Ellie was standing on the curb when I got to her school to pick her up yesterday afternoon.
I had to stop the car in the middle of the drive when I saw her. She was standing with the help of her little red walker, her hands gripping the handles. She was wearing her leg braces and her New Balance running shoes. Her hair was in a ponytail and was blowing in the wind.
Her physical therapist was with her. She said that Ellie had walked all the way out there, with just a little coaxing thanks to Cheerios.
I took a quick, blurry picture and sent it to Ben.
On my way out of the parking lot, I started to cry. Just a few seconds later, I got a phone call from Ben. He said, “I just got the picture that you sent me and I just wanted to call you. I am happy you sent it…”
“I can’t stop crying,” I interrupted.
“Well, I teared up too,” laughed Ben. “That’s why I am calling. I just wanted to hear your voice.”
For so long we have watched as Ellie’s friends in her classroom run over to her to say hello when we bring her to school in the mornings. They toddle around her while she sits on the classroom rug looking up at them, smiling. I’ve watched her crawl around on the playground while the others run together. Ellie always sitting and watching, always happily cheering them on.
Of course Ben and I wanted to enjoy this milestone together, even if over the phone.
She is almost two years old –just a couple of months shy of her birthday party. This year, Ellie has made some huge strides. In March of 2019, she was just barely sitting up on her own. At her first birthday in April, she didn’t know what to do with the scoop of icing I put in her mouth.
Today, she can eat, drink, stand unassisted for a few seconds, crawl, communicate with words and signs, walk along the couch and even dance. All of those things, we have watched her struggle to learn and we have celebrated big when she finally got it.
Seeing her today, taking one more leap towards a new milestone that she has wanted for so long, was almost too much.
We have watched the process. We have seen her study as others move across the floor on two feet and have seen her try to make her brain understand how to do this too. We have watched her trail behind as Jack runs ahead, working with all of her strength to follow him on her hands and knees. We felt the low tone in her arms and legs and saw the over flexibility of her joints. We have watched her try and then fall on her face so many times. We have seen her get discouraged and fuss and give up.
We have also watched her grow stronger mentally and physically and in resolve. The same determination and hardheadedness that we knew existed from so much fight so many times in the hospital has been put to use to help her on her way to achieve her goal of doing something that she sees everyone else doing — something people typically do.
I think the word that best describes what we feel when we look at that photo of that short little girl standing in her pink leg braces with her old-man belly poking out so far that it stretches the fabric of her leopard print dress is so much pride. Heart-swelling, joyful pride.
With that head held high, chin-in-the-air confidence that she possesses we can’t help but think that she is dreaming about all of the possibilities ahead of her and looking for what milestone she will tackle next.