. But from the outside, all I see is the beauty of your love. Keep shining it on your girl and you both are going to be OK.

  5. You are such an amazing advocate for your Lucy and she will reap the benefits of that fact for the rest of her life. On another note, she's looking so much like a mix of Elle and Grace as she gets older! And her glasses are the coolest 🙂

  6. You should get in touch with my cousin, Rebekah Evans Jakeman. https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007471185662&fref=ts She is currently living in Hawaii. She was fully seeing until about 21. At 18 when she came to BYU, she had no night vision. I was her Reader and note taker for classes. She is the most amazing friend and lady. When she went fully blind she learned brail with incredible speed. She graduated BYU with honors. She writes columns for magazines. She's swam in races in the ocean. She went to a very well known school for the blind shortly after graduating, and learned to be independent. There she learned to cook a meal and put on an event for 30 people. She learned to do so many things on her own. She is seriously my hero. She married a wonderful man she met at BYU, has lived in Utah, Washington, and now Hawaii, and just had her SEVENTH child. If you knew her, you'd be blown away by all she is and shares and does and the incredible vision she has beyond sight. I'm sure she'd love to meet and talk with you and your daughter too, to give you some insight and hope and resources for the road ahead. Lucy seems to be of that same grit and courage. There is so much that is beautiful ahead for her. Love to you!!

    1. I should correct that… she was legally blind when she came to college… couldn't see at night but could see well enough in the day but needed large print and large screened computers to get her work done. At 21 she went fully blind.

    2. Thank you for this post. I completely know what you mean by the darkness. I've recently been feeling the same way about my special needs son who is now in 3rd grade. As he gets older and has more testing done it is becoming obvious that he is just not going to get there cognitively and be able to keep up academically like other children his age. I've always hoped and believed in my heart that he would thrive this way so it's a harsh reality to begin to accept.

  7. Shawni, your description is beautiful and heartbreaking. I read it and I thought of Angel's Landing in St George. I'll never forget standing at the trailhead, looking up, and thinking, "We're going WHERE? There's no way! We'll never make it!" And that hike–it's something else! We'd come around a bend and see little wedges cut into the cliff side for our feet or a thin chain to grab onto and I'd almost decide to go back. But it wasn't an option so I just kept climbing, scared out of my mind. Then we reached the top and there were no words–it was just so amazing, nothing like it on earth. And part of what was so breathtaking wasn't just the beauty but the fact that we were mere inches away from falling to our deaths, but we'd made it. We were sore and sweaty and I'd lost my sunglasses, but what a view!

    I guess that's what I hope this trail will be like for the moms who are hiking with kids that have challenges. We're looking up at those steep trails and sheer cliffs and wondering how on earth we'll get there. We come around the bend and a specialist gives hard news (or no news) or we realize our child is struggling with a new problem and it seems impossible to keep going but we do. And I just have to believe that at some point we'll get to experience beautiful vistas with our kids that will make it all worth it. If angels are landing there, it must be a pretty amazing, right?

    Sorry, I had my own night at the zoo moment this week, complete with an upsetting letter from Stanford Medical Center…..so I'm hanging onto those chains for dear life and trying to keep my feet on the path, too. See you at the top, we've got this!

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