An Independence in Stumbling

The kids and I stumbled across their baby books in the attic a short while ago. I forgot that Tiffanni recorded so many of the firsts in them. She catalogued each week for Addyson, and each month for Carsyn. Brayden got a few broad strokes, but he’s there. I was always surprised to see how closely each child’s development mimicked the developmental stages in the books What To Expect When You’re Expecting and What To Expect In The First Year. My kids weren’t as exceptional as I had anticipated.

Tiffanni and I weren’t great about documenting every moment, but she got the big stuff. This generation has their entire lives on a phone screen- my kids have some pictures and a few videos. I might do better to somehow gather all of the video cameras and cell phones from strangers around the world that the kids ended up photo bombing. It would probably inventory their lives better than what we did.

I don’t remember the details of each, but I remember the excitement of the first steps. One of the kids (the truth is that I think I’ve compressed each of their childhoods into one person. Three in one. My children, the trinity) went straight from laying, full body on the ground, and rolling everywhere to walking. Those first steps, for a year or more, were wobbly and uncoordinated. They spent so much time on the ground with plenty of scrapes and band-aids.

I know all of us have baffled at the idea of falling as much as a child, but getting up, dusting off, and continuing on undeterred. But walking means so much. It’s not just duplicating an action of adults. It’s the entryway to independence. The first action of autonomy. It changed everything when the kids starting walking. We had to “baby proof” the house. They touched and explored everything. We couldn’t take our eyes off of them for a minute or they would paint the walls, pee in the kitchen pots, and toilet paper the house. Soon walking turned to running and skipping and jumping and climbing. Walking became dancing and jogging and running bases and riding bicycles and swimming and cartwheels and diving. And one day it will become driving and dating and graduating and walking the aisle and pushing a baby carriage. That first step opens nearly every door to the future.

I’ve fought for years to keep Tiff out of a wheelchair. It takes work. Lately, I practically carry her. The last two trips to the movies, we used a wheelchair. For some unfortunate reason, the movie that we want to see is always at the end of the long theater hall. It’s easily 100 yards from the bathroom to the theater and that doesn’t even count the walk from the car. I pulled it out the first time and she looked at me puzzled. “Let’s just get you in and I’ll help you to your seat.”

“No. I don’t want a wheelchair,” she said to me. Talk about ripping your heart out.

“Me neither, but I can’t carry you that far. My arms hurt from just walking into Dairy Queen.” She acquiesced.

I wheeled her in, got her to the bottom of the theater seating and asked her to jump on for a piggy back ride. She laughed and I scooped her up and hauled her frail frame up the steps to our normal seats- top third, middle. There are rarely people behind us there that I have to worry about what they think about all of her moving and if we are too distracting.

I have slowly begun to use the wheelchair for long hauls. Like the ballpark or church. Those places that I just can’t quite carry or it’s too painful to watch her fall over and over, even if I do stop the impact. I’ve never needed or dreaded something more.

The significance of walking is more than just the use of her legs. Because when she can’t walk anymore, she is fully dependent. Even in a wheelchair, she doesn’t have the ability to push herself using her arms. Everything changes.

So she falls. Over and over again because it’s the price of independence. There is always a price for independence, always a sacrifice. Hers are bruises and scrapes and cuts and headaches and body pangs and band-aids and soreness. Whether she knows it consciously or subconsciously, the next transition costs a lot. Every day she asks for Tylenol, every day she falls again. A vicious cycle just to walk- but not really walk, stumble. All of the possibility that the first step opened, the last step closes. It’s a high price to pay to stumble. But at this point, stumbling is everything.