success n. the achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted. the extent of such gain.
I caught a few minutes of Dr. Phil the other night before bed. The feature story was a hyper controlling, perfectionist mom who had devoted her life entirely to (and was admittedly, and almost proudly, living vicariously through) her 18 year old daughter. Now, I know I’m a control freak (so I still lay out my 7 year old’s clothes for school, sue me) but this woman was seriously over the edge. You know, like over the edge enough to be featured on Dr. Phil. You get the point.
So, in trying to get to the crux of the problem, Dr. Phil asked her what her definition of success was for her child. She stuttered her way through her self-justifying rationalization of an answer and then he offered his own. He said his definition of success for his two sons has always been for them to have the ability to walk into any situation and feel comfortable, secure, and confident, no matter where they are.
The night after Brooke’s birthday party, I was having a tough time (you know, like Sissy Spacek’s Carrie on prom night kind of ‘tough time’). In the middle of a fairly violent, wheels off the wagon melt down, Dr Phil’s words came back to me and they hit me like a ton of bricks.
I couldn’t agree more with his definition of success for children. I have always prized self esteem and have done everything in my power to ensure that my beautiful daughters recognize and truly believe in their own self worth. If a child is secure in their abilities and comfortable with themselves, they can take anything on. And if they fail, they will know that does not make them failures. They will know that they can try again. They will know that anything is possible.
But Brooke cannot walk into any situation and feel comfortable. It is my understanding that most autistic people cannot. It is certainly my understanding that most people with sensory integration disorder cannot. Anyone fighting constant, overarching anxiety cannot.
We can and will continue to help Brooke find strategies to manage her constant anxiety. We will give her the tools to handle social interaction. We will teach her tricks to assuage the sensory overload that she faces day in and day out. Though, God-willing, facing the world will become easier than it is now, I don’t know if it will ever be ‘comfortable.’ So, perhaps I need to tinker a bit with Dr. Phil’s definition of success, or at the very least take a less strictly constructionist view of it.
Last week, Luau and I met with the coordinator of Brooke’s behavioral therapy team. She proudly showed us a video that they had taken at school of Brooke walking with the other kids in a line, progressing from the ABA room to the hallway. I was waiting for something to happen, wondering exactly what the therapist was so excited to show us. Perhaps they were headed somewhere really cool. Perhaps some amazing morsel of expressive speech was coming.
And then she said it: “It took us months of pre-teaching to get Brooke to walk in a line with the other kids, but look! She’s doing it! Look at how she keeps pace! Look at how she follows the direction of the person in front of her! Look at how she stays focused! Look at how she stops when they stop. Look at how she’s doing it!” The line itself was the victory we were celebrating. The journey itself, completely independent of its destination was success.
Profound as it seemed, I decided that wasn’t ‘it.’ It was part of ‘it’, but there was more. And then last night, as I was putting Brooke to bed, it all came together. I’d say that I found it, but I didn’t. Brooke found it, or already had it, and she handed it to me.
Like we do every night, we read a couple of books, sang her favorite lullabies and then cuddled and hugged and rolled into the covers. She said her prayers and nuzzled her face into her pillow to sleep.
And then it happened. As I was about to walk out of her room, I got right up next to her ear and whispered, “Mama loves you baby.” And sleepily she said into her pillow, “I know.”
And there and then, I decided that not only did I know what success meant to me, but I knew that I had achieved it.