Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bulldozing our kids out of their comfort zone

"Max, can you go get the American cheese yourself?"

I am sitting in the dark living room, nursing Ben and hoping he'll fall asleep. Max likes to have a piece of cheese at bedtime and he wants it now. Only I don't want to disturb Ben.

"No!" Max informs me.

That's his typical response to being asked to do something I usually handle for him. Because it's easier to let me do it, and because Max is an extreme creature of habit. He likes things done the way they've always been done. And I am the getter of the cheese. But not tonight.

It's more important than ever to help Max strive for independence. He's getting older, he'd be more capable if he'd just try and also: Ben. There's less of me to go around. And while I'm there to help Max with the hand movements that still elude him, like pulling up the back of his pants or shampooing his hair, I need to encourage him to help himself.

"Max, I know you can get the cheese," I say. I'm not letting him get out of this one. Sometimes, I don't just need to push Max, I need to bulldoze him.

He gives me an impish look and walks to the kitchen. I see him standing in front of the fridge.

"Two hands, Max!" I remind him, a constant refrain in our home. Since Max's left hand is the better functioning one, he has a tendency to want to do everything with it and ignore the right. Happily, I see him opening the fridge doors with both hands and darting a look my way to see if I'm watching him.

Over the years I've discovered that Max doesn't like me to know just how able he is. Our classic story about that is the time, years ago, when I stopped by his school at lunchtime for a surprise visit. Back then, Dave and I regularly fed Max all his meals. And yet there was Max sitting at his desk and cheerfully spooning pasta wheels into his mouth.

I hear rustling. Max has to take a cellophaned slice of cheese out of the package, which he should be able to do because he has a basic pincer grasp—picking up small objects using your thumb and forefinger. Babies develop it before they're a year old, but the cerebral palsy got in the way for Max. The grasp has emerged over the years and now, if he really focuses, he can swing it.

And then Max is walking toward me, and not only does he have the piece of cheese but—bonus!—he has ripped off a piece of paper towel.

"Wow, Max! You got the cheese!" I whisper, excitedly. "AND a paper towel!"

Max grins, proud of himself.

Another small independence victory that actually doesn't feel small at all.


  1. I appreciate this post as someone who values independence very much.

  2. Yay!

    Do you find yourself having to apply a bulldozer (and, really, insisting is not being a bulldozer!)? with his sister, too? I have typically developing children, but I find that developing independence for things I usually do (or did) for them often can require a fair amount of coercion.

  3. I've heard that saying "use both hands" a lot myself over the years its just easier to use my good hand to do things but when I need my other hand its there its getting more rigid as I get older I am 40 and have cp in my right side especially my hand

  4. There were definitely points in my life when I could have done more for myself but didn't because "Why bother? Mom or Dad will do it!" Fortunately, one of my parents was more pro-active on pushing for self-reliance than the other. Also, once I really started looking forward to "moving out" on my own, doing for myself suddenly became a lot more desirable.

  5. Thank you for sharing, I wish there were a way, or maybe there is, that these kids and young adults could connect with one another as each story is inspiring to the family but my daughter is the exact way and if she had a place to read shorter passages about experiences maybe she would not feel so alone. If you have any sites I am unaware of - peer to peer I would love to learn more.


Thanks for sharing!

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