I was never one to make big New Year’s resolutions. I never gave up coffee or started a cleanse or picked up Soul Cycling. Before having kids, I usually went to get a pedicure to commemorate the day. If nothing else, my toes would start the year off right.
“Please help us have a safe and healthy cold season.”
“Please let us get the all-clear on these ultrasounds/head scans/blood draws.”
“Please let Charlie try three new foods this year.”
“Please let us get the trach out.”
“Please get us out of the house more.”
Please. Please. Please. Those were the years of need. I never even considered giving anything up on Jan. 1, because our life demanded so much. I wanted more. More help, more laughter and more rest.
But as Charlie learned to breathe without the trach and stopped getting every known virus and grew out of the febrile seizures that had us making frequent trips to the ER, I began to lift my head a little and reflect for the first time since his birth. In those middling years, once he was stable, but before he began school, I would pick a word for the year: “gratitude,” “peace,” “courage.” They felt noble. I would write them on our chalkboard, on sticky notes and on the mirror in the bathroom with old lipstick. That last one was a mistake. A blurred “hope” still appears in the shower steam.
The problem with words like these is that they’re too big. They were like those inspirational posters in the high school guidance counselor’s office. “Dream big,” said the cat staring into the sunset. But what good do platitudes do you when you’re in the thick of a fever, or a doctor is running late or the therapist recommends yet another evaluation for yet another thing?
Now that my son is a bit older and in school, and we are navigating social skills and verbal skills and homework and packed schedules, I don’t have time to be vague. A word of the year is not what I need. Instead, I want something practical and practicable. It was the Facebook “Year in Review” movie montage that gave me an idea. As paradoxical as it may sound, I’m beginning this year by looking back instead of forward. Looking ahead to milestones I hope Charlie meets and academic skills I hope he acquires is wonderful and necessary. But what gets me through the day are the things he has already achieved. So I’m starting a backward bucket list of sorts.
I understand that Facebook emotionally manipulated me with that film reel of highlights from the past year. But those pictures, set to tear-inducing music and pasted over with pastel graphics, reminded me that this year, Charlie learned to ride the bus, to use his power wheelchair and to read independently. He also increased his patience threshold from 30 to approximately 45 seconds, a giant leap for a 6-year-old. One clip showed him actually using his speaking device for communicating. His hyper-speed nonsense, such as “go go tractor sky hummus green,” has been replaced with actual phrases. He makes sense now, more or less, as much as any of us do.
The film also reminded me of what I have accomplished, with and apart from my kids. I took my first solo trip since becoming a parent. Who knew a work conference in Michigan could be so harrowing and so extraordinary? I cooked a few picture-worthy dinners that I actually wanted to eat, with at least one vegetable that had not been previously frozen. I took naps and road trips and saw three movies in a theater. Viewing time in reverse like this has helped me knead that idea of “gratitude” into something recognizable.
I’m reminded of a line in Dr. Seuss’s “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” that proclaims, “Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.” The “Year in Review” video, as cheesy as it is, has helped me look back so I can see the future in a more positive light. There will always be new goals set by Charlie’s teachers and therapists and specialists. But if I’m going to carry on, I need to first remember how far we’ve come, and all the good we have seen already.