The Walk Backward

When helping kids overcome learning disabilities, you have to have them walk backward. Not physically, of course, although we’ve had some kids crawl backward. No, you have to take them back to an earlier developmental stage and rebuild the faulty wiring. Fill in the missing gaps.

It’s a step-by-step process, a walk backward in time.

A couple days ago, I was taking a walk on our six acres, marveling at the beauty of Northern California in the fall. The oak trees and rolling hills. The crisp air. The fact that I can walk again. Something lost and gained again is the sweetest thing of all.

I got my oldest daughter a pony when she was little and facing so many problems. She is hearing impaired and somehow, horses brought her out of her shyness. The day she won Saddle Queen, I thought I’d burst with pride!

I hiked up a gentle slope, noticing the arena gate was open. For an instant, my heart lurched, and then it occurred to me that we don’t have horses anymore. The last went to Fresno with my youngest daughter a few weeks ago.

I could still picture her horse, Bear, standing there, nickering for carrots. I could see her the day I bought him for her, the wide grin on her face as she loped him around. I could picture him the day my other daughter won Saddle Queen on him, how he looked like an expensive horse, his ears pricked forward.

Showboating. That horse could showboat like no other.

As a single mother, I bought that quarter horse for twelve hundred dollars, the cowboy I bought him from grumbling the whole time. The days the girls found out he could do stock spins like nobody’s business, I knew what a deal I’d gotten. The day he almost broke his leg trying to save my three-year old granddaughter when she fell off his back, I knew how big his heart was.

I walked on, finding a set of jumps lying on the ground, the grass growing over them. I pictured my other daughter sailing over those jumps on her stocky quarter horse, Chester, defying gravity, defying everything. Bred for barrel racing, he shouldn’t have been able to jump so high with such short legs, but a horse will do a lot for a little girl.

I tramped on, finding a long-neglected kayak lying by a shed. I pictured the girls in high school, kayaks tied to the top of my 4 Runner, excitement brewing in the air. How did they always manage to use my car?

The full gas tank…that’s how! I figured out with my oldest that my gas was always cheaper than his.

By the side of the shed, pieces of a dog kennel were neatly stacked. My youngest came home with a pit bull and I made her get a cage for the dog. The kid is gone, the pit bull stayed, the sweetest dog I’ve ever met. She’s in the house, of course. This dog doesn’t need a cage!

It’s bittersweet, watching your kids leave, yet I’m still in the thick of it with parents telling me of guilt and fear and a host of other feelings sweltering in their guts.

A kid with learning issues can wreck a family.

But looking back, taking that backward walk through time, I wanted you all to know this:

Go easy on yourselves. This, too shall pass.

Little people have little problems; I promise they do. One day, they’ll leave their dogs and cats and take their horses in a whirl and a huff and the thought of a bright future and you’re left with a messy room and a host of memories.

Take some time to listen, to sit on the floor and play a game with your child. The dishes will wait; your child might not.

Turn off those electronics. I promise you in ten or twenty years you’ll hardly remember those people who seem so important on Facebook and Instagram, but if your kid sees your face planted in a screen all the time, he might not be where you want him to be in ten or twenty years.

Do what you have to do to remain sane. Take a moment. Take a walk. Breathe deep.

You can always get a new house or a new car, but you can’t buy back a single minute with your child.

Stay grounded. Elementary school grades aren’t binding. Nobody looks back on the grades a kid got in middle school. Take the pressure off you and your kid. It’s not worth it.

Somebody will always have a smarter kid. A more athletic kid. A…whatever kid. Don’t get caught in that trap. Your kid is perfect. Wrap her in a blanket of love and acceptance.

Squeeze your child. Love him to pieces. Unconditionally. With total abandon.

The circle completes itself.

My son and his family are building a house on my property, up on the hill where I can wave at them.

Soon, I’ll hear the sounds of laughter on my walks, maybe a small body joining in.

Soon, with her parents’ permission, I’ll buy my granddaughter a pony or two and I can takes walks with carrots and sneak a few nibbles into a greedy mouth.

The circle completes itself. Always.

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