First Steps Take Courage


There was no hesitation, no wobbly steps, no loosing balance. When Ellie began to walk, that is what she did. She walked.  She pushed herself to a stand in the middle of the kitchen and walked straight to me. A first that somehow defined precision.

Nichole, on the other hand, had muscle tone to conquer. Low muscle tone is one of the characteristics of Down syndrome, so we knew walking would take a little bit longer. Moreover, a lot of work; with a good measure of determination. Physical therapy became a regular part of our weekly routine. Nichole would dangle from a harness over a treadmill where we worked on walking. We did this for months. At first, she would only walk using a push toy. She was going to walk independently in her own time. Not ours and not her therapists. Her own time.

She was almost 2 years old, and I feared I would miss her first steps. We were heading to Ukraine to adopt our third daughter, and the thought of missing a milestone we had worked so hard to achieve felt devastating. A few weeks before getting on a plane to fly across the globe, Nichole stood; she took 3 wobbly, unbalanced, clumsy steps and fell down on her behind. I jumped, I cheered, I clapped, I cried. She clapped with me, pride exuding from her 23-month-old body. A first that somehow defined triumph.

Now I have a third child. One that makes me long to witness those first steps one more time. Nina’s body, tight from Cerebral Palsy, fights to find balance, coordination, and strength. Her Kindergarten friends run free in the playground, they move around without restrictions. Nina watches. I know she wants to walk. Fear and lack of self-confidence tie her down to her wheelchair. Her walker gives her some independence, but her stamina only lasts so long.

Nina wears resignation around her neck; she does not want to take it off.  She spent too long left alone in a crib. Without someone that would believe in her, in her potential. Her first English words were “I can’t!” And my heart breaks for her. The powerful message she received in a cold orphanage in Ukraine continues to whisper in her ear, “You can’t!” Nina believes it. However, I am not giving up on her.  I will be her legs if I have to, but I will teach her to use her own. We will cry, we will be frustrated, and we will get tired. But I am not giving up. I am her mother. Some day, she will walk independently. Some day, she will believe that her body can physically do it. It will be an emotional first. A first that somehow will define courage. 

Her first steps...


I wrote this essay for my writing class, before Nina started walking consistently. We still have a long ways to go, and we have to constantly remind her that she can do this. But overall, this little girl has taught me more about courage than anyone else has.  She is one incredible little girl, and I am lucky, so very lucky, to call her my own!

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