I’ve written a lot on the blog about what having a child born early or with additional needs (or both in the case of Boo) does to your sense of perspective. To say it changes your view of life is the understatement of the decade.
Choose your metaphor… Having a child with development delay pulls the rug from under your feet. It shakes the foundation of how you think the world works. It shifts the goal posts (forgive me: it is World Cup season…).
With Boo, the tiniest things always get celebrated. The smallest things. Whether it’s the formulation of that elusive ‘g’ sound, or getting him to swallow when I ask him to, these things are like winning the lottery. Every task is so hard won for him. Each goal achieved is completely amazing. And I celebrate many of these goals in life and on the blog, encouraged by Jane’s at Ethan’s Escapade’s lovely linky, Small Steps Amazing Achievements.
Things have come so much easier for Boo’s big sister, Sissyboo, of course. And since Boo’s arrival, I worry I might have sometimes been guilty of overlooking how tough things can be for her. Her many achievements are rarely as hardly won as her little brother’s, but they are just as amazing. I know that even if it it’s not always evident on the blog.
Take this week, for example, when my strip of wind six-year-old had to do a distance attempt in one of her swimming lessons. Sissyboo has been going to swimming classes, with a few breaks, since she was a baby. The intention was never to turn her into Rebecca Adlington (much as Ms Adlington is one very cool lady). No: it was just to make Sissyboo safe in the water, because I wasn’t at her age. (Inheriting my Mum’s phobia of water, I learned to swim at the embarrassing age of 18. Don’t tell anyone I told you, OK?)
Mission accomplished. Sissyboo loves being in the water, but the lessons, that The Grumposaur has taken her to since I was 20 weeks pregnant with Boo, have become a major bone of contention. She doesn’t listen to her teacher, messes about and generally behaves like a six-year-old. Her technique is not great, I’m told (what would I know Mrs Swims-breast-stroke-with-her-specs-on?) because she doesn’t care or listen to her teacher. To be honest, I don’t care much either, as long as she’s safe. But the lessons are expensive and it’s not clear that Sissyboo is getting much out of them any more. So we won’t be renewing her lesson subscription next term. I am going to take her myself for fun swims on a Sunday.
So last Saturday was the last chance that she has to do a distance swim with her swim school. The Grumposaur wasn’t optimistic. Sissyboo wanted to get a badge. But at her last distance swim she swum an astonishing 500 metres. The chances of her beating that to achieve the next badge up (600m) when we couldn’t get her to sit still enough to eat a decent lunch or drink some water at lunch time were slim. So Boo and I went along for moral support (even though Boo sweltered and generally had a rotten time, while carrying him as I walked up and down along the poolside crippled me).
Within minutes of her getting into the pool, even a rubbish swimmer like me could see that Sissyboo was making life hard for herself by being all enthusiastic in the water, unlike some of her dophin-like classmates. She wasn’t going to do it. I could see that.
As she reached the end of a tired 450 metres, I told her how proud Boo and I were of her. I told her how she was a much better swimmer than Mummy she was and that she didn’t need to carry on. She asked how many lengths she needed to do to get a badge. The next badge was set at 600 meters. 6 more, I said. That’s too many, I added. Takes some bre… Before I had the time to tell her to take some breathes, she was halfway back down the pool with The Grumposaur chasing after her. She wouldn’t stop.
We often call Boo the Duracel bunny for his tenacity in therapy and determination to complete any task, whether it’s a filling in a form board or feeding himself. If he the Duracel bunny, then his sister is surely the original.
The next thing I knew, she had swum 600 metres. I asked her to stop. She wouldn’t. At 700 metres (700 metres!!!) I told her that she wouldn’t be allowed to stay up late that night and help me make dinner if she didn’t stop. She would have carried on. I was worried she was pushing too hard. The bribery worked. She reluctantly got out of the pool.
How amazing. A big step. A big achievement. And I am so proud of her.
But you know, I’m also proud of so many other things that Sissyboo has done in the past few days. Lots of things. Small things.
Like the way she spent her pocket money on a Mr Tumble comic for her brother. Like the way she made him a pirate hat and wrote a book about Boo the pirate and his pirate princess sister. Like the way she made him a retrospective sticker chart for not waking Mummy up in the night.
In many ways, these things make me even prouder than her massive achievement in the pool. Because these small acts show what a big heart my little girl has.
Her achievements, like any of the achievements that really matter, can’t so easily be quantified or measured in lengths or rewarded with badges. Her achievement, quite simply, is being her.