My son just turned 10 last month. He was very excited about his birthday. We have a tradition that our kids get to choose their birthday dinner. He chose, with much excitement, meatballs, fries, and cinnamon toast crunch cake for dessert. Yes, that’s a real thing, and it tastes pretty good. I’m always excited to see what he’ll pick for his birthday; it is a really big deal to us and him. This was his second birthday home with us and we want to make every one of them count.
You see, we first met our son when he was 8 years old. He had lived those 8 years in multiple orphanages, halfway around the world in Eastern Europe.
This was taken in our son’s home country, in the orphanage where he spent most of his life.
He was very isolated and much of his days were spent sitting on a couch, with only the TV or radio for company. He had never walked on his own. We were led to believe that this would always be the case, as his cerebral palsy was deemed too severe.
I am beyond thrilled to say that in his year and a half home with us, this has all changed. The main reasons for these drastic changes in my son’s life, I believe, are due to the value, stability, and safety that a permanent family brings and also because of my son’s strength of character and perseverance! In short, his grit and determination.
Our son enjoying his new bike, now having the strong legs to pedal it.
Daily, my son shows me that we do not have to be bound and trapped by our disabilities, circumstances, or our past. It may take effort and work and struggle, but we can move forward. We can become better and stronger. We can push ourselves.
My son had barely been home with us for three months when he took his first steps completely unassisted! I wish I had the words to articulate what a momentous and life-changing moment that was for us and him! He let his grandma and her musical doorbell motivate him to walk to the front door.
Since then, he has only continued to grow stronger and more confident. He now can run down our hallway with ease and jump unassisted. He has an adaptive bike, which he loves to ride and is very proud of. When we first met him, back in that orphanage, he was afraid to use his left hand for anything. His left side was perceived to be much weaker and so everyone around him avoided that side of his body. Now, however, he is using both his hands to learn the piano and doing quite well at it. He’s also teaching himself the ukulele; he has a natural gift for music, a talent that never would have been allowed to flourish if he had been left in that orphanage.
Two months ago, he physically could not do a sit up; his abdominal muscles were literally unable to do that task. We worked with him, doing other exercises to strengthen those muscles. Now, he can do 18! He could just quit and who would blame him? Having lived for eight years in isolation with malnutrition and little education, he has so much to overcome. But so far he has not taken the easy way out and for that I am so proud.
Recently, though, I was confronted with the true grit that my son possesses and it was a beautiful and humbling experience. We went for a 1.7-mile hike. This hike was at a higher altitude and had inclines and descents, some of which were rather steep. And my son, who has only been walking for a little over a year on his own, whose lungs and heart had never been accustomed to any kind of exercise and who had never lifted anything heavier than his shoes in his orphanage days, walked most of it without being carried!
Our family as we hiked in one of the state parks.
As he held on to me from behind (he and I are both blind) I used my hiking staff or “mountain cane” as my young daughter calls it, to guide us on the trail. This was the closest, emotionally speaking, that I have ever felt with him. It was a wonderful and special moment to be doing this together. I would hear him at times gasping for breath and so we would stop and rest. But every time he would insist that he wanted to keep going. He fell a few times, despite all my best efforts. And he got back up and kept going!
This was an example of true determination and fortitude and one that I am striving to learn from every day. I think he can be an example and encouragement to all of us. His determination reminds us to keep going, to keep pushing ourselves, to keep striving. His story reminds us that we are not defined by our difficulties and that change can come. I am so grateful for all he is teaching me and I can only imagine what the next few years will bring for him. I can’t wait to see what new challenges we will overcome and what new opportunities await him. What challenges and opportunities are waiting for you?