Friday, January 25, 2013

The Milestone Competition

When Addison was a baby, I was obsessed with milestones and when they would occur. In fact, that was one of the things that truly devastated me during the prenatal diagnosis- the thought that she wouldn't "win" the unspoken mommy milestone race.

And then after she was born, I was firmly convinced that even though she had Down syndrome, she was still going to advance WAY faster than all other babies with Down syndrome because she was MY baby. (shake head at past version of myself)

When I would step onto carefully constructed soap boxes preaching this very thing but with a veil of pretend humility to Addison's therapists, they always got really quiet. They would remind me that she was struggling with a lot of health issues, and it was natural for her not to hit milestones for a while as her body fought just to get healthy.

For her first year, I let myself live in this mindset that I could somehow force my competitive spirit onto Addison, making her achieve faster because she was my daughter and surely she wouldn't let a little thing like Down syndrome slow her down. We would be the exception.

When Addison turned one, I started to really struggle. Addison wasn't walking. She wasn't even close to walking. I had walked as a baby at nine months, and I assumed that it was generous to tack on three more months to account for Down syndrome. But Addison didn't even care and continued along her merry way- sitting, somewhat crawling, or demanding to be carried. When I would try to push the skill on her and work with her, she would assume a limp rag doll posture. She was a master at the limp rag doll.

As that year progressed, she missed more milestones. A lot of them. In fact when we brought her baby brother home from the hospital when she was nineteen months old, not only was she still not walking, but she wasn't feeding herself/anywhere close to potty training/saying ANY words or signing much at all/or able to follow even the simplest of commands. It was like I had two newborns.

As I struggled to care for my two newborns and wiped away tears as her little brother smacked each milestone right on time like he owned the world, I finally let go. I was so busy loving my babies and meeting them right where they were at that I didn't have time to look ahead.

I let go of the competition. I let go of keeping track of "who did it first". I let go of those people who tried to passive aggressively make me feel bad by comparing my children's accomplishments to their own.

Because I realized that it didn't matter.

Carter is a master at milestones. Addison works for months and months before she attempts the same things. I love them both and when they do or don't accomplish big milestones hasn't affected that one bit.

Addison finally became a full time walker at 27 months. What did she take her first steps for? An unwrapped Hershey's kiss held just out of reach. I finally figured out that SHE had to be extremely motivated by something before she would give it the extreme effort that it took for her. Totally changed my approach to how I parent her.
It's not about me and my goals. It's not about any ideals I might have held about my children defining my success or failure. It's not about a frickin' number.

"Well, you meet every single job requirement for this your dream job, but there is one final question that we must ask you- HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU WALKED?"

Once the milestone passes and becomes a part of everyday life, we then start looking to the next milestone and pushing for that to happen faster. The faster we try to make this happen, the faster our babies turn into toddlers and our toddlers turn into tiny people who are ready for leave to that alien planet called "school". There's no end to this treadmill race. And while we run? Our lives pass us by.

My post the other day stirred some discussion in the Down syndrome community. Good discussion that accurately represents our differences in reality when it comes to Down syndrome. But it all reminded me of how competitive I was with Addison when she was a baby.

And for the first time in a long time, I really thought about the fact that there are other three year olds with Down syndrome who are way ahead of Addison. My "she's going to do amazing ANYWAY because she's MINE" somehow faded into "she's going to do her best and I'm going to support her every step of the way".

Addison isn't the most advanced three year old in the world? Addison isn't the most advanced three year old with Down syndrome in the world? I don't care. She is mine and we grow and learn together each step of the way even when each step takes far longer than I originally thought it would. Somehow in that extra waiting time, we get to know each other better and my unquestionably thin wall of patience grows just that much thicker. It's our journey as mother/child and no one can take that unique experience away from us.

I have stopped caring about milestone competition. It is just so not worth my time and energy. And I'm happy to have grown to this point. We'll consider it my own motherhood milestone. And what do you know...it took me forever to get here.

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