I love The Story of Ferdinand. The little bull who is confident and content sitting under the cork tree, just smelling the flowers. He doesn’t feel pressure to be with the other bulls and fight like the other bulls. He is unique and different and fully okay with it.
The other day I was reading the story to the boys and it hit me, “My gosh, I think Ferdinand has special needs!” How did I ever miss this before? I learned this from the perspective of the momma.
Sometimes his mother, who was a cow, would worry about him. She was afraid he would be lonesome all by himself.
“Why don’t you run and play with the other little bulls and skip and butt your head?” she would say.
But Ferdinand would shake his head. “I like it better here where I can sit just quietly and smell the flowers.”
His mother saw that he was not lonesome, and because she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy.
Surely if Ferdinand’s mother, who was a cow, can be understanding, accepting, and not worry about her son so can I, who am a human.
I’ve been worrying a lot. Mostly about therapy and my son. It’s so easy to slip into the line of thinking that if only I give my child enough therapy, he will be forever changed and healed and overcome a wealth of challenges. He’ll fit in and he won’t be lonely.
We tend to hear the good stories. The stories of the parents of autistic children who went to the ends of the earth to find the best therapist, the most specialized program, spent insane amounts of time and money to uncover their child’s most extraordinary gift. Piano unlocked my child. Dancing unleashed my child. Running became an outlet for my child. Now these children can function and focus in society in a whole new way they never could have before. They are amazing stories of hope and inspiration.
My question however, is what happens if we pursue physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, feeding therapy, aqua therapy, music therapy, pet therapy, hippotherapy (horse back riding), and corrective exercise therapy (I just learned of this one) and my child doesn’t discover his amazing talents and abilities? What if he learns new skills but he doesn’t want to use them. What if he isn’t ever able to be in a typical classroom setting? What if I do all these therapeutic things to push him beyond who he is and he still never potty trains? Or speaks? What if he has is own agenda? (I’m pretty sure he does, by the way.) And for crying out loud, what am I going to do with all of these “what ifs?”
A couple of weeks ago I took Nathan to see a doctor of Physical and Rehabilitative Medicine. His role is to oversee the different types of therapy Nathan is receiving in light of his body structure, tone issues, and sensory tendencies. I was in the exam room with him well over an hour (God bless that man). He watched him “walk” in his gait trainer. He tried to get him to bear weight on his own. He stretched out his frog legs and tried to understand why he still prefers the fetal position.
When Nathan was on the exam table doing his Pilates moves, the doctor told me, “He has unusually strong quads for a twenty month old.” He placed his hands over his thighs and my son proceeded to pull himself into a seated position from flat on his back without using his hands. We looked at each other for a couple of seconds in shock and awe for how strong he is. He said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.”
Nathan is crazy strong. He is able to twist out of my arms no problem if he wants to get down from my lap. He is starting to crawl faster on his elbows and sometimes comes up on his hands. He’s so super close to pulling up on the couch all by himself. In fact, he pulled up on a toy once last weekend like a big boy. He’s in a huge developmental burst right now. One that I didn’t expect so early and with so many things happening all at once. No one prepared me for this. I’m still stuck on tapes playing in my head from the geneticist who told me that he may not walk. Not only is he going to be walking one day, he’s going to be running. And so will I.
His strength is his strength. He’s doing his own physical therapy.
After talking with the doctor, I felt affirmed that I don’t need to break my back taking him to physical therapy three times per week. He is doing so well gross motor wise. Much of what he is doing, he is doing because he wants to, not because I’m doing all of my PT homework everyday. He indirectly encouraged me to lay off the mom guilt and not worry about pushing him so hard.
This was good news. I needed to just rest in it for a bit. That’s not what I did though. The “what ifs” took over the little part of me that said hey, let’s camp out on the couch and rest for a second. The “what ifs” kicked me into higher gear. The “what ifs” told me that if PT doesn’t need to be our focus, something else does. I started scheming about how to squeeze in more speech therapy. I quickly convinced myself that communication should most definitely, without a question, no-doubt-in-my-mind be my next obsession for my son.
I fear his inability to communicate is what will lead to the most frustration for all of us. This kiddo is so motivated and so social. He studies everything Mac does and constantly tries to get his attention. He needs to learn how to speak!
It could be however, that Nathan decides that he doesn’t want to be like all the other bulls and learn how to talk. He may just want to run circles around the cork tree with his super strong quads. Can I come to terms with that?
I have a lot to learn from Ferdinand’s mother who saw her son for who he was. I realize I can want lots of things for my children that they never want for themselves. How do I work through the tension of these two forces? Because Nathan does need to be challenged to obtain skills that will help him function within our world, but he also needs to be freed to be who God made him to be. It involves a bit of pushing and a bit of letting go. And a lot of trusting God. That ultimately in His sovereignty, Nathan will be Nathan just as He planned long ago – whether it’s through insane amounts of therapy or a healthy, balanced dose of therapy.
So today I am practicing shutting out the “what ifs” and trying to become more in tune with who God made Nathan to be. How much push he thrives on and how much he needs me to lay off so he can be his version of the bull who sits under a cork tree smelling the flowers… Or gnawing on a sopping wet toy all day long as is more likely his bent.
…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…Consider him…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” -Hebrews 12:1-3
My book, Beauty in Broken Dreams: A Hopeful Handbook for the Early Years as a Special Needs Parent, is now available on Amazon!
Also be sure to check out my list of Favorite Books on Disability!