I remember those first steps. So unsteady. So unsure. But so ready. Little chubby knees bending just enough to move sweet little feet forward by a couple of inches at a time. His diaper-padded bottom landing with a thud on the floor accompanied by a look of shock in his wide blue eyes. But with determination and tenacity, he clumsily stood back up, wavered for a second, then tried again. Sometimes it seems like it was just yesterday that he fell into my arms as he learned to walk. Other times, it feels like it was a lifetime ago. He’s come so far.
Now, my 10 year old son is only a little over 3 months away from starting middle school. 6th grade. The dreaded junior high. I don’t think I know anyone who has ever said how wonderful and awesome middle school was for them. I feel a bit anxious about it, but middle school is not what this post is about.
There are so many “big” things in Sam’s future. Eight years ago, it was entering preschool that provided services in class for his autism. Then it was entering kindergarten in a mainstream classroom because he was too high functioning for the schools with specific special-needs programs. Four years later, we moved to a new state where he entered 5th grade in a new school. And now, he’s about to go to middle school. Then high school. Then college, if that’s what he wants to do. Maybe even graduate school.
Scattered throughout all those “big” turning points are smaller milestones he has learned, celebrated just as much as the “big” things, like reading, writing, and riding a bike; and there are of course still more he has yet to learn, like tying his shoes, and maybe, hopefully, one day driving. Each and every one of those milestones were achieved by taking a thousand baby steps toward the goal. Sam worked so much and so hard in therapy when he was diagnosed at age 2 as he baby-stepped his way to preschool learning to talk and communicate.
Every good day, every meltdown, and every accomplishment, no matter how small, were baby steps to where he is now.
Sometimes, just like when he was a baby, he falls down. But one of the things I love about Sam is that he gets himself back up and keeps going. He keeps trying. We encourage him to keep inching forward, and sometimes, he takes those baby steps on his own as we watch from a short distance with trepidation and amazement, our minds willing his foot to plant securely and safely with every step he takes.
It hurts our hearts watching our babies fall down, no matter how old they are. And sometimes, it even hurts our hearts watching them try because we’re scared of watching them fall down again and we want to protect them (and ourselves) from all harm. But it wouldn’t be life without a few knee scrapes. It wouldn’t be an accomplishment if there weren’t hurdles to overcome. Trials to win. Work through which to persevere. Sorrows to truly know joy.
It’s all too easy to get impatient with our kids. To want them to sprint ahead, or jump over the mud puddles of life to get ahead faster, or just to keep up with other “typical” kids their age. But we all know the story of the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady wins the race, even if it means trudging through the mud puddles. And we parents with kids with special needs know all to well that there is no triumph too small to celebrate. Don’t overlook the little things because you’re waiting for the next “big” thing, whatever that looks like in your child’s life.
Keep encouraging them in each baby step they take. One day, they’ll all add up.
It’s not always easy. It’ll still hurt when they fall. But with every bandaid, and with every tear dried away, they take a few more tiny steps toward whatever goal is in front of them. And before you know it, they’re miles away from where they first began. For every mile behind them, there are thousands of baby steps that got them there. And baby steps is what they will keep taking to reach hundreds more.
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