To walk or not to walk

August 16, 2010

Chloe is not in the mood to stand up. It’s her first week back in physical therapy after a three-week vacation and she’s having a hard time pushing her legs straight.

“Come on,” says her therapist as the “boo-boo lip” starts to make an appearance, “We’re doing this so that you can learn to walk, isn’t that right, Mom?”

She turns to me for confirmation and I hesitate for a moment before deciding to just go along with this. “That’s right,” I say.

Later that day, I admit to Chloe that I lied. “We don’t go to therapy so you can learn to walk,” I explain. “We go so that you can get exercise and keep your muscles working, but I don’t care if you ever learn to walk or not.” Of course, I let her know that if she really wants to try to walk some day, she’s free to do that. But of all the skills a person needs in life, I tell her, walking is pretty low on the list.

Five years ago, it was hard for me to imagine I would feel this way. When your child is a baby and a toddler, walking is one the most important things she can do. When your child is disabled, you aim for the most obvious goals, the things that will help her to look “normal,” like walking, talking, eating, using the potty. But as children grow up, other skills become more important than these ones. Skills such as relating to other people, having a sense of humor, communicating (whether verbally or not), and using technology. These are the skills that lead to a successful life, to friendships and jobs and fulfillment.

For many parents and therapists, however, the “walking, talking, potty” goals refuse to go away, refuse to let more important skills take their rightful place. A parent who has spent years obsessing over her child’s physical skills can have a hard time letting go of those goals, of accepting that her child will only be able to live a “normal” life when that child can forget about walking and focus on other accomplishments.

Chloe has many accomplishments, but if walking is ever one of them, it will be a medical miracle. This is why I will never pull her out of school, where she is learning to communicate and make friends, so that she can attend an intense, physically-oriented “habilitation” program. This is why I took her off a medication for muscle tone when it compromised her quality of life with severe stomach cramps. This is why I always cut back on therapy time if it starts to interfere with play dates or family outings. I want my daughter’s life to be rich with fun and learning, and that life is happening now; it’s not waiting until she learns to walk. Sure, I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to improve Chloe’s future, but I spend at least as much time thinking about her present.


One Response to “To walk or not to walk”

  1. yannashumaker Says:

    Chloe is one lucky child, and everyone in her life is benefiting because her mother is able to appreciate and encourage the true gems she offers.

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