With the exception of birth, my oldest child had never been early for a milestone. Some caused concern, even with his doctors. Others seemed small or inconsequential and were easy to brush off. But it was the combination of them all together that seemed big.
With each milestone he achieved later than other kids his age, I couldn’t help but think back to his early birth. I couldn’t help thinking that something happened. Something that couldn’t be detected at the time but was gradually showing itself now.
At 17 months, when he still wasn’t walking, not all the “he’ll be fine”s in the world could calm my worry. Seemingly sensing that my worry was at a fever pitch – he took his first steps.
His next large milestone not progressing at the proper pace was his speech. We discussed it with his doctors, had consultations with specialists and performed screenings at Cincinnati Children’s. The conclusion was always the same: sure – he is behind, but he’ll be ok.
Despite this, questions (even from a stranger on a playground during a beach vacation in Charleston) persisted. I would smile and nod and share with them what the doctors said.
At home I’d reflect on the conversations in tears. I’d tell my husband that I didn’t know what else to do.
The questions doubled the pain: expanding my worry from “is my baby ok?” to “is my baby ok and am I a bad mother? Am I not doing enough?”
We danced that subtle line of doing all the right things and advocating for our child while trusting our instincts as to whether more was needed.
Again and again, we were told to be aware but not to worry – that he would catch up. But trying not to worry about your child, is like trying to stay dry while standing in the rain without an umbrella.
I was constantly looking for signs to show that he is ok. A sign that nothing was sacrificed by his early entry into the world. That he really did just need time to catch up. That it was nothing more severe.
In the fall of 2015, he entered preschool timidly. He had just become a big brother for the second time and was a giggly chatterbox in our home. Yet at school, he only engaged in side-by-side play, limited social interaction and they were unable to understand him.
The teachers came to me worried. We talked at length. I took them through the laundry list of things we had done, the feedback from friends and family, the doctors’ opinions and our gut instincts as his parents.
They listened and believed me: that our little boy was fine, but just needed more time to blossom.
Under their guidance, he did. They loved him, they watched him and they kept me updated. (Side note: I am forever thankful for Ms. Stefani and Ms. Wegmann for listening and hearing me and believing in our little boy.)
We saw our boy change. I started to feel vindication that my little belief that he was fine wasn’t a dream, but our reality. That one doctor’s theory was right: that maybe while other 15 month olds were learning how to walk – he was learning how to be a big brother to the new baby in his house.
Almost 9 months after he started his preschool class, we finally had our big sign that he was more than ok. At 3 and half years old, he road his bike, without training wheels, all by himself, down our street.
I pumped my arms in the air. I exclaimed, “Keep pedaling, Keep pedaling. Keep going. Keep going as far as you can. Keep going – you’re doing so good!” I danced with excitement and glanced back at my husband who caught the moment on video which also captured our boy’s large knowing smile. He knew what he had done was a big deal.
For any parent, riding a bike is one of those moments mixed with pride, excitement and accomplishment. For us, it was more than that. It was the first milestone he hit early. The first time he did something before the other kids in his age group did.
He had combined the strength to pedal and balance, the courage to overcome fear and the resilience to try again and again.
It was him showing me that he’s just fine.
As much as everyone’s verbal reassurances that he was fine resonated in my mind, my heart needed to see it.
We’re all programmed to think we progress on the same scale as we annually advance in school. The the truth is – we learn and we go at our own pace.
But while we are moving along at our own pace, I am so grateful for the doctors and medical professionals that help us navigate those times when something more might be wrong.
Our story is easy. Others have experiences that are not so easy and require more medical intervention. This is one amazing family who is giving back in the best way. If you are in Cincinnati, and looking for something to do this weekend – attend their event!
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