“Are you combing your hair with your toes?” is a question I never thought I would need to ask, but when your child is the human incarnate of a Gumby doll, I guess anything goes.
My youngest, LT, has hypermobility, a condition that allows him to perform fun party tricks like the one above, but at the same time made it difficult to build up the muscle definition needed to sit up, crawl, or walk. He spent almost a year of his life in physical therapy mastering skills which other kids picked up naturally at a half (or a third) of his age. At times it seemed he would never gain the knack, until one day the pieces fell into place, and he took his first step.
It is now time for him to take his next first step – into kindergarten.
To say that I am a wee bit nervous is an understatement. Thus far he has spent his entire life surrounded by those who have known him, his abilities, and his limitations from birth. But as of next week, he’ll be in a classroom of twelve to twenty children, each with unique talents and challenges of their own. Has he caught up to his peers? How will he cope? How will his teacher? We will soon find out.
As the last days of summer break wound down a group of us (eight adults, six children under the age of ten, and two dogs) decided to head to the Outer Banks, which is a series of naturally forming islands off the coast of North Carolina where pirates once sailed and wild horses still roam.
After two days of red flags, signifying a dangerous riptide in the water, we decided to take in the surrounding sights and made our way to the Currituck Beach Light.
Currituck’s lighthouse is not the tallest lighthouse in North Carolina, at 198.5 ft (60.5 m) that distinction goes to the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, but it would do.
The sun beat down on us as we waited in line. Sweat formed as the staff advised it would be another twenty to thirty minutes wait before we could go inside. The kids scattered across the green while the adults held their places. I watched as my eldest and one of his cousins started playing tag. LT attempted to join in but he couldn’t compete with their speed and soon the game lost its appeal.
LT returned to my side and guzzled down the contents of my only remaining bottle of water already showing signs of tiring. I looked at the tower. 220 spiraling steps awaited us, constructed prior to any form of building safety code (or air conditioning). Some of our group discussed sitting this one out as the crowd waiting increased along with the temperature. I looked at LT. There was no way I would be able carry him to the top were he to slip or give up mid-climb.
The line moved. Our group was next. It was time to decide who was going and who was staying on the ground. LT didn’t hesitate to join his brother and cousins at the front of the line. His face was set. His decision was made. I guess mine was too.
The majority of our group disappeared up the stairs within seconds of our entry. I hung back ready to react as I could as my youngest grabbed the handrail and took that first step forward. I watched with laser focus as he took another. Then another. We reached the landing at the top of the first flight of stairs. Eight more flights to go. LT didn’t look back. We rounded the next. The inside of the tower narrowed.
Halfway up, another group appeared at the top of the next landing and began their descent. I made the mistake of glancing down. It was all too easy to imagine what might happen if LT were to slip now. Maybe it would be best for us to stop to wait with our backs against the wall while they squeezed past. I hesitated. LT did not. Instead, he kept climbing.
We met more and more people the higher we went and each time my stomach twisted along with my heart, but LT never looked back, never complained, never asked me to do the work for him, and never once stopped.
Then we were at the top of the stairs and roughly 150 feet (45.72m) from the ground. A small doorway through the brick wall opened to an external landing, which circled the lighthouse and provided an unencumbered view of both the ocean and the sound separating the island from the mainland. But the most beautiful sight for me was the smile on LT’s face as he joined the rest of our family on the rail.
It was enough to make me forget we had to still go back down. Well … almost.
We reached the bottom with LT leading the line of children behind me. After exiting, I turned and looked up once more, amazed again at how far this one little guy had gone on his own and reminded once more of how much can be accomplished one determined step at a time.
How would he cope with this next stage in his life or any goal he sets his mind to for that matter? I had my answer. It was the same way any of us should – with one foot forward.
Other random facts
- Built in 1875, Currituck Beach Lighthouse is one of eight official lighthouses in the state of North Carolina, though there are more than twenty if you include replicas like the Roanoke Lighthouse and converted offshore rigs like the Frying Pan Shoals Light, which also serves as a bed and breakfast for a truly unique off-grid travel experience.
- Also known as the graveyard of the Atlantic due to the number of shipwrecks, the sea bed around the Outer Banks can shift quite dramatically as evidenced by the sudden appearance of an entirely new island earlier this year.
- The shifting sands and storm erosion also required the Cape Hatteras lighthouse to be moved 2900 feet from its original site in 1999, which was a feat of engineering and worth reading about.