Lessons from Max

Having a son with special needs has taught me to stop obsessing about how my child doesn't measure up to other kids his age. It's something all parents should learn.

"He's Not Normal"

When my son, Max, was born and his doctors discovered brain damage, they told me he could have cerebral palsy and mental retardation, and that he might never walk or talk. So when he came home from the pediatric intensive-care unit two weeks later, I began watching him for the tiniest sign that something was wrong. Nothing escaped my eagle eye: Was he staring blankly into space or was he just mesmerized by the ceiling light? I couldn't call his doctor with every single "He's not normal" worry, so instead, I began comparing Max with other babies.

Uh-oh: Other Baby at the restaurant is able to hold a rattle and shake it. Max can't. Uh-oh: Other Baby at the mall is making cute cooing sounds. Max isn't. Uh-oh: Other Baby at the park is pointing at things he wants. Not Max. The comparisons ran like ticker tape through my head, mercilessly unstoppable.

I've always been a detail-obsessed person. It's why I'm the one who pays the bills in my marriage. It's why, as I gazed at our freshly painted porch the other day, I instantly found the spot the painter smudged. Being detail-oriented is something you like to have on your resume, but it is a nightmare when you have a challenged child. You not only notice everything, you can't stop yourself from looking. At night, I'd thumb through books on a baby's first year, reading the same chapters repeatedly in disbelief that Max was failing to do the things he should have been doing by this age. During the day, I'd check out child-development Web sites and read them hungrily, grateful if Max was behaving in any way close to the way he was "supposed" to. Often, the information would leave me heaving with sobs -- big, fat tears dripping onto my keyboard.

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