Scooting determinedly across the floor, 11-month-old Benedict is a right little adventurer. Once, he got stuck behind the sofa, but was easily rescued. He isn’t quite crawling – but he does get on fours as if he’s on the starting block for the 10m (gulp).
Ben is also starting to pull himself up to standing and cruise. We had to move our plasma television well out of reach when he made as if to climb it. Is it possible for a baby to get in an Olympic mood? Ben loves pointing, so much so we’ve witnessed him doing what looks like an Usain Bolt several times.
That pointing is proving useful in other ways too. Just below the children’s bedroom light bounces a mini-slinky with a black-and-white wooden dog in a red scarf. When Ben points at it saying, ‘Daaa’, that’s him learning to say ‘dog.’ He said ‘Daddy’ in front of me the other week, but of course he doesn’t know what it means. Right now, it’s just another discovery he’s made.
While Ben still hasn’t yet learnt to sign, his expressions often leave us in no doubt what he wants. At mealtimes he’ll wail if we don’t give him his water-beaker or a cheese puff to munch on NOW, and push an offered spoon away when he’s had enough. Expressing more complex wants can’t be far off.
I cut Ben’s hair for the first time a fortnight ago. He was getting dizzy with all the head-shaking he was doing, like some indie rock band dude, to make his outgrown fringe fly across his eyes.
He makes us laugh ever so much with his babyish quirks. He bawled when he slapped a hollow plastic cube into his eye, but it didn’t hurt – he was just surprised by the speed with which it met his eye.
He can clap his hands and pop bubbles enthusiastically. The noises he makes – usually ‘da-da-DAAAAA!’ – are thoroughly entertaining, like comedy music, as is his giggle when his tummy is tickled, or the little grunt he gives every time he does his commando-crawl.
Seeing how much amusement Ben gives us – and the ease with which he’s reaching his milestones so far – has brought home to me how much sadness we have had to endure with Isobel. I don’t mean just the grieving, but also the not knowing which way she would go in her own development.
Three years down the line, we still don’t – although obviously (and thankfully), we’re much better informed about Isobel’s disabilities than we were when she was first diagnosed. When others ask if she will walk, we’re as clueless as they are.
It’s clearly reflected in how each child is developing right now. Ben has upgraded to Pampers size four nappies, while Isobel – being so slim and leggy – has slipped to size four-plus.
I’m not trying to compare; rather, pretty much every discovery Ben makes is another one that Isobel has yet to. Every parent notices differences in their children’s development, and we are no exception. We’re just acknowledging those differences.
Inevitably, that makes Ben a huge learning curve for us. When I watch him negotiating a stand-off with the toy chest, I still wrestle with the temptation of saving him from a tumble before he’s had a chance to try. First-time parents probably feel the same way – but my particular anxiety is atypical; I have a very real disincentive to want another disabled child.
But this formative stage is part of Benedict’s story, and I have to allow him to live it. Unfortunately, it means taking my eyes off Isobel so to supervise Ben more thoroughly as he moves around the house.
Inevitably, this will make her more aware of her own limitations while she remains in the position I left her in, possibly reinforcing her frustrations – a consequence of having a younger, non-disabled sibling that cannot be avoided.
Hopefully, in time Isobel will use this as another opportunity to learn to fend for herself. Anyway, we will never leave her behind. Her story is already embedded deep into this blog as its raison d’être and the incentive for the lives we lead. She has taught us so much, not just about the wider context of disability but also ourselves as deaf people, and will continue to do so for as long as she lives.
In the meantime, while Ben is climbing all over her in an effort to get to the ball that she is triumphantly keeping beyond reach, he is already learning to share his own discoveries with his big sister’s.
- Now we are four (themostynthomasjournal.com)
- A shift in the family dynamic (themostynthomasjournal.com)