Let me tell you about my Noah. Noah was born in Ethiopia, and suffered brain damage at birth when he was born in a rural area without medical care available. When he came to the United States (with his first adoptive family, who decided his needs were too great for them to handle) he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, Cortical Vision Impairment, feeding disorder, and several other major diagnoses.
When he came home to us, his forever family, at nine months old, we were told that he likely was almost completely blind. That he may never progress physically - may never even be able to hold up his own head, or sit up, or swallow. That he may never interact with us, and that we likely would never get his seizures under control.
Slowly, slowly, slowly, with great medical care and endless amounts of patience, encouragement, hope, faith, support and love, Noah made progress. Seizures were stopped. He started following things with his eyes. He started smiling at us and vocalizing. After months and months of therapy, he rolled over. Then he sat up. One day he pulled up to stand. He FINALLY figured out how to crawl and started getting in to everything. He started to get (too) good at climbing. And perhaps the biggest miracle of all - last summer he started WALKING. Yes, the kid who we were told may never even hold up his own head now walks and walks and walks. He even sort of almost runs when he is super excited.
Noah is four and a half years old. I suppose I could compare him to other four year-olds and be sad and discouraged. He only says a handful of words and uses a few signs, when most kids his age engage in full conversations. He still wears diapers and is nowhere near ready for potty-training, when most kids his age no longer needing Huggies. He has a staggering walk and trips easily, while most kids his age can run all over. He is still dependent on a feeding tube for all of his nutrition, where most kids his age eat full meals with a fork. He can't tell you his colors or ABC's. He doesn't sing songs or ride a tricycle or color with crayons.
But we don't focus on the things that Noah can't do, or the things he doesn't do yet. We don't compare him to other four year old boys. We aren't sad or discouraged. We see the miracle that he is, and find joy in every accomplishment and every milestone (the ones most parents take for granted). He laughs, he plays, he loves, and daily he shows us that miracles happen.
It may have taken him two years longer than "the average" child to learn, but he is walking! I tell his siblings that Noah will be able to do much in life (and won't be defined by the things that he can't do) - it just takes him a little longer to learn how to do things. Like everyone else he has his own strengths, gifts, potential, and challenges, and he is doing it all at his own pace. This would be true even if he never learned to walk, even if he never crawled, even if he still could not hold up his head.
Maybe it is easy to accept differences and encourage individual strengths when you have a family full of kids from a variety of different countries, backgrounds, and genetic makeups. We have kids who are athletic. We have kids who are musical. We have kids who don't want to be still a minute of the day. We have kids who curl up with a book for hours at a time. We have kids who get straight A's with almost no effort at all, and kids who have to work very, very hard to get C's. We have kids who take to new things and new challenges right away and kids who take time to warm up. We had kids start to walk at nine months old, and a son who took off at three and a half years old.
And each one of them is amazing. Awesome. Wonderful. Inspiring. Perfect.
We don't compare, we don't allow them to be competitive with each other. We celebrate each one's accomplishments, successes, adventures, talents, and interests. We want each one to reach their full potential, whatever that may be. We let them all go at their own pace.
Last year I wrote this post about comparing ourselves to other runners. I was thinking again recently how important it is to not compare, and to understand and embrace that we all progress at our own pace, and we all run at our own pace.
Some runners are naturally fast. Some runners have natural endurance. Some runners have to work very hard to make progress. Some runners find it comes more easily. Some runners are challenged with injuries. Some runners are thin without trying. Some runners have to work hard to lose weight. Some are natural sprinters, some are marathoners, some are ultra runners. Some are at home on the track, some on the roads, some on the trails. Some thrive with the challenge of a race, others just run for a little peace each day. What is slow for one runner is fast for another. What constitutes a short run for one runner is a long run for someone else.
I don't think any one is better than the other. We all have our own strengths, our own challenges, our own potential. My goal is to work, strive, push, and live in such a way that I can try to reach my full potential as a runner and as a person. The best we can do is the best we can do, and we all need to move forward - to run and to live - at our own pace, and to find joy and satisfaction in it.
“Part of the problem with the word 'disabilities' is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can't feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren't able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.” - Fred Rogers
“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”- William Faulkner
“there is no planet, sun, or star could hold you if you but knew what you are.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson