I practically came out of the womb with a to-do list in my hand. So with Will, my first child, I attacked things such as potty training and teaching him to dress himself with the precision of a special operations team member. In my mind, these were tasks easily conquered. I fully expected that he would “get it” on the first attempt and that we’d immediately move on to the next item on the to-do list — a never-ending list marching us through his childhood.
I was dismayed and frustrated when things didn’t go as I had planned. Add to that sheer disappointment when Will was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. I had to learn that my child is not a task. He will never approach life the same way I do. But more than anything else, having a child with autism has helped change my perspective. I have learned to break even the tiniest of tasks into small steps and to patiently help my son learn new things. However, the most important lesson for me has been learning to celebrate the little accomplishments — a zipper zipped, a bottom wiped, a successful first play date, washed hands, a printed name, a spontaneous “I love you.”
This lesson also has come in handy for me with my other two children, each with different personalities, strengths and challenges. Recently, my husband and I celebrated all of our children for their small-yet-important accomplishments. After two years of trying, Will learned to ride his bike without training wheels. Our middle son, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, learned to buckle his seat belt all by himself. And, happily, our youngest is now potty-trained!
Of course, my mind immediately moved down to the next notch on the childhood to-do list, to the thoughts of all the things we should or ought to be doing with our boys. No, I told myself, I’m just going to enjoy this moment and remember how far we’ve come.
Christine Hoover is mom to Will (8), Reese (5) and Luke (3). She’s a writer, columnist and blogger.