So many people have had questions about Ryan’s physical therapy since he started in at the beginning of the year, so I thought it was time to share some details. It’s been an enlightening + emotional process for all of us. Lots of hard work, lots of discouragement, lots of proud moments, lots of prayer.
Yesterday I shared answers to some of the questions we get asked all the time. That’s the easy stuff. Today I want to talk about some of the ups and downs I’ve experienced from having a child in physical therapy.
Because sometimes it feels a lot like a roller coaster.
Down: Constantly comparing to other kids or arbitrary ideals
My heart breaks a little when I see a baby half Ryan’s age walking around like it’s no big thing. Or when the pediatrician casually asks, “He’s crawling and cruising around furniture, right?” and I have to tell him no. Or when we’ve had weeks of physical therapy and made minimal progress. Or when I throw out yet another pair of pants because he’s worn a hole in the bum instead of the knees.
Why can’t he wear out the knees instead like a normal toddler? Why can’t he just BE a normal toddler?
It can be so discouraging.
Up: Celebrating every inchstone
I will forever be indebted to my friend Emily of One Lovely Life for teaching me about inchstones. Milestones are those big accomplishments: sitting, standing, crawling, walking. Inchstones are the little ones that you might miss if you aren’t paying close attention.
Like the first time Ryan figured out how to get from laying down to sitting up and grinned like a little maniac. The day he got on his hands and knees without being coerced into it. When I looked up from my book to see him pulled up on his knees, digging in a toy bin. That time he stood supported against the back of the couch for nearly 10 minutes because he wanted to watch David mow the lawn.
I’m sure none of these seem like major accomplishments to anyone else, but to us? They’re HUGE. This boy once refused to put any weight on his legs and wouldn’t even roll over because he didn’t like being on his tummy. Any time he voluntarily practices his new skills I feel like Liz Lemon high-fiving a million angels.
David and I have shared so many excited moments as we watch Ryan progress, it’s almost like being first-time parents again. Look at this miraculous thing our baby has done! He is amazing! Surely no other child was ever as amazing as he is! Even his sisters know how big a deal each tiny bit of progress is. They cheer for him and come running to tell us when he’s trying something new. In fact, this weekend he pulled himself to standing for the first time with only his sisters to witness it. They were so excited! And rightly so: it was awesome!
Down: The nagging guilt
It’s hard not to blame yourself when things don’t go as expected for your child. Is it my fault he needs physical therapy? Is he struggling because of something I did or didn’t do? Did I baby him too much? Not enough? Are my genes defective? Am I a terrible parent? They’re totally normal thoughts and I’m sure every parent has them at one time or another.
The Mom Guilt seems exaggerated when your kid isn’t quite thriving. It’s hard not to wonder if people—friends, family, your pediatrician—are judging you.
(From what I’ve seen, they’re not. And if they are, they don’t need to be your friends. Just saying.)
Up: The motivation to do better
Watching this boy’s sheer determination to master a new skill is so inspiring. He works so hard for every inchstone. He’s not afraid to try new things. If he can get out of his comfort zone to make such huge progress, why can’t I?
Also: my empathy both for kids who need therapy and for their parents has increased. I want to be kinder and more supportive. I’m more careful about the language I use. Obviously we can’t know everyone’s struggles, but having good intentions (and assuming others do too) and trying to be better goes a long way.
Down: Having to carry a toddler everywhere because he can’t walk
He’s humongous, guys, and getting super heavy. My arms and back are sore all the dang time. And while I know a walking child quickly becomes a running-away-too-quick-to-catch child, it sure would be nice if he’d pull his own weight when we’re out and about. Mama needs a break!
Up: My arms are super buff
(Just kidding. I wish.)
Down: Forgetting to treat him like a toddler
It occurred to me only last week that I don’t have the same expectations from Ryan as I did for the girls at his age. They were throwing away their own diapers, helping me clean up toys, and playing games all the time. Because he’s not walking (or talking as much as they were at his age) I forget that he’s fully capable of all those things.
I’ve started giving him simple instructions and he loves following them. He lights up when someone tells him he’s “a good helper.” It’s so easy to focus on what he can’t do that I often overlook all the things he can do.
Up: Not feeling baby hungry because I still have a baby
Even though he’s nearly 18 months, he doesn’t seem that old yet. He wants to be held and snuggled instead of running off to play. I carry him or bring the stroller everywhere. He’s mobile, yes, but having an active toddler is such a different dynamic from having a busy baby. In a lot of ways he still feels like my tiny boy and I’m totally okay with that.
Down: Having to ask for help
I haaaate admitting I can’t do it all by myself. Even though objectively I know I can’t do it all, I hate having to admit it.
Saying the words, “I think Ryan needs more help than I can give him by myself,” to our pediatrician was painful. I felt like a failure. Then having to ask for a less expensive option than the one we were offered? Ugh. Talking money is hard enough. Telling someone, “I really need your services but can’t afford them so can you recommend someone else?” Not my favorite experience.
Up: Feeling so humbled by and grateful for help
I’ll forever be grateful that my pediatrician never made me feel like a bad mom because Ryan’s development was delayed. And that my mom was willing to ask the awkward money question for me. And that nobody thus far has criticized us for our choice to seek physical therapy for our son.
I’ve had to let go of some pride to help my boy. It’s been good for me. Back to the idea of celebrating every inchstone, it’s helped me be more grateful for every bit of progress anyone in our family makes. I pay closer attention. I allow my heart to well up with love and satisfaction when my children do well. And hearing David pray for our boy—expressing his gratitude for all he’s accomplished and asking for help to do more—makes me weepy every time.
Has it been hard? Yes. As hard as some families have it? Not remotely. Again with the humility + gratitude.
Ryan has been crawling for about a month and every day I’m still over the moon about it. His physical therapist warned us not to expect him to crawl exclusively once he learned how; he’s faster at scooting and prefers it still. But he crawls. Not only can he do it, he chooses to do it. Often.
And since he figured out pulling to stand this weekend, he hasn’t stopped trying out his new trick every chance he gets. I wish I’d taken a video of him last night showing off for his grandpa. My mama heart was completely overflowing with joy at how far he has come.
So would I wish this on anyone? No! Of course you hope your children won’t face developmental challenges! But I am so glad our physical therapy experience has been a positive one. Progress is what we aim for, not perfection, and everyone progresses differently.
I feel so lucky I get to help Ryan on his unique path.
**All photos by Kylie Pond Photography