I'm delighted to share one of our Parent Talk columns from the December issue of BLOOM. It's written by Ellen Seidman. Many of you know Ellen as the mom to Max (above) and Sabrina who blogs at Love That Max. Ellen, who lives in New Jersey, was named one of Babbles Top 50 Mom Bloggers of 2010. Read below and you'll see why! Louise
Learning to love the baby steps
by Ellen Seidman
I am sitting at the kitchen table with my son Max, watching him move a purple crayon over a white piece of paper. Max is grasping it with all his might, trying to make it do what he’d like it to.
This doesn’t come easy: Max has cerebral palsy, which affects his ability to use his hands. Suddenly, Max draws a squiggly circle. “YEAAAAAAH, MAX!” I squeal as my heart does a happy dance. “That’s a really great circle, buddy!” Max beams at me.
A seven-year-old drawing a circle would mean nothing to most moms. To me, it is a true feat. When you have a child with special needs (or ‘special powers,’ as I like to say), achievements like these are no small things; every single one is A Big Deal. It’s just taken me a long time to appreciate them.
Like any expectant mom, I looked forward to the gigantic joys that would come my way when I had a baby, from first word to first step. Then Max had a stroke at birth. Doctors told my husband and I the worst: Max might never walk or talk. He could have mental retardation along with hearing or vision problems. Cerebral palsy was a real possibility. They didn’t give us a whole lot of hope.
That first year with Max was the bleakest of my life. I constantly watched his movements, anxious that I would spot stiffness (a sign of cerebral palsy) and aching for him to ‘do’ things. I read and reread What To Expect The First Year and endlessly googled information about infant development. I had my mind set on the major stuff: babbling, talking, walking. I kept hoping Max would act like a typical kid. I desperately wanted him to be a typical kid.
My friend Hope had her son the same month Max was born. When our boys were four months old we decided to learn infant massage – seemingly a good thing for any baby – and chipped in to hire an instructor to come to my house and show us the way. The instructor frowned as she maneuvered Max’s little limbs. “He’s got some stiffness,” she said. I was crushed: Even when it came to massage, Max wasn’t going to be like other kids.
Birthday parties for friends’ tots were a certain kind of torture. I’d watch all the other babies crawling around, and wonder when and if Max would ever do that. His muscles were too weak for him to get up on all fours. But he had determination and at 20 months he started commando crawling (picture an army soldier in combat). That was the first time I realized that even if Max wasn’t doing the exact thing I’d been hoping for, he was doing it, just in his own way – and on his own timeline.
On his third birthday, Max took a step from my arms into my husband’s. Perhaps you heard us shouting “YEAHHHH, MAX!!!” We both cried. Finally: a milestone. No, a miracle, because by then we knew Max had cerebral palsy. Within months, he was walking.
Those big kind of advances were few and far between. Yet as time went by, and I acquired patience and acceptance I never thought I’d have, I realized that setting my sights on big milestones would only set me up for disappointment. And so I learned to relish the ‘inchstones,’ as I’ve heard them called.
There was the day when Max, 4, picked up a spoon for the first time and fed himself chocolate pudding (what a glorious mess). And the day when Max, 5, spotted the car waiting outside our home to take us to the airport and Disney World, and before we could stop him he flew down the stairs by himself – something just as memorable as our trip. And the other day, when I called home while I was away and Max was getting ready for bed; the babysitter put him on the phone and said, “Tell Mommy you’re getting dressed” and he said, clear as anything, “Getting dressed.”
Two clearly-spoken words: Now that’s something to celebrate.
Photo by Yasmeen Anderson.