One foot forward – what a summer vacation can teach about determination

One Foot Forward - #vacation #determination

Background image by rpertiet (The Stairs) via Wikimedia Commons

“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 Beach Light -

Currituck Beach Light –
Just in case you wanted to know what 1,000,000 bricks look like

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.

Currituck Beach Light -

View from the top

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.





Be mine – you’ll thank me later

Nothing says I love you like an ultimatum (image from flickr)

Valentines Day is Saturday, just in case you had somehow avoided the seasonal section at the local drug store during the last few weeks. I wouldn’t blame you if you had. Most of the Valentines related merchandise at the store closest to me has already been marked down and moved to the discount rack to make room for Easter.

I had received a notice from my son’s teacher that all students were to bring in Valentines for the class along with a small treat. She was even kind enough to provide a list of names as well as a suggested schedule of how many we should create each night so as not to overwhelm our child. I don’t exactly know where I stand on this issue. Doesn’t the Valentine lose a bit of its sparkle when it is a) mandatory and b) generic? But then again, kiddo is only six. In his book, any assignment that results in candy is a good assignment.

Up until this time, we had made all of our cards for his friends at day care by hand. Some were finger paints. Some were water colors. Some were random pieces of paper glued together in a shape vaguely resembling a heart (why I am not on dozens of Pinterest boards is a mystery). Making individualized cards by hand is easy when there are only four other children at the center with a supervising adult (especially when most can’t read more than their name), but the list his teacher sent home this year contained over twenty names. Gah! Who has time for that?

To my darling boy, if you happen to come across mommy’s writing at some future date and see this post, know that we love you, and are so terribly, terribly proud of you, but watching you write sentences at this age can sometimes be like watching someone trying to go the wrong way on an escalator. You know the person is getting exercise, but it seems to take an unnecessarily long time to reach the destination.

I made the executive decision that we would be purchasing cards this year. All he would have to do is copy each friend’s name from the list on the card. He selected a box featuring several different Hot Wheel’s race car designs and got to work. I would read a name from the list as he scribbled away. As I read the name of one of his best friends, he turned the card over and looked at the image. “Oh, he is going to love this one!” he smiled. A few names later, he flipped the card over again. Only this time he frowned as he said, “she’s not going to like this card.”

Apparently, in my son’s opinion, if it isn’t pink, purple, or has Elsa on the back, the girls in his class just aren’t interested. However, I had no interest in picking up a second pack of cards. It is the thought that counts, right? I told him the girls would have to accept what he gave them. The message must have sunk in, because when the next girl’s name was read he announced proudly that “she was just going to have to get over it.”

Imagine then how guilty then I felt to read a piece in the Washington Post about how the mindset which allows a man to view women as conquests, rather than people, might actually develop in early childhood. In it, the author argues:

“We teach our boys that it’s up to them to be the aggressor, to make a move, to ask her out. We teach our girls to sit and wait and hope for someone to invite them to prom.

Media and pop culture messages tell boys that girls are desirable and weak and emotional. Conversely, they show girls that boys are aggressive and strong and, more often than not, in charge.”

Had I just taught my son that the girls in his class should feel grateful to receive anything at all from him rather than something that actually reflected their interest? That they should automatically enjoy whatever my son dished out because it was what he had picked? I may have to do some damage control.

Then again, what if there are girls in my son’s class who like cars over princesses? What if there are girls who don’t like pink? They might enjoy getting a card featuring a neon green hot rod with blue racing stripes. They might not have to “get over it.” They might actually like getting the card my son will be handing out. We just assumed they wouldn’t because they are five and six-year-old girls. I was mentally separating the genders. The article’s author is right. This practice has to stop for gender equality to take hold. I just wish it was as easy as drawing a heart on a hand made card.

It just goes to show you that Valentines Day is a dangerous holiday. Perhaps next year we’ll celebrate National Ferris Wheel Day instead.