We are getting to the hard part of Gabe’s spina bifida. The early years, while tense and filled with worry and grief, were blessedly easy compared to what we’re dealing with now. As a small baby, no one really paid attention to the fact that he wasn’t walking or crawling as fast as the other babies; no one noticed his awful fine motor skills; as far as anyone could see, he was just a baby.
Now he’s six, nearly in first grade (oh my) and it’s becoming more and more evident that Gabe is “different” Watching him on the playground yesterday, smiling, happy, covered in mud and mulch, I couldn’t help but think that he is so amazing. He knows his limitations; he knows what he can do, what he can’t do, and what’s worth TRYING to do. The playground we were at was a “zero barrier” playground; meaning that it’s totally handicap accessible (while I’d disagree with that statement, I will say that it’s MORE accessible than most playgrounds) There were stairs with railings that Gabe could use to get up to the slides, there was equipment on the ground that he could use easily, over all, it was a really nice park. But still, he struggled. He struggled to climb up the rock wall (even the one with “steps” made for smaller children), he wasn’t able to play “chase” with the other kids his age (a huge deal for small kids, they LOVE to play chase) and he was slower on things.
But still…he smiled, he waved, he said hello to people of all ages. He was genuinely happy to be playing at the park, doing his thing, completely oblivious to what his limitations were…or was he? I don’t think he was, I could see it in his face when the kids went to place chase that there was nothing more that he’d like to do than run after them, keep up with them, and not trip and fall when he got up to a good speed. I KNOW that’s what he wanted to do, but he stayed on the slide, smiling as he went down, watching them run off. He watched Bitsy climb up the rock wall seemingly effortlessly as he stood on the ground smiling at her. He’s proud of her for doing what he can’t; in fact, on more than one occasion, I’ve heard him tell her “Good job, Bits, that must have been hard” I don’t know how he stays so positive when most people would be pissed off or depressed about their situation. Lord knows how upset I’d be if I was in his position. As it stands, I get upset when I try to do something but can’t. Even if I know I can’t do something, I still try to do it.
How is it that at six, he already knows more than me? He already knows what his limitations are and how to deal with them? He’s so stoic, brave, and strong in the face of his disability. How has he, in six small years, accepted his fate when even I haven’t? How is he able to be comfortable in his skin, when clearly I am not comfortable FOR him? How’d he already learn which battles to pick? How does he know that fighting his body to write letters and numbers and read are the battles to wage rather than fighting with his body to climb a rock wall?
My mom told me, from the get go, that Gabe was “given” to us to teach us a lesson; here all along I thought the lesson he had to teach was patience (Impatient? Who me? Nooo) I don’t think that was the lesson I was supposed to learn. Maybe the lesson I have yet to learn is when to fight and when not to. Maybe I need to learn to let go of some of the control and just enjoy myself. Or maybe that’s not it either; maybe like all other things in life, Gabriel is showing me that life is a learning experience; that some days are good, some days are bad, and some days are downright awful…but smiling and playing in the sunshine are always good things to do. I guess we’ll see as time goes on, won’t we?