Accept this I constantly tell myself: Caleb will always take longer to learn things.
But today, I find myself asking once more: have I?
There I was, watching from the sidelines while Jaedon accompanied and coached his younger brother through a playground rope obstacle course on this hot & blustery Saturday afternoon.
It wasn’t the first time they were on this course; yet today it looked very much like it was!
That’s kinda how it always is with Caleb, especially with obstacle courses. What takes most neuro-typical kids just one or two attempts to nail down, it’ll take Caleb many more to conquer with confidence.
And that’s provided we can even persuade him to do it in the first place!
What we’ve come to learn over time is that it makes a huge difference if we don’t give up on him. If we continuously encourage him, despite his non-stop howls of protests that often sound to the unfamiliar like he was crossing some rickety old bridge precariously poised over the Grand Canyon! (Yes, Caleb can be super dramatic – not sure where he inherited that from).
What also makes a huge difference is having his older brother accompany him. Not me, not his mummy, but kor kor. And thank God Jaedon has always been there for him. Today he really took charge, even insisting emphatically that I stay on the sidelines and do nothing. Even though I, more than most parents, wanted to stay close just in case Caleb really fell through the gaps in this shaky lattice structure.
Today proved especially challenging for him. Maybe it was the wind. Or his mood. Or the several kids scrambling effortlessly pass him to the next challenge. Whatever it was, he was clearly terrified all the way, even as his brother calmly, patiently and persistently coaxed him through the V-shaped rope obstacle that really wasn’t any longer than 10-15 metres end to end.
Today though, it felt like it might as well have been a 10-15 kilometre ironman ninja race!
In the end, the kindness of a passing stranger was what saved the day. The surprising, uninvited, but thoroughly thoughtful encouragement of a fellow parent proved to be the clincher that saw Caleb finally stifling his panic just enough to bravely complete the remaining 5 metres of the obstacle.
When it was all over, we gave the loudest “Well Done!” we could muster and clapped like Caleb just completed a magnum opus! And that’s when Jaedon turned to me and asked me out of the blue “Daddy, are you going to cry?”
Taken aback for a second, I quickly recovered and said: “Puh-leese! Of course not; I’m passed that stage already.”
Yet the very next minute his back was turned, I found myself tearing! Guess I’m not passed that stage quite yet. And my dear Jaedon was clearly more observant and perceptive than I give him credit for. Maybe it was the gut-wrenching feeling of helplessness as I stood at the sidelines watching Caleb. Or maybe it was the unexpected kindness of the thoughtful stranger.
Whatever the trigger, my eyes betrayed my heart once again.
But I’m good. Really I am. At least I wasn’t bawling like I would a year or two ago, when I see Caleb struggle with tasks most younger kids could accomplish effortlessly.
Incidents like today’s remind me that part of my journey of accepting and loving Caleb for who he is means learning each time that my subconscious expectations of Caleb must be continuously deconstructed. In essence, that part of me must die so I can wholeheartedly embrace him for who he is.
For I must accept that he’s never gonna learn most things in the same way and at the same speed that most of us do.
He’s never going to understand humour and satire the way most of us do.
And he’s never going to be quite as dexterous on the playground as his peers, or even those half his size.
And that is okay. That has to be okay.
The kind stranger today also reminded me that there exists those who do understand unquestioningly, and who show it in actions that speak far louder and better than any words a friend or family member could utter. Which gives me a much needed breath of hope on days when my parent journey can feel frighteningly long and terribly lonely.
Cos it means that if a stranger can see pass this stage, and accept Caleb for who he is and what he can or can’t do, then all the more I can too.
And all the more I must!