His Courage

"Courage doesn't always roar. 
Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 
"I'll try again tomorrow."
Mary Ann Radmacher

I've never seen him with such anxiety before trying something new.    Just before leaving for his new swim lessons, he brought it up as he sat on the couch, "Mommy?  What if they notice my hands and feet?"  And the what if questions continued.  We talked through every possible scenario that might occur.  We practiced and perfected our code signal to let me know when he needs me to intervene.  Though his anxiety increased, never once did he suggest he not go.  Not once did he give up.

My heart, however, ached.  It ached as I acted nonchalant.  It ached as I sat with him and answered every question.  It ached as I came up with different answers he could give to all of the questions he imagined kids asking him.  It ached as we practiced different possible code signals.    And it ached as I carried him across hot pavement into a new facility with a new pool and a new group of kids and coaches he has never met.  It ached as I found the coach, him gripping my hand so tightly.  It ached as I explained to her that Will has hand and feet differences and kids will ask questions and here is what she could respond with.  It ached as I introduced him and bragged on his swimming skills.  I ached as he refused to sit with the rest of the group on the side of the pool waiting for class to start, preferring instead that he remain holding my hand.  It ached as he asked me to accompany him to the deep end - where his group (the intermediate group!  The other kids in his group are ages 6-8!  But his skills surpass the beginning group!) was waiting for class to begin.    And it ached as I observed how much strength it took for him to hold onto the side of the pool and tread.  It ached as I noticed that every other kid in the pool (about 25) could touch.  Yet Will could not.  So he was using more energy to hang on to the side while the coach gave instructions and more energy to swim as he couldn't stop part way and put his feet down.  Yet he never complained.  Not once.  Finally, I asked if he could sit on the side between turns rather than tread water - and the coach grabbed a chair to use as a platform underwater for him so he could conserve his energy.

And then my heart soared as the coached exclaimed, "Perfect, Will!  That was perfect"  in shock that a four year old was demonstrating skill at the task assigned.  And I soared as I watched him begin to warm up and to do a cannonball.  I soared as I watched him swim.  He's so natural and at ease in the water.

I love swimming.  I love that my kids love the water.  I want them to try out a variety of sports and music and fine arts activities.  But I want them to always love the water.  It is a life long sport - unlike many sports that so many hours are invested  in one's youth yet there is no return as an adult.  It is a year round sport.  And it works every muscle group in the body.  More importantly for my children, it does not require any additional, custom made equipment.  My kids can swim with the bodies they have.  And I love that.  I love that.  I love that we don't have to use trial and error to problem solve with swimming as we do with every other sport, it seems.  We just need water.  Swimsuits are even optional (with my children - not me.  And only in private.)

I told Will after the class how very proud of him I was.  I told him he was brave and courageous.  His daddy praised him at dinner - knowing how much anxiety he had had before his first practice.

But I held back too.  Late at night, I approached my husband and I shared with him my struggles in balancing.  I want to praise Will.  I want him to know how in awe of him I am.  I want him to know how much I admire him.  He is the bravest, most courageous person I know.  And he is four.

But because he is four, and because I want the best for him, I hold back.

I do praise him. I tell him he is brave.  I tell him how proud we are of him.  I let him hear me telling others.  But I don't want to make too big a deal out of these things.  (Although they are deserving.)  Someday, I will.  Someday soon, I fear.  Someday soon he will need to hear exactly how big a deal these things are.  Someday soon, he will need to know how much I admire him.

But for now?  For now he needs to know that this is normal (even though it is not really.)  I need him to  believe that of course he goes to the grocery store and the library and swimming class and preschool.  I need him to just be another kid at the playground.  I need him to just have a childhood.  I need him to find his place in this world and to embrace life.  I need him to be comfortable in his own skin in so many varied places and with varied people.  He doesn't know yet that sometimes I skip birthday parties with unfamiliar faces or bypass crowded playgrounds because I don't have the energy to deal with the questions and comments and stares.  Given the option, he would always go.  And that is how, for now, it should be, I think.  This is our normal and that includes just doing life normally.  I want him to want to go places and meet new people and to face fears and anxieties and refuse to quit or give up or stay home.

Too soon, he will have more choices.  Too soon, I will tell him how in awe I am of his bravery.   For now, I want him comfortable in the world and that means sometimes making ourselves uncomfortable in new places and with new people.

R suggested I write him a letter that someday I can read to him.  I thought maybe I would share and excerpt with you.  (or with the few people that may happen upon this ole blog today.)

Because I may not be able to fully explain how much I admire him to him yet... but I'd like the rest of the world to know.

My Sweet Will,

Words are inadequate to explain to you how much I admired you today.  Yet they are all I have.  So I will do my best.

Will, your anxiety this morning was the highest I've ever seen it.  You were clearly scared and distressed about meeting new people and new coaches.  My heart caught in my throat.  It was only the grace of God that allowed me to calmly sit and speak with you as we addressed all of your concerns.  

And these weren't typical four year old fears.  These were very valid concerns.  Each scenario you brought up as a possibility was based on a past experience.  Every "what if" you imagined was part of your past.  You weren't creating fantasy fears or questions.  You were repeating comments and questions other children at other places have said to you and about you over the years.  

Oh my precious boy.  

Your memory is incredible.  Do you realize that?

