When my younger daughter was born, we had no idea she has a birth defect. We wouldn’t find out until she was two years and three months old.
But from the start, I knew she was different from my older daughter. When she was three months old I was googling ‘early signs of autism’ while bouncing a screaming baby. At three months old, my older daughter was holding her head up, making eye contact, smiling.
Olivia wasn’t doing any of those things. She ate, she screamed, she slept a little while and then we repeated the cycle.
But even though I knew something was wrong, I didn’t stop to think about birth defects. I just wanted to help her, to make her stop screaming, to get her to sleep and maybe smile at us.
Her diagnosis of 5p- syndrome when she was two years and three months old gave us some answers. It confirmed that the therapies we’d started when she was a year old were a good move. We all know how that went. She crawled at 17 months, she walked at 29 months (two whole months after receiving her diagnosis), she talked at three years old, she was potty trained at five years old and so on.
This past weekend, we invited a couple of sisters, one of which is in Alyssa’s class and the other just happens to be in Olivia’s class, over to play.
Olivia was excited to have D, the younger sister over and was counting down the days.
The night before the play date was scheduled, I asked Olivia, “Are you going to talk to D tomorrow while she’s here?”
Olivia shrugged at me. She’s quite the shrugger. I told her, “It would be great if you did talk to her, since she’s here to play with you.”
And then I left it at that because one thing I know about Olivia is that if you push her to do one thing, she’ll do the other just out of spite.
D and her sister N arrived at our house on Friday morning at 11:00. Alyssa and N ran upstairs while D and Olivia kind of looked at me to tell them what to do.
I suggested that Olivia show D her room, or the toy room. And that was all it took. I went up to check on them about ten minutes later and stood outside the room, listening to their conversation.
Conversation! There was a give and take of words from one girl to the other and back again. Olivia was talking to her friend, her peer! She was sharing ideas, telling D about Mush Mush. They were playing Barbies and being little girls.
I might have teared up a little bit.
The girls played well for several hours and then asked if they could go outside.
It was actually a mild day here in the Arctic Tundra and so I agreed only after making them promise to leave their hats and mittens on while they were out there.
I checked on the girls a few times while they played outside. They were usually swinging or sliding on our playset. But one of the times I checked on them I saw D using some bricks we have bordering a flowerbed as a balance beam.
I watched Olivia try to figure out how to step onto the bricks herself so she could balance too. But she didn’t trust herself to just step up with one foot and bring the other foot up. She tried to use her hands to steady herself but that was just awkward.
And then, in a moment that broke my heart with all its sweetness, I watched D come back to the end of the bricks, offer Olivia a hand and help her onto the bricks.
It was beautiful.
D is actually ten months younger than Olivia but they’re in the same grade in school. They’re very close to the same size, with D actually outweighing and measuring about an inch taller than Olivia. So those ten months age difference aren’t really evident when watching them together.
But obviously D is socially more mature than Olivia. She’s got some physical abilities that Olivia is still working on and you know what? That’s all okay.
Because O IS working on those things. She never stops trying. She never even seems to realize that things aren’t as easy for her as they are for her peers. She never gets frustrated when she has to work a little harder to achieve something. She just keeps at it until she figures it out.
And awesomely, she usually does figure it out in her own time.
I’ve learned in my years at Olivia’s mom not to put limits on her. I never think that we’ve reached the end of her abilities. She’s proven time and again that there is no end. She will figure it out and she will prove everyone who thought she wouldn’t wrong.
Mothering a child with a birth defect has taught me to look beyond the norm, to see beyond the expectations. It’s taught me that we all have our obstacles to overcome and we are often our own worst enemies.
If we could all be like Olivia, willing to just keep trying, just keep pushing, never giving up and never letting our own attitudes defeat us, we’d all be much better at everything we try.
When I grow up, I wanna be like Olivia.