A few weeks ago my day care provider said that my daughter walked kind of funny and recommended that I see a doctor. "She's a year and a half!" was all I could think. What toddler doesn't walk funny? I started to dismiss it but then remembered how frustrated I get at parents who ignore my recommendations to see their doctor. So, out of a professional courtesy we made an appointment.
Sure enough, my doctor thought that well, maybe my daughter did need physical therapy.
So much has gone through my head since the PT recommendation. At first I was calm and collected about it. What's a little PT? That sounds great! I still don't see how she's walking funny, but from everything they show on the PT website it looks like lots of fun. It can't hurt, and selfishly I'm excited to see what private PT is like. Sure, we'll go. Look at me being the calmest parent in the world, I thought. This is nothing to worry about!
Then I was going through files of students at my school and found a student with significant developmental issues who was diagnosed with the same thing that my pediatrician suspects my daughter may have. I couldn't sleep for days. What does this mean? My wonderful, perfect daughter may have something going on beyond PT concerns? Then, I did what every concerned parent does. I Googled.
Worst. Mistake. Ever.
Fifteen minutes on the internet had me convinced that my daughter has serious problems. After an hour I was curled up on the floor crying.
Finally I remembered my daughter herself, her smile, her laugh, her toes, the sparkle in her eye, her delight at being outside and playing with friends. I pushed aside my daughter-on-paper, or symptoms-on-internet thoughts and just focused on her. And everything became clear.
How is it we get so caught up in what's normal, what's above average, what's intelligent and what's not as parents? The world of Facebook, Google, mommy blogs and twitter lets us know how far advanced everyone else's kid are. The mere passing breeze of an idea that a child might not be "normal" sends us into a panic. And as a teacher I see it in school as well. So often we want to jump and label a child as "different" and "needs help" instead of accepting them for who they are and moving forward from there.
Sitting in on special ed meetings with parents I often try to go out of my way to show the parent how much we love their child. Because we do. It's easy at those meetings to get focused on how the child is different than everyone else in their class. It's easy to make a list of everything their child needs to do to catch up or become normal. But part of those meetings must be to find time to step back and talk about the great qualities the child has. To remember that we are talking about a human being that we are privileged to get to work with each day. To tell stories that show the child's strengths instead of just the needs.
They are still our children. They still have hopes and dreams and favorite colors and books that make them giggle. There is no reward out there for the child who can count to 100 by 2 years, or the child who can write her name at 3. That's great and wonderful, but it doesn't make the children that can't "behind". There is no race.
I recently finished reading Glennon Melton's book, Carrier On Warrior (Glennon was a teacher at The Think Tank years ago. We overlapped by two years- I didn't know her well, we really only ran into each other at optional Responsive Classroom meetings). She talks about her hopes for her own children in school that aren't about academics, but instead about being good people. About being caring and nice friends who look out for their peers and speak up to injustice and bullies. Academics will come, she writes. Sometimes when we worry about our children's academic achievements we forget to enjoy them where they are.
In my midst of worrying about Little Lipstick's possible walking issues (that may or may not be indicative of something far greater) I forgot to enjoy her for HER. I missed a good week of her life worrying about her when I could have been laughing beside her, tickling her, reading to her, and just being amazed in her individual, daily development. Whether or not her walking will be indicative of something greater is not something that needs to keep me up at night. It will be what it will be. What she needs is someone that will love her for her, fight for her, and give her whatever support she needs so that she can do hard things. It's what any kid needs.
Every parent should be able to clear their head from what the rest of the world expects and enjoy their child's own achievements and personality. Every child deserves parents who adore every move they make because they are amazing human beings and not because it's better than what anyone else did at daycare.
Tomorrow we go to our PT appointment. Part of me is excited to see what private PT looks like. I'm excited to see the equipment and to have the experience. And part of me is terrified that going there will push us down a rabbit hole we'll never get out of. The worry is silly and illogical, but unmistakably there.
It's hard to write this over such a seemingly small issue. We're not struggling with an autism diagnosis, or a down syndrome diagnosis, or a traumatic brain injury. But I am acutely aware of my emotions over something so small and how the parents I work with, who have gotten much more significant diagnosis must have felt, and how they must be dealing with these emotions constantly. It's an anxiety I want to understand better in myself so that I can help the parents I work with to appreciate their children for who they are.