Lessons from Max

His Own Way

Then I had another baby: a completely healthy child who hit all of her milestones on time. One Sunday morning as our family lay in bed -- my daughter Sabrina was 8 months old, and Max almost 3 -- I watched as she waved a rattle, then I winced as Max struggled to grasp a small ball. My husband noticed my expression and said, softly, "Honey, stop."

I knew I had to. The truth was that Max would do things at his pace and in his own way. Comparing him with other children only made me severely anxious about his future, and did Max zero good. Plus, I was spending so much time observing other kids that I wasn't fully enjoying Max: his beautiful grin; his perseverance to keep at a task, no matter how hard it was for him; the way he'd stare so intensely when I read his favorite book, The Wheels on the Bus; his adorable fascination with peekaboo. Focusing on what he wasn't able to do only diminished all that there was to love about Max.

Max is 3 as I write this. He's just as smiley as ever. He makes sounds and knows several hand signs. He listens and understands when we ask him if he'd like to go outside to play or sit down to read a book. He loves to kiss his little sister. And although he has cerebral palsy, he's walking.

Sometimes I still compare him with other kids, especially at birthday parties. Yet when I'm at his special-needs school, I compare him in a different way: Max can walk without braces; Other Child can't. Max can do high fives; Other Child can't. This isn't a mean-spirited comparison at all: I am just in awe of how far he's come. Ultimately, celebrating Max's accomplishments is the best therapy for me. There's nothing like it when he gives me a big hug. The reality of his warm, happy little body yanks my mind back to the child in front of my eyes, not the child I hope he'll be.

From The Elephant in the Playroom: Ordinary Parents Write Intimately and Honestly About the Extraordinary Highs and Heartbreaking Lows of Raising Kids with Special Needs, edited by Denise Brodey and published by Hudson Street Press, 2007.

Copyright © 2007. Reprinted with permission from the July 2007 issue of Parents magazine.

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