My daughter began physical therapy when she was four months old. At the time, her hypotonia made it impossible for her to even lift her head, and her gross motor skills were extremely delayed. I spent my days watching the therapist try to teach her to roll over, and in the evenings, I did my best to imitate what I saw the therapist do. In whatever spare time I had left, I prayed that therapy would be the key to building up her strength and unlocking her potential.
Days turned to months, and the months turned to years. Rolling over turned into crawling, and crawling turned into walking.
I have no doubt that the early intervention my daughter received played an integral part in where she is today – in an age-appropriate classroom, running, jumping, and dancing. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized her therapy sessions taught me some valuable life lessons as well.
1. Measure life in inchstones; forget the milestones.
Technology makes it all too easy to quickly search developmental skills that your child should be reaching. Social media makes it even worse. Often times, I was saturated in a sea of milestones – reminders of what my child should be doing but was not. While I was sincerely happy to see the accomplishments of my friends’ children, I was also often left trying to shrug off feelings of envy and defeat.
Therapy taught me the beauty of an inchstone — a small but powerful accomplishment. Sometimes in life, we become so focused on the mile, that we forget all the sweet inches that led up to it. Count what truly matters and ignore the rest.
2. It’s OK to be afraid, but don’t let your fears consume you.
Some days, it feels as if there is so much to fear – medical procedures, surgeries and an endless slew of doctors around every corner. For the first two years of my daughter’s life, I spent my nights worrying that she may never walk. I cried about the huge obstacles stacked against her. I cringed each time we were sent to see a new medical specialist. And then, the other day, my daughter asked to take gymnastics. I felt that old familiar fear immediately strike. What if she couldn’t keep up? What if she got injured? I looked to her therapist for insight. Her advice? Don’t let your fears stop your daughter from trying something new.
She was right. It’s true that there are risks everywhere in life, but they’re often accompanied by great rewards. Be bold. Don’t let fears stop you from living.
3. Determination is key.
Before my daughter started physical therapy, I gave up easily – if something was too hard, or too time consuming, or if I was too tired. I gave up on diets. I gave up on projects. I was all too happy to be a self-proclaimed “quitter.” Observing my daughter learn to walk uphill taught me the importance of a determined spirit. I watched one day as her therapist helped her walk on the uneven ground sprawled out in front of them. My daughter’s legs wobbled, the surface below her was soft under her feet, and more than once, she fell forward onto the unkind ground. But, she never gave up. Fall after fall, she stood up more determined than the time before to master the hill. Eventually, she did.
Often times in life, we stand with unsteady legs on uneven ground. How many times we fall isn’t what makes or breaks us. How many times we pick ourselves up and start again is what defines us in the end. Falling is inevitable; picking yourself back up is a choice. Determination makes all the difference.
4. While determination is important, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break.
There were moments during therapy sessions when my daughter became tired or frustrated. I’d watch as her therapist responded in various ways. She’d give her a break. She’d redirect her. She’d remind her that if she finished the task, they’d do an activity of her choosing. And it worked. Every time.
As an adult, I, too experienced a daily helping of exhaustion and annoyance, but I rarely gave myself a break to recoup, relax and recover.When life throws difficult tasks or extreme stressors your way, don’t hesitate to take a break. Read a book, go for a walk, listen to music. Allow yourself to recharge. You’re worth it. Frustration will not allow you to accomplish much, but a rested you with a fresh outlook is undefeatable.
5. Hope is powerful.
With each fall, my daughter’s therapist reminded me that we were a step closer to walking. In times of darkness and defeat, she recalled the many moments of light and triumph we’d experienced. When I focused on the obstacles and worries of today, she refocused me on the promises of tomorrow.
Therapy taught me this truth: In our lives, we’ll experience defeat and sadness. There will be days when we’re unsure of everything. There will be moments when giving up seems to be the easiest option. We will compare and cry. We will feel extreme fear and bouts of envy. But, at the end of each day, there will always be hope, and that is more than enough.