When you have a baby, you celebrate every milestone. It is a thrill to see your kid learn to do something. I often cheer loudly and clap for small and even silly things for all our kids, such as cleaning up the living room or eating every piece of broccoli. Sometimes it's just to make them smile, or to distract them from a possible tantrum. They think I'm goofy and it works for us. This past week Jasen and I were thrilled to clap and yell for Lilli at the neighborhood pool. Lilli has learned to float in a swim ring, but this week she started to slowly kick her legs to purposely move herself through the water. Keep in mind she is seven, and up until this week, her legs dangled motionless in the pool. Just like when we taught Lilli to crawl by moving her arms and legs for her at 15 months old, we had been moving her legs in the water and saying, "Kick!" I do not know how long we had been doing this. Things stretch on with Lilli for months, years. But the light bulb finally went on this week, and she can get herself over to the wall by kicking her legs.
This is a really big deal to us. Is she swimming? No. But I can't describe how huge it is for me to see her kick her legs and propel herself over to the wall with smiles and determination. It is the beginning of something new. It is a different kind of milestone. It is a milestone I did not even know was a possibility. Last summer, we were holding Lilli in the pool and teaching her to use the swim ring. A few years back before that, she was crying in her life jacket in a therapy pool in Virginia. How did I know she would get to this point? I didn't.
This made me realize the difference between how I celebrate each of my kids and their accomplishments. Four year old Chloe has learned to swim with a life jacket, and she is all over the pool now. We clapped and cheered for Chloe. I am super proud of her. Right now we are working on bike riding and losing the training wheels. But it's different with Chloe and Josh. I just, well, I expect them to learn these things. I assume that even if it takes them a long time, they WILL learn how. That's just all a part of growing up for them.
But with Lilli I think, she MIGHT learn how. Maybe. If we work on it for a really, really long time, she just might learn how.
I guess it is partly that I don't want to set myself up for disappointment, and partly that I don't want to put pressure on Lilli to learn something she is just not capable of doing. But how do I know where to set that limit? I don't. No one does. When the doctors told us she would never walk as she lay there in the NICU, just a few days old with brain damage, how did they know? If we had listened to them, we would never have tried so hard to teach her how to walk. When Lilli was two years old and crawling everywhere, I could not see into the future and know that all of our efforts would pay off just one year later. She took her first wobbly steps across the room at age three. When Lilli had a bad seizure and could not eat solid food, I had no idea that I would be pureeing her food for 3 long years in a Magic Bullet. But now she is eating chicken and green beans like the rest of us. She is even swiping chicken nuggets from Josh's high chair tray. When Lilli learns to do something new, it is a completely different kind of celebration. It is a gift. It is a miracle. And it is a reminder to everyone that we should never set limits on what our kids can do. Or more accurately, on what God can do.
I have had many experiences with people looking at me as if I am just this sorry, in-denial mother who does not realize her poor kid has brain damage. I noticed it recently when I made a comment about Lilli and someone bit their tongue and looked away with a kind of "that woman is on another planet" expression. I have seen that expression dozens of times. Even from Lilli's own teachers and therapists. I don't care. I would rather live for the possibility of miracles than settle for realistic limitations. Ask me if I think Lilli will talk someday. What do you think I will say?