My youngest had problems that made her seem different from other children. She had trouble communicating and also with her motor functions. As parents often do, I sometimes found myself overprotecting her. I worked on her self-esteem by making sure that the tasks before her were ones she could do easily. I didn't want her to feel the sting of failure.
I knew somehow that what I was doing wasn't helping her, but I did it anyway. Until that day she showed me just how much she was capable of, when she put her mind to it.
It was one of those wonderful weekends in early winter. My husband and I packed up the children and headed for my parents' farm. I had dressed our two girls in multiple layers of sweaters and snowsuits, for I knew their Grandpa and my husband had tobogganing in mind.
I watched as they played for hours, riding the metal toboggan down the snowy path. "Over the hills and through the woods, to Grandmother's house we go!" they'd happily scream. My breath caught in my throat as I watched my youngest daughter get tossed overboard on snowy banks, or struggle with her sister to bring up the sled. I bit my tongue, for despite all my anxiety, I had to admit she was really enjoying herself.
They stopped for a break - a mug of something hot and a change of their soggy mittens. Father and I were chatting when we turned and noticed my youngest child was gone. Panic spread over my face, but then her sister pointed toward the gate. There was Natasha, struggling along the road.
Why did she want to do such a thing? Then on the other side of the fence we spotted Star. The large, polite dog belonged to a neighbor of my parents. Star was waiting at our gate. She wanted to visit with our children, but because she was so well-behaved, she would not pass the gate without being asked. Star had been watching the children play for a long time and had let out a whine. Natasha was determined to invite her in.
Oh, to watch Natasha try to weave her way slowly - in too many layers of clothing - up the icy road. It was heartbreaking.
"Honey?" I called to her as she fell for the second time, "Would you like Daddy to come help?"
"No!" came the stubborn reply. "I let Star in!" Natasha picked herself up and carefully continued on her way.
Star stood at the gate, her tail wagging in anticipation. It seemed to take an eternity, but Natasha finally made it to the fence. She rolled over a log and stood on it rather precariously to open the gate. Then she called Star in to play.
Star and the children played for most of the afternoon, stopping now and then to warm themselves by the bonfire Grandfather had built. Finally, as evening approached, the neighbors called to Star and, after getting a large hug from two very weary girls, the dog padded to the fence. Natasha went along to secure the gate, and for the first time that day, I didn't watch to see how many times she fell. Natasha always got up again.
That was many years ago, and still our family shares stories of Natasha's achievement on that long, icy road. My daughter has grown past the stage of being forever watched and mothered by me, though sometimes I catch myself falling back into the habit.
My husband always reminds me of that day when a four-year-old girl took some rather determined steps. Natasha never stopped trying after that. She taught us never to stop trying to reach for the stars.
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