Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Memorable Moments

As parents, our lives are filled with many memorable moments of the first time our children walk, talk, smile, and countless other accomplishments that make us wonder at the incredible journey we take together as a family. As the parent of a child whose early life history has been so marked with difficulties and obstacles, our memorable moments at times appear almost like miracles. We have had two of them this month, neither of them marked as a memorable moment when the moment began. Only after they happened did Erik and I look at each other, with tears in our eyes and say, wow.

Because of Alex's disabilities, he has trouble getting up and down stairs, onto beds, chairs and couches, in and out of car seats. His ability to balance and move the needed muscles for these activities is limited. He improves every year, and thanks to his sister, Izzy, he sees what he could do with some courage and practice. Izzy says, "C'mon Alex! I'll show you how." Alex has long accepted that his sister is a phenomenal athlete and gifted climber and so doesn't take it personally that she is younger but more agile.

So, a couple weeks ago at our summer place in New Hampshire, we met up with Relf, the gentleman who built our stone walls and steps that lead down an incredibly steep hill from our deck to the waterfront. He had just finished this project, which had taken all summer and which we put off starting for years. In other words, years have gone by when we were unable to use our waterfront and, if we ventured down there for some reason, had to carry Alex while Izzy slowly made her way down. Relf, who built the stairs, had become a part of our family since he pretty much lived at the site all summer, working away with enormous rocks and stone steps, trying to finish before the season was completely over. It was our last weekend in NH for the year, and Alex had just turned 4.

We stood at the top of the deck and looked down at the water, and I suggested that Alex take his inaugural walk down all of the steps to the waterfront, without being held or supported in any way. Relf stood by collecting the last of his things. Alex started his journey. Scared at the height and the new steps he had to navigate, Alex gave some protest, but continued working his way slowly down a few dozen stairs, over the stone pathways between steps. Meanwhile, Izzy popped up and down the steps, like a gazelle, to the water and back to Alex, then back to the water. After a painfully slow journey, Alex finally put his feet on the dock at the water, and we all cheered. I hugged Alex and realized that one of my dreams had come true. When we learned early on that Alex might spend his life in a wheelchair, we immediate thought of our beloved lake and cried over how he would make it down to the water and enjoy being in one of the most peaceful places on earth. We knew we would make his path accessible, whatever that meant. This summer, thanks to Relf, we finally fulfilled that promise, and Alex did his part to work his body to make it down. We will never forget his first journey to the water.

Another moment happened last week. Alex's karate instructor, Sensei Bagwell, asked Alex to visit one of his classes, where he teaches high level belts. He wanted Alex to recite the names of the belts in Korean, forward and backward, to provide a lesson to his students that with some work, they might learn the belts. When we arrived, we thought we would just pop in, let Alex do his thing (his memory is phenomenal, and we think possibly photographic). But then Sensei started introducing Alex, and talked about when he first met Alex, and how far Alex has come with his karate and balance and use of his left side. He then asked his students who could recite the belts. A few raised their hands. Then he asked who could recite them backwards. Hands went down. Then he grabbed Alex, who giggled and grinned from ear to ear, in love with being in the spotlight. Loud and clear, Alex recited the belts forward and backward, quickly and accurately. Alex's natural charm and mastery of language shone in his spotlight. He chatted up Sensei and made a few comments to the class. He was adorable and amazing at the same time. We were all in tears. Sensei let me speak to the class about Alex's tough early start. As always, I emphasized the importance of exercise to the development of the brain and the body's ability to overcome physical limitations and I reminded the students that through hard work they would achieve anything they set their minds to do. Then we got into the car and came home.

"Wow, Alex," I said in the car. "Do you realize what a charmed life you live? You bring us these incredible moments, out of the blue, that Daddy and I will never forget."

Alex just fussed that he wanted to go back and join the karate class, completely oblivious that he had just knocked the socks off of everyone in the room. Then he fell asleep. It was nap time.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Value of the Week: Courage

The value of the week this week is courage. It is one of the children's favorites. They love to hear stories of how they find the courage to do this and that, and really can't get enough of it. But this week, we are talking about courage in terms of honesty, which was last week's value. Really, we are talking about character, and how it takes courage to build it.

Milk gets spilled, toys get broken and modeling clay gets embedded into the rugs. We are a house of children. There are times when I find myself getting angry about these issues. I say things like, "Who spilled the milk on the rug?" to which the guilty party honestly answers, "me", and then I lecture about not bringing milk into the living room. At three and four, you still tell the truth most of the time, because you haven't really learned to lie yet...but dishonesty is right around the corner, especially if you know you will be in trouble for telling the truth. So, I've had to work hard at staying calm. The new conversation goes, "Who spilled the milk on the rug?" and when someone says "me", I hug him or her and say "Thank you for telling the truth." Sometimes I even call Daddy, and let him praise the honest child for being honest. You really can rarely go too far in instilling values.