Friday, June 17, 2011

Lessons from a Sippy Cup

“Benjamin, do you want a drink with your cup?” I make the sign for “drink” and “cup” as I pull out his sippy cup full of cold water, slightly sweetened with juice. From his high chair, Benjamin throws up his hands in eager anticipation. As I bring the cup to his mouth, he opens wide and…..chews up and down on the spout. A small bit of fluid pours into his mouth, and the majority of it slides right back out, down his chin and into the pocket on his bib. We try again and again and again as we have been trying for the last 4 ½ months. They say the definition of insanity is to try the same thing over and over expecting different results. But I’m being too harsh; we have tried many variations all with the same result—a wet baby, a wet bib and possibly a small amount of swallowing. We have tried multiple cups of different shapes and sizes: hard spouts without the stopper in fast flows and slow flows, with handles and with no handles; soft spouts that require some work to pull the liquid out; open cups; straws filled with small amounts of fluid and then released directly into his mouth. We’ve even tried going back to bottles, which were rejected before his first birthday and are rejected still.
Benjamin sees the cup as a fun game, but if he’s thirsty, there’s only one acceptable thirst-quencher, and her name is Mommy. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love to nurse my son. However, at 17 months, 24 ½ pounds, and the size of most two-year-olds, I desperately want him to be able to receive fluid from a source other than me. Some days, after another seemingly unsuccessful session with the cup I wish I could have my own two-year-old temper tantrum. Visions of throwing the cup across the room and sitting on the floor for a good cry flood my mind. I know it’s then time to move on to another activity. “I love you, Benjamin.” I kiss his face and pull him out of the high chair. We’ll try again later.
I know I shouldn’t compare, but at times it’s so hard. I marvel as I watch other children my son’s age and younger as they toddle around, grab their cup, take a good long drink, set it down and continue in their play. I’m amazed at the ease with which they have mastered so many skills, which appear to me at times as nearly insurmountable mountains blocking my son from a “normal” life. At times it’s hard not to feel a sting of inferiority, and I wonder “As they all grow up, how will they treat my son? What will they be doing that he can’t do?”
Fast forward 8 months. The day in October when I began writing this piece, I was seeking a release for the swirling emotions pent up inside me. I intended to bring things back around to a positive note. I was going to write about the patience of the Lord with me when I take so long in learning a lesson He’s teaching me. I was going to write about His unending love for me in my weakness. I was going to write about His confidence and peace in getting me to where He wants me to be, as opposed to my distressing emotions concerning my son’s delays. I never got that far. Around the time I wrote the last question, “What will they be doing that he can’t do?” Shawn walked in the room. At this point I had slipped quite deeply into the mire of grief and self-pity. He wisely recommended that I take a break from writing and come back later. Well, I never expected “later” to mean a lapse of 8 months, but here we go. . .
There were many more difficult days as we continued our attempts with the cup. There were the disheartening but truthful comments from the speech therapist that, while Benjamin does make progress, it’s just slower than the majority of children she’s worked with. There were the swinging emotions of enjoying the continued bond of breastfeeding with my son to resentment that I still “had” to nurse as opposed to “choosing” to nurse. There was the physical fatigue of producing so much milk for such a big boy. There was, and some days still is, the struggle with comparing Benjamin’s development to “typically” developing children. One day, however, we finally received the breakthrough we were praying for.
It was some time after the New Year, but I unfortunately neglected to record the exact month and date. I was sick in bed, and Shawn was giving Benjamin his breakfast in the kitchen. I suddenly heard Shawn exclaim, “Thank You, Jesus! Good job, Benjamin! Daddy’s so proud of you!” My heart leaped within me, and I could hardly wait for Shawn to share his news. A few minutes later he came into the bedroom beaming as he excitedly told me that Benjamin had just drank over half his cup! He was actually swallowing the fluid! If I hadn’t been sick, I would have probably danced!
