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Challenge: Happy Birthday!

Celebrating Birthdays and Milestones When Your Child Has Special Needs

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Today, my daughter turns two.

The first two years of her life have been marked with many trials, doctor appointments, therapy sessions, tears and successes. The last two years of my life have consisted of much of the same, with the addition of learning how to be her mother.

I can remember excitedly taking her to “Story Time” at our local library. All summer I’d searched for an activity she could participate in with other kids her age. For a child with a gross motor delay, this can often be a difficult task. At the library, she didn’t have to climb playground steps like at the park or hold herself upright in her swim chair like at the pool. All she had to do, I thought, was sit on my lap and cuddle as we let the librarian’s soft voice drift around us.

I was mistaken.

While the librarian read, footsteps echoed throughout the room as tiny toddler feet pounded on the cold tile. Unable to walk, she sat perched on my lap. Each time a child ran by, she would reach out — a giant smile spread across her face.

“Hi!” she would excitedly say, but by the time the word escaped her sweet lips, the other child was already half way across the room.

I left the library realizing just how behind she was in comparison to her typically developing peers. Tears ran down my face as I drove home.

Later that day, my phone beeped – an email, subject line, “Mom365: What Your Toddler Should Be Up To.” My heart sunk even deeper.

With my oldest, I loved receiving those emails – they were like a checklist of accomplishments for us. Pulls to standing – check! Gets to a sitting position without help – double check! Takes unassisted steps – triple check! I was blissfully unaware that some children did not meet milestones.

Then, I had my youngest daughter. And for the first two months of her life, I didn’t mind receiving the Mom365 emails or the milestones pamphlets from my doctor, but when we started to notice her delay, the milestone reminders became painful.

And as much as I despised them, I could never quite hit the delete button. Instead they still sit in my email to this day, lurking between Facebook status updates and Shutterfly coupons, hiding behind work emails and spam. Week 8, Week 40, Week 101 – they stare at me, they taunt me, they remind me of the delay, and they tell me that no matter how much progress we make, we’re still behind. Eventually, I stopped opening them, but denial or hope or a mixture of both wouldn’t allow me to delete them.

Or maybe, I was unintentionally saving them for a special occasion – a day like today.

So, on her second birthday, after the candles have been blown out and the presents have been opened, I’m having my own celebration.

When bath time is over and lullabies have been sung, you’ll find me on my living room floor, surrounded by 104 weeks of Mom365 printouts, milestone pamphlets and a giant trash bag.

And when the time is right, I will turn those papers into my own personal confetti.

Because as helpful as milestones are, in my two-year experience with them, there are plenty of insights they cannot provide – the important kind.

A milestone cannot determine my daughter’s value nor limit her potential. A milestone doesn’t dictate the amount of love I have for her. A milestone will never be able to measure the beauty of her soul.

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