Her tiny hand grasps tightly at a few of my fingers. With wobbly legs beneath her, our daughter Evelyn sways her hips far too much to the right; her body spins and falls as if she is being sucked down a bathtub drain. Still clinging to her, I hoped to save her from the floor. My fear for her spiraled up as she spiraled to a prone position on the rug. Waiting for the loud wail, it never came. She looked up at me and smiled.
“Up,” she said thrusting her dominant left arm back in my direction.
Letting my own muscles unclench, I reach down and grab both her hands. Despite my worries that she would get hurt, she did not. My guilt for unintentionally pulling her arm as gravity won the battle dissipated–it was clear she did not dislocate a shoulder like my immediate thoughts believed. Even as she needs help learning to walk, she does not need me to protect her from the falls.
Evelyn has gross motor delays and as a two-year-old cannot stand or walk independently. This challenge prevents her from getting out of bed, getting herself dressed, running on the playground, and going to see the newest exciting toy dangling from the store shelf. She depends on us to bring her shoes to her, help her climb the stairs, and get up on the playground equipment.
Acceptance of letting go and leaving space for her learn for herself is my greatest challenge in this battle against her gross motor delay. As much as I want to save her from stumbling, it is this struggle that fuels her drive to do it again. Being a strong-willed toddler is a parental challenge when she will not put on a shirt because she simply does not want to, twists her head away from us when she knows she has to take her antibiotic, or cries “Dada!” when it is Mama who is trying to get her out of the carseat. Facing her illogical logic is as frustrating as trying to fill a sieve with water. But when it comes to how she is learning how to walk, this trait is crucial.
One year ago, I posted a picture of Evelyn as she finally achieved being on her knees to reach her toys. It felt like it would never happen; I was convinced she would have to sit to play forever. Her tenacity to reach the music and lights proved me wrong.
Today we worry she will never walk independently. Most of the time, it seems her progress has stalled even though we put in hours of time going through her therapy exercises. Revisiting that picture from last summer reminded me that her progress is huge, it just appears small when we are constantly in the trenches.
These snapshots from the past are my best indicators of just how far we have come. Our hard work is worth it, even when it feels hopeless. One day, Evelyn will run into a store and pull that toy off the shelf. She will be able to get out of bed and pull out the shirt she wants to wear to school. She will climb up the stairs. She will run around the playground, climb up to the slide, and swing carefree across the monkey bars. While it pains me that I cannot do these things for her, I know she will do all of it. She will smartly utilize our assistance–but it will be on her terms.