Now Benjamin still wasn’t (and still isn’t) latching on to the spout of his cup and sucking the fluid out. He continues to chew the spout but has learned to retain the fluid. By sometime in March we were able to cut down to three nursing sessions a day, and by May it was down to two. He’s still very insistent on nursing first thing in the morning and right before bed. However, at this point I can choose to continue nursing, or I can choose to wean. He is receiving adequate fluid from his cup. There’s a big difference emotionally between choosing to do something and having to do something. Right now I’m just taking things one day at a time.
There have been other challenges and breakthroughs in the sippy cup saga. Once it was apparent that Benjamin was adequately swallowing fluids, our speech therapist had us start working on assisting him with holding the cup. We would support him at his elbows so that his hands had to do more of the work. She recommended insisting that he either have assistance in holding his cup or assistance in signing “drink” before we would give it to him. This new endeavor created challenges and humor in itself. Unfortunately, Benjamin has never been very keen on having to work at things; he prefers that others do it for him, though that is beginning to change some. When he came to the realization that he could get out of having to hold his cup if Mommy helped him sign “drink,” he began reaching for my hand after each swallow, so that I could assist him in the sign. It did not occur to him to try to make the sign by himself, though admittedly it would probably have been less work! I was encouraged that he at least understood the concept! I finally had to start hiding my hands under the high chair tray so he would have to reach for his cup. He would hold it by himself for a second or two before it would come crashing down on the tray, unless Mommy was supporting his elbows.
Then one day in May, we received another breakthrough. Benjamin held his cup, lowered it, and brought it back up to his mouth. He continued to repeat the process. He was drinking independently!
Some days I still marvel that I can set Benjamin’s cup in front of him and clean up in the kitchen while he contentedly drinks his fill. The mountain that felt insurmountable has finally been scaled! There have been some things to learn through the process. Benjamin has had to learn that he cannot throw his cup on the floor when it contains something other than milk! This has been a tearful process; his little heart breaks when Mommy flicks him on the cheek and tells him “no” (which in turn breaks Mommy’s heart). Thankfully, though, the discipline in paying off.  I have had to learn that I shouldn’t let him drink a full cup of milk in one sitting (which he would happily do), if I don’t want to see it come back up later. I have learned that diluted juice offered at lunch time only disappears a little, but at supper time it all goes down.  Most importantly, I have learned that the greater and longer the struggle, the deeper and happier the celebration!
I am so proud of my son. He has to work so hard to accomplish simple tasks that most of us take for granted. The “natural” stages of development do not come naturally for him; he has to fight for each new milestone. It is very bittersweet knowing that he will face many more challenges and victories as he grows. We just had another recent victory last week when Benjamin started pushing himself up into a sitting position. When he was finally able to remain sitting up on his own at 14 months, I never imagined that it wouldn’t be until after his second birthday that he would be able to get himself into that position. I never imagined that I would have a two year old who isn’t crawling or saying any words. However, I cannot even begin to describe the pride and the love that swells in my heart as I watch him push up on his little arms will all his might, leg up in the air and finally stabilize himself in an upright position. It has been reason for much celebration in our home!
One of the greatest lessons God is teaching me through my son is to celebrate and cherish the little things. He’s teaching me to focus on what He is doing, not on what He’s not doing.  He’s teaching me to live more in the present. I’m far from mastering these lessons, but thankfully I have a very patient Teacher who knows exactly how to help me develop and grow. I’m even more thankful that He never compares me to others but simply loves and celebrates me every step of the way. His love is perfect; mine is not, but my prayer is that I would reflect His love to Benjamin and to others more and more in the days and years to come.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Day at the Park

From mid March...
The weather has been truly beautiful today. The temperature has been in the mid 70’s, the sun is shining, and there is a gentle breeze—I had to take Benjamin outside. I considered a simple walk around the neighborhood, but it just didn’t seem appealing today. I considered laying a blanket out on the front lawn and blowing bubbles, but I really wanted to be able to move around more. Then I considered Johnstone Park. It seemed to be the right fit for such a beautiful day. Nestled on the outskirts of downtown Bartlesville with the Caney River looping around it, Johnstone Park offers both beautiful trees and wide open spaces, a lovely walking trail, covered picnic areas and playground equipment. So, after our afternoon nursing session I packed up a small diaper bag, and we loaded up in the car.
