Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Did Mia Hamm Start This Way?

The most beautiful moments of raising a special needs child are those when I forget my child learns “differently.” I watch her playing with a group of friends or putting her shoes on the correct feet and I marvel at what a perfectly-created little human being she is. Speech therapy, sensory integration, physical therapy, cognitive development and occupational therapy sessions are the farthest things from my mind.

Her first day of soccer was not one of those times.

In the course of Curlytop’s development and education, I try to ignore the protective mommy instinct that tells me to shelter her, to keep her safe from a world that might be too challenging for her. I’m not, by nature, a risk-taker, but I want my children to be – no matter what obstacles they might face. I want my children to see things they want and claim them for their own.

When Curlytop’s assessments determined she would need special instruction in almost every area, I dug my heels in and insisted she attend “regular” pre-school classes at every opportunity. She blossomed, with minimal special education instruction integrated into her daily routine.

Therefore, I had high hopes when I signed her up for soccer. I knew she wouldn’t have the physical developmental skills of most children her age, but I excitedly talked to her about soccer in the days before the first practice, and I thought she would be ready.

Not so much.

It didn’t help that I failed to organize my schedule to allow for a timely arrival to the field. We arrived late, but Curly was dressed for the part of miniature soccer star, with tiny shin guards, awesome knee-high socks, shorts, a Nike t-shirt and running shoes. She toted her new pink ball onto the field – and panicked.

The coach had the kids lined up at one end of the field, ready to start a dribbling exercise to the other end. “Mommy, come with me,” Curlytop begged. I walked her to where the rest of the kids lined up while the coach explained the exercise. As the children took off, my daughter remained at the starting point, frozen.

“Come on, Curly,” I urged. “You can do it! Kick the ball to the other end of the field.” She shook her head. “Look how your friends are doing it,” I persisted. “You can do that!”

She clung to my hand and buried her face in my hip. “Here – I’ll go with you.” I kicked the ball a short distance, and then dragged her by the hand after it. “Now, you kick it.” She released her grip on my hand to throw both arms around my thigh. I started a slow run toward the ball, my would-be soccer star wrapped around my leg like a boa constrictor.

Did Mia Hamm start this way?

By then, the rest of the kids had reached the opposite end of the field, turned around, and headed back. We were nearly trampled by the stampede of tots. I turned around, kicked the ball, and pulled Curlytop along with me as I plodded after it.

“Who’s ready for a water break?” asked the coach. Curly’s hand shot up. Of course, she was completely exhausted after all that exertion. I took a moment to discuss my daughter’s developmental needs and seizure activity with the coach. To her credit, Coach didn’t bat an eye when I told her not to be surprised if Curlytop stopped in the middle of an exercise and became unresponsive, staring straight ahead. “They’re absence seizures,” I explained. “She doesn’t have them very often; you probably won’t even notice them.”

I’m sure Coach was convinced.

By the time practice ended, I’d run the field a couple times, dragging Curlytop along with me, but she had yet to kick the ball. As the players packed up, she spotted the nearby playground. “I wanna go on the slide!” she said.

“Okay, but help me first. I need you to kick this ball to the other end of the field so we can play.”

Naturally, she kicked the ball the entire length of the field, dribbling with alternating feet at top speed. Her coach, of course, missed the entire performance.

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