I just heard a story about optimists and pessimists who took an exam. The pessimists were found to be more realistic. The pessimists scored just as they had anticipated they would. The optimists thought they did better than they actually scored. However, over time, the optimists surpassed the pessimists in that they were more motivated to continue with their ongoing anticipation of improved results.
When Wil was a baby, I was told that life will only get harder when he grows older. I understood what I was being told, but I could not find it in myself to view our life that way.
When Wil was 3-months-old, a physical therapist visited our house on a weekly basis to work with Wil and show me exercises to work on with him. Wil was what the doctors called “floppy” which meant he had low muscle tone. When he laid on the ground, his legs bowed out due to his low tone. Wil’s physical therapist told me about little lycra biking shorts with the inseams sewn together made just for babies with low tone. The intention is to hold the legs together to help strengthen them. Wil’s physical therapist happened to have a pair of these shorts that another family had given her to pass on to someone else. She said we could use them, but wondered if I would be bothered if they were neon pink. When she put them on Wil, we both burst out laughing!
Wil looked so cute in those bright, little pink shorts. The sight of him smiling up at me was all I could handle, and I so needed that smile then. Those little, neon pink shorts always gave the therapist and I a little chuckle and lightened the heavy feelings I had at the time. Wil’s diagnosis was still new to me. I had so many questions swirling in my head. When would Wil walk? Would he walk? Would he talk, would he read, what would his life look like as he got older? My twin girls were not even two-years-old at the time and very active. It was challenging to work with Wil and keep the girls occupied at the same time. I was so scared of falling behind on something knowing Wil was already developmentally behind, but the twins needed much of my attention, too. It was an overwhelming time to say the least adjusting to this new life. It may seem silly, but those neon pink biker shorts brought a much needed smile when Wil and I worked together on his gross motor skills, and the smile the therapist and I shared added to our bond.
When I asked Wil’s physical therapist when Wil would walk, she responded, “When he is ready.” There was so much ambiguity surrounding me, a concrete answer would have grounded me in a way. But there was no such answer available. With typical children, milestones vary, but not nearly as greatly as kids with Down syndrome.
Soon, I started to find ways to incorporate Wil’s therapy into our daily play, and the girls enjoyed helping. Though the date Wil would walk was still a big question in my mind as we delved into our daily routine, I found myself enjoying this process. The ambiguity was still there, but not the force it once was.
When Wil did finally walk, we all celebrated and the therapist even exclaimed that it was sooner than she anticipated. It was a very good day, indeed. But I learned something through this process. This excitement wasn’t just about Wil walking. Wil’s walking was also about the friendship I developed with Wil’s physical therapist. It was about learning how to take his therapy exercises that once seemed so overwhelming and blend them into play with Wil’s sisters. With time, with patience, with joined purpose, along with the help of bright pink neon biker shorts, we all celebrated in Wil’s walking.
After Wil walked, he began to excel in large motor skills, so we focused more on his speech and fine motor skills. The challenges do not end, they only change with time. So it is for all of us. Most recently, we have needed to adjust Wil’s course in school. He was on a high school diploma track, and now he is on the track to certificate of completion. The diploma track is just not the right fit for Wil. That fact would have hurt me greatly if I could have somehow looked into the future when Wil was a baby. Not today though. We have gotten to this point day-by-day-by-day, step-by-step, challenge-by-challenge, success-by-success. I am so proud of Wil and all he has accomplished. He reads, does double digit addition and subtracts with the use of a number line. We approach everything with great optimism. There are goals that have been greatly achieved, and others that need to be adjusted as we make our way through time. These adjustments are never time lost, only time learned. There is never giving up, only realigning and readjusting. Staying flexible while forging forward.
I don’t believe the pessimists mean-spirited when they say life is only going to get harder as Wil gets older. In fact, I think they are trying to protect me with their realistic views. But what they don’t understand is my enthusiasm is derived directly from the challenges. It’s in the day-to-day living of these challenges that I have discovered the creative gifts life delivers and that is what drives my enthusiasm. If that leads them to believe I wear rose-colored glasses they would be greatly mistaken. Why would I want boring, single-viewed lenses when life has already shown me it can deliver neon pink biker shorts?