And my admiration grew as not once in our conversation did you suggest that you quit your swim lessons before even beginning them.  Not once did you waver in your decision to participate.  You merely needed tools to handle what you knew was coming.  And you sought my advice, of all people.  I love you, sweet boy, yet I am so inadequate.  I am not witty.  I am not creative with my words in responding to others.  I don't have quick come backs.  I tend to cry too easily.  Not you.  You choose laughter.  You choose friendship.  You forgive those who have been mean.  You embrace others and are the first to introduce yourself.  You don't hide.

Your tenacity of spirit amazes me.  You held on that pool and tread water for nearly half an hour before I requested a modification for you.  I debated saying something but hated that your swimming was being affected - your loss of energy evident - as you tread for so long.  Not once did you complain.  Not once did you make excuses.  

Your joy is contagious.  Your coach couldn't help but smile as you yelled, "Bombs away!" and cannonballed into the pool.  You are fearless.  You give your all to whatever you try and this was evident to all as you jumped in.  Your smile as you rode on your coach's back around that whirlpool - it was beaming.

Your bravery inspires me.  You were quick to volunteer to go first at every opportunity as you learned each new skill.  You don't have a timid bone in your body!  You remind me of a story in the Bible - that of someone you were named for, William David.  He was small and mocked for attempting to face a giant.  But he too conquered his challenge.

You did it today, love.  You conquered a fear.  You set anxiety aside and persevered.  You have choices in this life, Will.  You can choose to stay home.  (Sometimes, that is okay.)  You can choose to embrace life and all it has to offer.  You can choose to allow your fears or past experiences to control you or you can choose to keep trying.  

It remains my greatest honor to be your mother.  Nothing on this earth gives me more joy than being your mommy.  I am so very proud of you.  You are brave and you are incredibly courageous.  I am privileged to watch you grow up.  I am honored to hold your hand as you face new situations.  I am proud to stand beside you and slowly fade away to the background as you take on new challenges.  

I can't imagine what life is really like for you, my love.  I can't fathom what it must be like to deal with stares and questions and comments every time you go in public - to the store, to the museum, to the pool, on an airplane.  I can't comprehend really what it like to need prosthetics or specialized equipment just to do everyday tasks.  I can't feel the weight of every step being weighed down with bilateral prosthetic legs.  Every single step.  I can't grasp what strength it takes for you to maintain balance when you are not wearing your prosthetics- it is a miracle really.  And too often I push you to "hurry up."  I can't get what it is to have to learn a new sport but figuring out unique ways to hold the equipment.  I can't imagine what it is like to compete with peers but to have to exert so much extra creativity and energy to do so  - and to somehow do it so well.  But you do. And you never, ever, ever complain.  Not once.  In almost five years, you have never whined about prosthetics.  You have never pitied yourself.  You have never complained - even in the midst of anxiety - about dealing with others in public.  You accept it and you problem solve and figure out the best ways to handle it.  It's astounding, really.  And humbling.  So very humbling.

I can not wait to see what God has in store for you.  I can not wait to watch you do life.  You do it so well already.

I am so very proud to be your mommy.

And by the grace of God, one of the swimming coaches has a little brother who has limb differences.  Yep.  I'd say God had a perfect plan here and her confidence and willingness to assist Will in answering kids' questions put Will & I at ease.  I just love when God weaves together His story and gives me a glimpse into it!

4 thoughts:

gtown1 said...

Beautiful Katie! What a great idea R had. I love it--and something he will treasure forever when received. Grateful you could pause and capture that precious day and your feelings and heart. God is weaving for sure! :) Love ya'll--ejw

ywilbur said...

Once again I couldn't get through this but had to respond, plus I was about to cry here at work. It's so hard with me because sometimes Kharan is funny and outgoing and can answer or ignore the questions and then others he is shy and hiding. I don't even post or ask anymore about questions, pulling, grabbing, etc... because it happens EVERY PLACE, EVERY DAY, EVERY HOUR.

And yes, I know his needs and his attitude is great but I have friends telling me all the time, my sister, etc.. who see Kharan and feel how blessed he is to be a happy boy 'with just missing limbs'. When I mention how every picture in the Disney trip has a starer or pointer in them they say things like 'just let them stare', 'who cares', 'kharan is an ambassador for those with missing limbs'...

Yes, I know it could be much 'worse' in their minds. He could have so many other 'issues' or 'challenges' that missing limbs and constant questions seem like nothing to them. I just want to shout that he doesn't want to be an ambassador, he just wants to ride the swing or get out of the grocery store without answering the same question.

Okay I'll try to finish it I know their is something inspiring as I did get to the perfect job part.

ywilbur said...

I love the letter! I keep a little journal for each of the boys (well no longer for my 15 year old). About things we do and feelings I had (started when adopting my first son as reminder of our early visits).

So, true about the fears of having to tell/be more open in future. One of my hugest my heart tugging fears is that I will some day (or that somebody will tell him before he is ready) that guess what your chances of being a police man are very slim: you'd have to work harder to prove you can do it, etc.. It's all great to say 'yes, honey you will be a great cop.' I can fool myself into thinking that yes, he can do anything so there; but realistically he'd better by the best 'Outlier example' (as in the book) there is.

I've secretly prayed that he will outgrow his obession with police.

Okay now I'm really worked up at work!

toi said...

this such a beautiful and open letter. your little boy is going to love reading your thoughts one day.

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