Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Teaching him to slow down for her

It was time to pick Addison up from school. The day started off with a gorgeous fall cool, so my tiny gang and I dressed appropriately in sweaters and fleeces. But now at pickup time- it was warm.

Normally I load Carter up in the wagon or I let him pull the wagon, and we begin the long hike down to Addison's playground to pick her up.

But I was feeling confident this morning. Carter and I spent all morning at stores- practicing obedience. Staying by mommy without being buckled or strapped down somehow, listening, responding, counting to three- he was acting like such a big boy.
Ready to walk with my little man on this beautiful fall day, I held out my hand; he placed his small one in mine; and we walked side-by-side the other direction down the long set of stairs to the playground. These stairs make the walk shorter distance-wise but are normally out of the question for us because of the need for the wagon.

All was going well. Wagon? Who needs a wagon?

We got to Addison's playground, chatted with her teacher, gave Carter a few minutes to jump on the stationary dinosaur that was right outside the playground fence, and then said our "thank you"s and "goodbye"s.

The trouble started when I needed to coral them both back towards the long steps. Chasing them both down different directions (with the help of Addison's aide)- I finally got them on track.

Once they were both on the steps, I had a 'brilliant' idea.

"Carter- could you please hold Addison's hand? Help her up the stairs."

Addison reached out a hand to him, he reached a hand out to her, and they began walking hand-in-hand up the many stairs. Ahhhhhh, these are the moments that I live for as a parent.

Success lasted only for a moment.
A problem soon became quite obvious. Carter could climb stairs much faster than Addison could. Much faster. Addison needed the support from Carter's grasp to walk upright. Carter did not need the help from Addison. Carter wanted to run up the steps. Addison struggles with steps still- this is a new skill for her.
Since Addison was holding him back- cramping his style- Carter abandoned her hand and jetted off for the top of the stairs at his desired speed. fast. Every man for himself. Right?
Addison reached out her hand for his help- but he was long gone. The moment was soon just a tiny speck on his radar, but Addison? She could no longer walk upright without his support. She had to finish the steps crawling up- until I picked her up and carried her the rest of the way. (I would have held her hand too but we had to run to catch up with Carter.)

We struggled the rest of the way back to the car, because Carter had discovered that he didn't want to go at a slower pace. Why should he? He didn't need to walk as slowly as Addison was walking. He didn't need help climbing stairs. Why should he slow down and hold his sister's hand? What's the point? What's in it for him?

They were soon buckled safely in the car, and other than me swearing that I wouldn't try this again without the wagon (at least while I can't easily run to catch up with Carter)- the incident was over.

But I couldn't get it out of my mind.

I was struck with the thought that I have to somehow teach Carter that just because he can go faster doesn't mean he always should. That patience, grace, and a willingness to change his pace for his sister would benefit them both in the long run. That sacrificial love for his sister in these little things will mean the world to her- even if he never gives them a second thought. Carter will always have Addison in his life. I'm not so naive to think that just because they live together, they will magically love and help each other through the many stages ahead.

But I was stumped. How do I teach this to him?
Was I expecting too much out of a two year old to want to teach him to help his sister when he could? And if he was too young to learn this now- when do I start as to not miss my window of opportunity and end up with a teenager who resents his sister?

The more I thought on it- the more I realized that this is how I viewed such things as Down syndrome before Addison was my daughter. I would pause on that bottom step briefly and lend aid as long as it was convenient to me. As soon as the moment got real, or I couldn't understand what he/she was saying, or I got uncomfortable in any way with the pace that I didn't choose- I immediately jetted off to the top of the stairs at my super fast pace because I could.

Having patience with other people is not a strength of mine. (Just ask my husband how I responded when he drove off to work with the car keys I needed to take Addison to school yesterday.)

Since Addison has come into my life- I have learned a new kind of patience with her because 1. of her special health/cognitive needs 2. motherhood is all about the baptism of patience (well, that...and the baptism of bodily fluids)

But the more I thought about this, the more I realized that the way to teach this to Carter was to model it for him. Not just the way I treat Addison. The way I treated all those around me. Like Aaron (even when he steals my keys), and those people who really frustrate me because they aren't doing things the Deanna way.

I keep picturing her outstretched hand. Her plead for help. And his refusal to listen because he was BUSY. This reminds me of myself. And it scares me for what it means for their sibling relationship when Carter is old enough to choose more things at his own pace. Yes, he is young. Yes, it is probably expecting too much for him to grasp the significance of all of this right now. But- it is the perfect time for me to show him how this should look, redirect his attention on this matter whenever I can, and make each and every teachable moment count.

Is there a time for us all to go at our own pace? Shouldn't I be praising Carter for his ability to climb stairs so quickly? Admiring his strength and speed? Am I a horrible mother to WANT Addison to hold him back from his obvious physical abilities?
I think mainstreaming is a wonderful thing. I think the lessons that Carter can learn from Addison in instances like this one will teach him far more about life than anything else could. Yes, Addison will benefit from Carter's help. But he will benefit from her too. How? I can't exactly pin point this yet. It's something that I'm waiting to see unfold. But I'm confident that it's coming. So confident, that I want to purposefully fill my responses in life with more grace and patience in order to model this to my children to help this become reality in our family's life.

I think that we are all given strengths that somehow are meant to help specific weaknesses of those in our lives. Carter is very physically strong. Addison is not. He can help her in many ways. Addison has a sweetness about her that could really do some serious improvement to the rough edges hanging around Carter.

Who says achievement has anything to do with utilizing our strengths for personal gain? Maybe achievement has far more to do with how we use those strengths to help others than it does for what we can do for ourselves. Maybe true achievement in a child's life isn't how fast he can climb stairs, but rather how patiently he helps his sister- who struggles with low muscles tone- climb them all the way to the top.

I certainly don't have all the answers. But I do have a dream for my children. A dream that they will love each other. And help each other. Even when it's inconvenient. Even though they are so different from each other.

How will we get there? One day at a time. One set of stairs at a time.
October is Down syndrome awareness month. I do not have the energy to blog every day this month to raise awareness, but I will try to focus more of my posts this direction. If you find yourself viewing Down syndrome as something that you will tolerate for the bottom step, but then run up the rest of the way as quickly as possible- I ask you to slow down and look, really look, at the things that you might be missing because of your fear of different or impatience with a difference pace. Hold out your hand, grab on, and enjoy the benefits that come from helping/learning about someone who possess many hidden talents.


Like peanut butter on the fingers of a curious toddler, this post is begging to be shared.

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