We knew from the very beginning that Georgia had mobility problems. She was a baby who would stay in one exact spot unless you purposefully moved her. She showed no interest in scooting around or even rolling over.
Parents, you can see the advantage in this – I never had that experience of the crazy, wobbly toddler who was “getting into stuff” or waving at me from the top of a flight of stairs. She was content to play with just what was in front of her and completely disinterested in things beyond her reach.
Once we started her in physical and occupational therapy, it was evident that she’d need a lot of help not just in the development of gross and fine motor skills but also (and most importantly) in learning how to move through the world and most of all, learning the value of that skill.
Most typical kids realize that movement is the best way to get away from parents and get into trouble – good motivation – and the difficulty is totally worth it compared to the prospect of independence. My kid was the one who, if she dared to reach beyond her immediate radius, she often fell right over, like a top-heavy stone statue. She became cautious of moving and showed great trepidation if we tried to push her beyond her (literal and figurative) safety zone.
There was a time I thought she might never walk independently. I was still carrying her at age 3 and 4, getting odd looks from strangers and having constant back strain. Reaching into the back seat of a car to pull an infant from a baby seat is one thing – but when it’s a four-year-old who can’t help herself move, it’s tough. As a result of her incredibly low tone, she was a kind of “dead weight” and couldn’t engage her own muscles to hang on to me, unlike kids who engage their muscles to hold onto their parents’ sides, and to sit up straight on their parent’s hip. This made it really challenging to keep her upright and carry her through stores. Or even just to the bathroom at a restaurant.
Funny thing was, I got used to that lovely dead weight. When friends handed me their babies to hold, I had to be careful not to whip them over my shoulder as they felt, to me, far too incredibly light and buoyant.
One physiotherapist worked literally for months to get Georgia to stand up on her own, and when she did so, all wobbly but upright (!), we cheered like Stanley Cup champions. We cheered but also had this great realization of just what a journey it would be from this to a few steps.
It took Georgia a number of years to learn to walk. During that time, she had physiotherapy at least once or twice a week, and occupational therapy to also help her gross and fine motor skill development. Therapy came in fits and starts, as she was allocated funded therapy in very short spurts, and we were forced to seek therapy privately as many parents are forced to do. Not cheap, but in many ways you don’t see yourself as having a choice, if you can manage to afford it, or can manage to give up other things to pay for it. She swung on therapy swings and was enticed to roll over or move by seeing her own image in the giant mirrors on the therapy gym walls.
Funny thing – while she was so different in so many ways, she was just like all those babies who are incredibly fascinated by, well, their own gorgeous selves. And once she developed her own will and motivation, she learned to scoot. Want to play in the dirt? Well that involves scooting out the front door to the garden. Want to “hug” that very tempting looking cat? Gotta scoot. Need to grab the garden hose? Yep, scoot.
All those things that many kids do naturally, she learned through the perseverance and wisdom of others and in unique ways. She learned how to scoot on her bum from a veritable army of physiotherapists and she learned how to sit upright from a horse. She eventually learned to walk on a treadmill (going at a speed of, oh, about .008 miles per hour) with two therapists holding her hands and cheering her on. Baby steps, as they say.
Eventually she learned to walk using a walker that she pushed in front of her. Thus began my reference to her as “the little old lady”. This is a title she still holds today for different reasons – mostly because of her wardrobe choices (large sunglasses with a hat) and her frequent little old lady expressions, such as “oh my, oh dear,” and the heavy sighs she makes as she comes down the stairs in the morning. Many kids with mobility problems that you see use walkers they pull behind them. And so with a front walker, Georgia became quite a spectacle, especially when I’d take her to a mall to practice walking.
People would literally stop us, watery-eyed saying “Awwww! Goodness, soooo cute!” Kids demanded that their dads and moms buy them “one of those!” Other kids looked seriously jealous – it was, after all, a pretty cool machine, that walker. Red. Covered with cool stickers. With a flowery plastic bike basket. You know, for carrying Thomas the Tank Engine books or soggy cookies. Stuff to get her down the hall and back again.
Georgia did learn to walk. She’s by no means a fast walker, or a person who can walk long distances. It’s easier for her to walk with her hand through your arm (yes, “little old lady” style). Her lack of balance and strength are still problems and while she has learned to walk and that’s a seriously huge success story, she has developed other kinds of new mobility problems that present challenges for her. She has a kind of dystonia now – or an abnormal kind of walking movement – in which her feet, knees and hips turn inwards so much that she trips over her own feet at times. She will likely, over time, damage her joints or require surgery. We now have new physiotherapists and new stretches and new exercises, and have tried new medications to relax the muscles to try to get her feet to turn out properly. So far, nothing has worked yet and yet she walks.
She walks to College Street to visit the grocery store. She walks with her grandma to visit the neighbourhood dogs. She walks with her favourite uncle through his backyard and to the gardening store. She walks to the park to “see the kids.”
She walks with zeal to the bus stop to ride her favourite bus, the Ossington 63. It’s all good. Baby steps, as they say, baby steps.