In 2002, I had my second son, Jack, who was deemed my miracle baby. We already had two children, one which we adopted because we were told having more biological children would be slim to none. Jack was a dream. He was happy, laid back, an excellent sleeper, and nursed on schedule. I could have not asked for a more pleasant babyhood but shortly after he turned one we discovered he had a host of developmental delays. He could not sit up unassisted. He could not crawl. He did not eat solid foods and he said no words. I was so enthralled with having a good baby and living with the illusion he would eventually catch up that I sorta ignored those milestones he should have been meeting.
At around 15 months old Jack began early intervention. He had physical and occupational therapy twice a week and speech therapy once a week. I remember feeling insecure and embarrassed that some how his delays were a reflection on me. My confidence was under-minded as a parent. I questioned what I could have done differently to have prevented this. While I had missed cues of Jack’s developmental delays his delays were the result of other problems that were not caused by me or any one thing. They just were.
This is not a story about Jack. Well, it sorta is, but it’s more about me and Mr. K and how we had to let go and let things move in a direction that made us uncomfortable and that caused Jack pain. Yes, you read that right, pain.
In the months that followed after Jack’s diagnosis I got to watch my happy and laid back son cry and scream in frustration and physical pain nearly every day. It was gut wrenching. Physical therapy at times was grueling and we did his exercises three times a day like clock work. Occupational and speech therapy some days left me crying in the closet and bumming cigarettes off my neighbor. My sweet baby would cut me sad eyes and sometimes fight through the exercises we had to do.
And people were assholes. How could I? Didn’t Mr. K and I see how painful it was? Could we not see his suffering? Poor Jack. Surely there was another way. A better way. A less painful way.
And then Jack crawled. He crawled on our hard wood floors. He sat up unassisted. He learned to stack blocks and babble sounds and eat baby food. The hard work was paying off. The tears and the screaming were worth it (on both our accounts).
Then it came time for him to learn to walk. The physical therapy was harder. More pain. Harder exercises. More screaming and crying and frustration. And a long with this came more judgment. I had to get tougher. I had to learn to withstand the crying and the screaming and the begging to be picked up rather than learning to pull up on his own or move from place to place by himself.
Scuffed knees, bruises, and one angry toddler who could not toddle. I was called cold and insensitive. One mother said I was ignoring my child’s emotional needs by forcing him. My terse response was that I wanted my son to walk.
And one day, and I remember it like it was yesterday, Jack stood up on his own in the middle of our living room. The look of amazement on his face was a bit of heaven and our best reward after months and months of hard work. We were so happy and he was so happy.
Then he fell.
On his face.
And chipped his front tooth which had gone through his lip.
I rushed to my crying baby and Mr. K grabbed a wet rag but one of the things I said was how proud I was of him. We continued to say how proud we were with beaming smiles. That is right. I wasn’t going to let a busted lip and some blood ruin this profound and monumental moment because I wanted Jack to do it again. I wanted him to stand again. I wanted my soon to be two year old to walk. I didn’t want his or our hard work to stop because of a fall.
We decided to let our son fall and fall often. I pushed the furniture up against walls and I made it harder for him to hang on to things to guide him through the house as he learned to take his first steps. On hardwood and concrete floors. I carried him less and less.
Eventually Jack let go. He walked without falling. He learned to pick himself up over and over again. There was less crying and complaining. Eventually there was no more need for a physical therapist.
Jack remembers none of this. All he has is mine and his father recollection and the chipped tooth that I saved in a small glass jar. Jack went through three more years of speech therapy before he could clearly talk. Today you would never know that he was developmentally delayed or couldn’t string a sentence together well until age 5.
I tell this story to encourage other parents not to shelter their children so much that they hinder them from growing and achieving their full potential. Yes, they are only little once, but with that same token they deserve to have the fullest life possible. And sometimes that means making the tough choices that might involve discomfort and tears.
Parenting is not about taking the easiest route possible. You do your children a disservice when you don’t make them do the hard things, when you shelter them from the bumps, bruises and falls, and create a safety net to fully living.
So, let them fall so that they may rise to their full potential.