It was a perfect spring afternoon for sitting on the front porch, which is exactly what Lindsay Bryant and I did as we chatted about her family and their love for West Homewood. Lindsay and her husband Justin, along with their daughters Bentley (8) and Ally (5) have lived in their home on Oakmoor Dr. for nearly five years. We had so much fun talking as we waved at neighbors passing by, listened to kids laughing at Patriot Park, and simply enjoyed the breeze from the gigantic oaks towering over us.
Tell us about your family and how you landed in West Homewood?
Justin and I met each other in 2006 when we were asked to chaperone a youth ski trip. I loved how laid back and funny he was, and we really clicked. We started dating shortly after that trip and got married a few years later in August 2010, just three months after getting engaged. Our oldest daughter Bentley was born on October 30, 2012. My pregnancy and delivery were normal, and we were living the sleep deprived life, like most new parents. I had returned to work as a guidance counselor at Spain Park High School and began to notice that Bentley wasn’t hitting certain milestones. She had passed her newborn screenings, so it was puzzling at first, but I felt that something was wrong. After endless testing, we were told she was severely deaf and blind. Soon after, we were told she also had feeding issues that would affect her as well. She was not given a clear diagnosis, not that it matters, but her daycare did not have the resources to properly take care of her. I quit my career as a counselor and faced my new normal head on. Through all of this, we moved to Dothan, AL while Justin completed his residency in hospital administration. For 18 months, Bentley and I drove to Birmingham every Tuesday to visit The Bell Center and attend speech therapy at the Hear Center at Children’s. This was a grueling time for our family, but we learned that you will do what it takes to help your child. We moved back to Birmingham before Bentley was two, and we welcomed our second daughter Ally soon after.
Our connection with West Homewood began through the special needs program at Hall Kent Elementary. I actually didn’t realize that the neighborhood extended beyond Patriot Park. I was driving around one afternoon, and I found our house. The former owners had just put a For-Sale-By-Owner sign out in the front yard, and I called them that very afternoon.
How has Bentley changed your life?
Your perspective on life changes when you have a child with special needs, and there is no way for someone to fully understand that until they’ve gone through something like a loss or trauma. You grieve the life you planned as a family, and in a 20-minute span of hearing test results or a diagnosis, your dreams are ripped out from under you. In the beginning, I was so immersed in therapy and doctor’s visits and was just trying to keep my head above water. The hardest part of this journey is seeing other kids who were babies alongside Bentley now evolving and growing all the while knowing that she can’t keep up. Families naturally become involved with other families whose kids are participating in the same activities, and it’s hard to feel left behind. It is easy to be bitter if I go there, and sometimes my head and my heart don’t match. I would be bitter if it weren’t for prayer, my faith in Jesus, and our community.
At age three, Bentley also became chronically ill with a strain of coronavirus and aspirated in her sleep. She was unconscious and on a ventilator for three weeks at Children’s Hospital. She now has permanent atelectasis, which closes off the bottom of her left lung. She has chronic respiratory issues stemming from the virus, so we have been living the quarantined life long before it was cool. Long term hospital stays have been the norm for Bentley, but this year has been her healthiest, and we are so thankful for that gift.
How did you balance life as a mom of two amazing girls?
There’s beauty in both of our girls. They both bring life in their own ways to the family. Ally is our spunk, and Bentley loves her so much. Bentley says Ally’s name on her talker, which we love to hear. A lot of times, we are isolated and excluded in the ways we have to care Bentley. With Ally, it’s just the opposite. When Bentley doesn’t fit in the world, Ally does. It can be hard when you have two children who need very different styles of care and parenting. We walk a fine line between meeting Bentley’s needs which requires moving at a slow pace and the fast-paced needs of Ally who is our spunky, outgoing girl.
Is there an event that made you never want to live anywhere but West Homewood?
Yes, it was Ally’s first day of kindergarten in the fall of 2020. The first day of school is always hard for me. I get anxious and question whether or not we are making the right decision for Bentley. Coming out of the quarantine and choosing to send Bentley to school during the pandemic, was especially hard. When we pulled up to the school, Ally jumped out and never looked back. She hugged or high-fived every teacher and staff member on her way to her classroom like she owned the place. Two teachers who could see me crying in the car came up to me and assured me everything would be great. Every staff member at Hall Kent loves our girls, and it makes me so confident in the atmosphere they are going into each day. Moments like that make me realize how much I love this community.
I think to myself daily, “I never want to leave West Homewood.” Raising a chronically ill child has its limitations and forces you to be more isolated than you would like. Having the park and active small knit community of people who know my children allows us to come out of that isolation. Taking a lap around the park and having conversations with neighbors, fills our cup for the day. I need it. Justin, Bentley and Ally need it.
When you see people walking through the neighborhood who you haven’t met, what feelings does it generate?
The first word that comes to mind is “opportunity.” Opportunity to meet more people who are doing life in our community. It’s an opportunity for Ally to know more kids or to expose people to Bentley. I preach kindness and inclusion to my kids. When I see someone I don’t know, I want the Lord to show me an opportunity to be inclusive as well. I see an opportunity to welcome people, make friends, have real conversations, and to learn about others. That is ultimately what we are here for, right? If I meet a stranger, I feel like I’m their best friend until they tell me I’m not!
What memories are you making now that you know you'll cherish in the future?
We try to take full advantage of the weather. When the sun is out, the Bryants are out. We are not afraid of the 5 pm dinner outside in the yard, and we love anything that has to do with water. Music is the center of our family, whether it’s Ally’s nightly dance parties every night or Bentley strolling along to music on our walks. We live our life focused on Bentley due to her illness without stopping life and making the best of each day. We are all about some last-minute fun. We are super laid back but always ready for an adventure or emergency. We balance fun with knowing when to just sit and be. Our life takes lots of balance and grace.
How do you feel involved in West Homewood?
We feel very connected to the community through Hall Kent. I serve as the Room Mom for Ally’s class. We try to spend our money in West Homewood. You will find me at Nexus Fitness in the morning and our family at Ash or Pizzeria GM every weekend. I am about to become Buka’s biggest fan because I can grab a bottle of wine and walk home.
I also have a desire to advocate for Bentley by being out and about so our community gets to know her. Her joy is contagious, and it can change your perspective on life if you are around her. Chronically ill and special needs people don’t live in an accessible world, and for them to feel included, people have to go beyond being nice. I think our community can be a place where people understand that and want to get to know her. If you see her out and about with her hot pink cochlear implants, come say hi! She can hear you perfectly and would love to meet you!
If you could change one thing about West Homewood, what would it be?
The stigma. Prior to moving here, no one had mentioned this neighborhood to me. I like that people are real here. If things aren’t perfect, then that’s ok. My life is so far from perfect that it feels more comfortable here. You can be yourself, and individuality is valued.
What do you think West Homewood will look like in 20 years?
I think this community will always be welcoming and will have a small-town feel. While homes and businesses will continue to get face lifts, which can be a catalyst for bringing people out of their homes and strengthening our culture, I don’t think the heart of West Homewood will change. I don’t want it to.
We'd love to share your story if you live, work, or play in West Homewood.