‘Have Courage, and Be Kind’

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by Helen Baldwin |

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yo-yoing | SMA News Today | main graphic for column titled "We're Not in Kansas Anymore," by Helen Baldwin, depicting a blue wave offset by green nature scenes

Being surrounded by tranquility and stunning scenery in the North Carolina mountains is a true blessing. A bonus is that our two grandchildren live down the road!

Clara, 5, and James, 3, entertain us all with their endless antics. It’s great fun for my husband, Randy, and me to spy glimmers of our son Matthew (Clara and James’ daddy) and our daughter Katie (their doting aunt) in their mannerisms and the things they come up with. Smart, funny, animated, and pretty cute, they’ve also each snagged some courage. Clara was diagnosed with Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, and James experienced a scary croup episode. Clara’s teachers have raved about her kindness toward others. Based on how royally James treats his MomMom (me!), I expect him to follow suit.

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One of the innumerable perks of grandparenting is indulging in the littles’ entertainment without — or perhaps despite — sticking out like a watermelon in a peanut bin. Visiting beloved Tweetsie Railroad, reading and acting out fairy tales, squealing at classic Disney movies, laughing at the relatable “Bluey,” conversing with stuffed dinosaurs, and so much more makes child’s play easy.

The live-action version of “Cinderella,” a story I’ve always loved, is one gem. The exquisite cinematography, special effects, and stellar cast make this a keeper.

As Cinderella’s mother hovers close to death, she attempts to comfort her devastated, young daughter. Her “famous last words” become just that: “Have courage, and be kind.”

It’s one of my favorites.


Randy and I were living in Columbia, South Carolina, when Matthew and Katie were born. Just before Matthew entered kindergarten and Katie turned 2, we shifted gears and moved to North Carolina.

Lenoir, home at that time to an abundance of furniture factories, wasn’t a particularly beautiful town. However, the folks were nice, and the pace was easy. A bonus was its location in the foothills of the spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains and other scenic treasures. This afforded quick trips up the mountain for picnics and snow sightings. What fun it was to so easily pretend we were on vacation, even if only for a few hours!

On the last day of 1995, we moved again — up that mountain and smack dab in the midst of cow pastures, wild turkeys, and Christmas tree farms. As Matthew and Katie had changed schools in Lenoir at the beginning of the school year, it took more than a dab of courage to leave friends behind again.

Thankfully, kindness from their old classmates, who wrote thoughtful letters, and their new ones, who welcomed them eagerly, helped immensely with the transition. The bounty of snow resulting in missed school days didn’t hurt.


Our third baby, Jeffrey, trumped his surprise arrival in 1997 with a diagnosis of SMA, sending our family scrambling for sufficient courage to do justice to our assignment. As our sweet little guy’s mama, I naturally assumed primary responsibility for his care. Matthew held him tentatively, albeit sometimes with the TV remote in hand. Katie was a mini mama from the get-go, snuggling and reading to her precious little brother as if no one else existed.

My mama duties were joined in short order by skilled nursing. Thank goodness I’d substituted frequently at Jo Kelly School in Fort Worth, Texas, before teaching kindergarten at Brockman School in Columbia. Both self-contained schools served students with orthopedic and multiple diagnoses, many of which had severe ramifications.

During my time at Brockman, courage was vital in dealing with the substantial medical needs of the often-fragile students. Kindness toward both students, trying their hardest, and weary fellow staff, doing the same, was equally essential.

I didn’t volunteer for skilled nursing duties of suctioning, tube feeding, and more as a teacher, but boy, did it come in handy as a mama to Jeffrey.

Actually, I didn’t volunteer for SMA duty, either. Between the indelible impact of Jeffrey’s brief earthly stint and the lifelines to other SMA families, though, what an honor it’s been. And it was made possible in large part by the courage of fellow SMA families and the kindness of family, friends, and strangers.

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The memories of 9/11 remain seared in the minds of anyone glued to the news that day. In disbelief at the incomprehensible loss of life and massive destruction, the courage of the first responders and kindness of everyday folks made our collective hearts swell with pride, respect, and a genuine sense of camaraderie with other Americans.

Alas, as we come off the 20th anniversary of 9/11, it often seems that courage and kindness are in perilously short supply in the big world. And then I see stories about courageous rescues of humans and animals, Davids standing up to Goliaths, and such tender acts of kindness toward others that my eyes well up. My heart does, too, and there’s hope.

Have courage and be kind.

It’s not just for Cinderella.

Courage and kindness / SMA News Today / A framed picture Helen made for her granddaughter, which depicts a fairy holding a wand and says, "Have courage and be kind."

A reminder for Clara’s room from MomMom (Helen), who plans to do one for herself some day! (Photo by Helen Baldwin)


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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