As I had anticipated, the park was full of activity. The playground area was swarming with children, mostly from the Boys and Girls Club who are out of school for spring break. Vehicles were dotted everywhere. I pulled in next to a pick-up truck where two elderly men sat with the windows down, leisurely conversing. After getting Benjamin situated in his stroller, I headed for the walking trail. I was thankful that the path itself looked pretty empty; most of the activity was in the playground area. As we walked I breathed in the fresh air, enjoyed the surroundings, and took time to quietly pray and reflect.
During Benjamin’s first few days of life, our close family friend Myong went jogging at Johnstone Park daily, praying and crying out to God for Benjamin’s life. Months after he was born she revealed to us that after seeing our son for the first time, she held back her tears until she left us, wondering how in the world he could survive. As she jogged and prayed over those few days, God used simple things in nature such as four-leaf clovers and butterflies and birds to speak to her about His hand over Benjamin’s life. It was a sweet realization that I was now walking with my beautiful son on the same path where Myong had spent so much time praying for him to live.
At one point we stopped to sit at a bench. I had Benjamin face me in his stroller, and we played his favorite clapping game (discovered by Grandma Jan) where I clap my hands, and he places his hand in between mine. I gave him kisses, and he squealed and grabbed for my face before we resumed our walk. We soon came to the end of the path, but I didn’t feel ready to go home yet. I looked over to the playground area that was such a buzz of activity and wrestled with whether or not to take Benjamin to the toddler equipment. As he is not even crawling yet, I knew there wouldn’t be much we could do, but I thought he might at least be able to go down a slide with Mommy holding him.
The toddler gym was mostly empty except for one or two children. One little boy was giggling and running all over the gym as a woman (mother or grandmother I’m not sure) pretended to chase after him. She smiled at me and then watched as I held Benjamin and tried to familiarize him with some of the equipment. I then held him up to a slide and tried to help him slide down. Not knowing what to think of this new experience, Benjamin kept spreading both legs out, stopping himself along the edges. He gave me a quizzical look and didn’t seem too interested in what we were doing. After a few more failed attempts I decided that slides would have to wait.
By now the woman had moved over to the baby swings with her little guy. I didn’t want to seem like I was following her, but I thought that a swing might be something we could do. The other little boy was already swinging high and squealing with delight as I got Benjamin settled into his swing. Instead of swinging him high, I kept a hold of the chain handles and gently pushed him back and forth. I had to keep an eye on his mouth to make sure he wasn’t sucking on the metal handles. Benjamin seemed to be surprised by this new experience, but he enjoyed watching the other little boy swing and laugh. At one point I asked the other lady how old the boy was and she said he was three. She asked Benjamin’s age and I told her 21 months. I then commented “This is his first time to swing. He’s still trying to decide what he thinks of it.” I wrestled with feelings of self-consciousness, knowing my statement was probably surprising. A moment later I decided to actually let go of the swing handles and just gently push Benjamin. He seemed to do ok, until I glanced away for a moment at some girls who had just run up. In that split second he tried to launch himself to get to me. Thankfully, the swing seat was high enough around him that it held him in place, but images of him tumbling head first onto the ground still crowded into my mind. I decided that was enough swinging for the day and pulled him out.
In one last playground attempt, we headed for the “big kid” swings where I sat down with Benjamin on my lap and slowly rocked. We only lasted a few moments; the swing was uncomfortable and a group of girls were heading over to play, so I wanted to make room for them. I placed Benjamin back in his stroller and headed for the car. I felt a mixture of emotions. It was wonderful to have some time outside with my son, and I enjoy trying new things with him. However, it was difficult to be reminded of his present delays and the limitations they create. I so look forward to the day when Benjamin can hold my hand as we walk through the park. I look forward to watching him climb and slide and swing. I imagine the smiles and laughter that will accompany these future outings. I know they will come; it just won’t be within the time table I once envisioned. As I lifted Benjamin out of his stroller and got ready to place him in his car seat, he smiled and me and squealed. He was so content-so happy to be outside and just spend time with Mommy. I found myself saying, “Did you have a good time? That’s what’s important.” And it is.