This weekend my family witnessed something extraordinary. We shared in holiday traditions, were thankful for all our blessings and spent lots of time as a family. In the middle of all the holiday hoopla, my little boy did something he has never done before. No. No words...yet. But something that made us smile and more importantly, made him smile. Brady played with a toy.
To many this doesn't seem like something that warrants the extra special term "extraordinary" but in our house it is. My four year old son Brady has a very rare chromosome duplication on the tip of his first chromosome. The duplication has caused a myriad of complications including hypotonia, cognitive impairment, sensory issues, multiple health issues and overall developmental delay. It has caused challenges with communication and socialization. And he has never learned, or been interested, in playing with toys. Brady never shook a rattle as a baby, pushed a truck or Matchbox car as a toddler, kicked around a soccer ball or built a land of make-believe out of Legos. We have tried it all to bring out some sort of interest in toys. We have bought every toy you can imagine, trying to coax a little play out of our Brady. If he looked at Cookie Monster for a bit too long in the store or picked up a knob on a puzzle piece, then I ran out and snatched up that toy to bring home. I have asked teachers and therapists to tell me each and every toy Brady has ever even swatted down to the floor, just in case it was going to be "the one" that grabbed his attention and opened up a magical world of play for him. My husband and I have tried it all. My eight year old daughter Molly has pushed aside dolls and crafts, to try and engage Brady in a toy, any toy, any form of play. But, for the most part, we have been unsuccessful and the toys have stayed dormant in the bottom of toy boxes and sat silently still on toy room shelves.
Over the years, I have found myself longingly staring at cars and trucks and wondering if they felt the same sadness I did. A sadness knowing that there they sat, new and full of fun, just wanting to be taken away to a world of imagination and play with my sweet little boy, but knowing he did not have the ability to pick them up and escape to that far away world.
In the movie Toy Story (and all the sweet sequels) the toys come alive and grow with "their child". There is emptiness and overwhelming sadness when they think they are no longer needed and there is the pure joy when they realize the permenant spot they hold in their owner's lives and the role they played in helping him grow from a little one to a young man. The Toy Story movies are a wonderful journey through the stages most children experience in life and how the special toys help a child develop an imagination and grow up knowing they have something special protecting them... always. It is a movie about the importance of toys. The love toys can give and the love toys can get. My husband and I watched the third movie a few weeks ago and both shed some tears as the final song played. We cried because we remembered that moment, the moment when you become a grown up and you have to say goodbye to all that made up your childhood, and helped shape your future. We cried because the emotions in that sweet movie, were so real. Maybe we cried, because we feared our son would never have the opportunity experience all of this magic. Toys play a special part in all children's lives and to not see my son come alive when he is surrounded by so many, just waiting for him to pick them up and find a favorite, is a difficult scene to witness, day after day.
On Friday afternoon, my little boy, walked over to a ball popper, a toy that made noise and spun around, and looked right at, picked up a ball and slide it right down the bright yellow ramp. He looked at that ball roll down, noisily pop onto the colorful steps and jump up into the spinning circle. He watched. He smiled. And he picked up another ball. He did it again and again. His big sister, who has pushed aside frustration and patiently tried to show her brother toy after toy over the years, crawled over next to him and started cheering her brother on. "Do it again Brady" "Great job Brady" "Your doing it Brady...you are playing!" Oh yes, he was!
My husband grabbed his phone and started recording Brady's first experience with a toy. His first experience figuring out what the toy was suppose to do, and actually making it do what it was intended to do. My daughter smiled and stared up at her brother with a sense of pride that most eight year old little girls will never experience for another person. She was beyond happy to see her little brother do what she took for granted. I knew she was thinking, this is it, I will have a playmate and I will play with whatever my little brother wants. She knew she was witnessing progress and so did we.
What we were watching Brady do, was finally engaging in cause and effect activities. Most parents do not realize that toys teach our children a basic skill that so many of us take for granted. The basic concept of cause and effect comes from playing with toys. If I stack the blocks, then I can knock them down. If I push the car, it will come to me. If I put the small cup inside the big cup, it will fit. Cause and effect. This concept is not something we sit down and teach our children, it comes from every day activities and learning how toys work and how to play with others. To have speech and language, you must understand the basic elements of cause and effect. Brady's kind and patient speech therapist has worked on this one concept all summer and fall with Brady. He needs to grasp this for the communication that we know will come. Progress in this concept will lead to progress in signing, or using an iPad or talking or whatever way Brady will find to communicate. By watching Brady push those balls down the ramp, stop and soak it in and smile, I knew I was witnessing progress.
This time of the year gets tricky. Loving family members ask what does Brady want for Christmas? Friends ask, what is Brady asking Santa for this year? Kind cashiers ask, as we check out, what special toy does this little one want under the tree? These questions are all well meaning, but they are difficult for me as Brady's mom. He has never really played with any of the bright new toys Santa has left under the tree each and every Christmas morning. Many times, I respond, with, "Oh, Brady could use some new pajamas." But, we all know, nobody wants to buy a four and a half year old boy pjs or clothes. This year, I want to be able to answer with one special toy he will truly play with, but for now, I will let him just sit back and enjoy playing with something that he has already figured out and already feels special to him. This is progress.
A few minutes playing with a toy is a small step. It is a moment many parents pass by each and every day without a second thought, but not me. I have watched the grainy video my husband shot of my son playing, over and over. I am soaking up every detail, how he picked up the balls, how he knew to put them on the ramp and push them down and how he smiled when he knew he did it. I am enjoying my sweet daughter, who gives up so much for her brother, push him to keep going because she too has waited so long to see this accomplishment. I am feeling the pride that comes from watching him play not once, but a little more day after day. I am letting myself believe that progress is happening.
Someday, the toys will come alive for my little boy. He will grow up with them and let them take him to a world of unbridled imagination and laughter. Each day Brady makes progress, whether it is a few minutes with a toy or a thoughtful look into my eyes or a loud giggle when he discovers his shadow, and I am so thankful to be a witness to such extraordinary progress.