Childhood milestones like walking and first foods are usually a cause for celebration in parenthood. There are 3 childhood milestones that, as a mother, I never thought I’d be tracking. When you first find out that you’re having kids, you expect all of the normal things for your child. Milestones like crawling, first foods, walking, first loose tooth…the list goes on and on with each stage of growth. But what you don’t expect are the hiccups. You don’t expect the trips to the hospital, the mental battles that you have to fight or the trauma associated with big, scary events.
I am going to insert a “trigger warning” here. This post will include several stories that speak of medical traumas, mental health and the milestones that go along with it all. If you are a parent of a kid with a history of medical trauma, just know that this post may be triggering for some. This is the story of the 3 childhood milestones that I never thought I’d be tracking as a mother, and how we got here.
This is the brief, shortened story of our family, my oldest daughter, and of course, me. Our oldest daughter is now 8, but her story began at the age of 3. When I say she is a tough cookie, she is a tough cookie. In the past 5 years my poor girl has been poked, prodded and tested in so many different ways.
At age 3 she developed this freak eye infection. What we thought was pink eye at first has turned into a 5-year-long rare eye infection. It just won’t go away. When it first started she was miserable. Both eyes were pink, painful and swollen shut. At first she was treated by our local pediatrician in Maryland. But when her eyes started bleeding, we immediately headed 3 hours away from our then-home to Baltimore, Maryland.
That’s the downside of living in smalltown America. There are no pediatric ophthalmologists on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. We didn’t know it on that first day, but Johns Hopkins would become our home-away-from-home for the next 4 years. Even though the redness went away, the white blood cells still remain. To this day they are still there, and she still takes eyedrops to make sure that the white blood cells stay at a minimum.
Childhood Milestone #1: 4+ Years of Eye Infection
The first childhood milestone that I track is probably our biggest one. There are several points throughout the year during which I say “hey, it’s been so and so years since this happened.” I don’t mean to do it, but it’s always in the back of my mind waiting to come out. The biggest and longest milestone is the eye infection. This November marks 5 years since we rushed to Johns Hopkins on that crazy, scary day.
5 years of eye drops. 5 years of no concrete answers or explanations as to why this is happening to her. 5 years since one of my first and scariest moments as a Mother. That’s a long time.
Despite the medical trauma she has experienced and the things that I will never forget, our experience has taught me to be so grateful even for the smallest things. While she’s been going through this for 5 years, she has never once lost her vision. During the first few days when her eyes were swollen shut she couldn’t see, but that was because she literally couldn’t open her eyes. 5 years into this and the only time she has experienced any pain or discomfort was during those first few weeks. You’d never know now by looking at her that her little eyes are still fighting the battle.
More of Our Story
You would think the eye infection story would be enough, but no, our story does not stop there. At the age of 5, in the early morning hours of her 5th birthday to be exact, our oldest daughter headed back to the hospital. This time it wasn’t for her eyes. It was for her kidneys, instead.
Our oldest daughter has now had two hospital stays as a result of kidney infections. The first time it happened we had no idea how or why she ended up sick. The second time we were able to find a cause, and got her the help she needed. During both of those multi-day stays I learned a lot about myself as a mother. I also learned a lot about my daughter and how strong-willed she is. After having meds pushed on her for several days in a row on more than one occasion, my now 8 year old hates children’s medication. She also won’t drink Gatorade. It may seem crazy to any outsider, but it makes sense. It’s part of her PTSD, and it’s something she still struggles with. If she needs children’s Tylenol or Ibuprofen for pain when her teeth are loose and falling out…nope, she won’t take it. She toughs it out.
Childhood Milestone #2: 2 Years Without Hospital Stays
One big childhood milestone that I track is the time between hospital stays. Now that it’s been 2 years this June, I can say that this is the longest she has gone without an overnight hospital stay. I’m sure some people would see me tracking this milestone and say “Man, that’s really sad that she has to track that.” But honestly, I’m excited that we’ve made it two years. It’s a big deal!
There were times we couldn’t even make it a full year. And now that we’re almost at two years, it’s pretty darn exciting. I’m sure my daughters would tell you the same thing, too. My oldest would say she’s just happy not to be sick again. The youngest would say that she’s happy that sissy isn’t going away. You might not realize it from the outside, but 2 years is a HUGE deal.
Where We’re At Now
With 5 years of eye infection and almost 2 years since our last hospital stay under our belt, we now find ourselves battling on the mental health front. The next childhood milestone that I currently track is one that throws me for a loop: eating. Most people have kids and expect all of the major eating milestones to happen within the first year of their child’s life. Well here I am with an eight year old, and those eating milestones are once again very relevant.
Our daughter was just diagnosed with a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) earlier this year. She was clinically diagnosed with anxiety a few years ago. Her previous therapist and I suspected the SPD before we left Maryland. But it wasn’t until we got to Charlotte that we got the official diagnosis.
Over the last two years her food intake has changed pretty drastically. Foods that she once loved now trigger big meltdowns and non-verbal moments where she uses nothing but “Mmmms” to communicate with us. It’s such a hard thing to go through as both parent and child. For her, she gets frustrated with eating and making choices about eating. For me and my husband, we get frustrated when all of our efforts to feed her don’t work. It is truly a tough place to be in. But we’re slowly pushing through it.
Childhood Milestone #3: Reintroducing “New” Foods
Children like my oldest are complex. It takes time to get them back to their original eating habits. I keep reading and being told that it can take 8 to 15 times of exposing a child to a certain food before they’ll even accept it being on their plate. It takes a lot of patience, a lot of strategy and a lot of grace.
I am now tracking new foods that my 8 year old is eating. Not my 1 year old…my 8 year old. I never thought I’d be saying or doing that, but here I am. Being in this situation with her, while challenging, is a great learning opportunity for me. I am constantly trying new introduction techniques with her, learning new things about Sensory Disorders, and about childhood eating in general. While I wish food and eating were easier for her, I am glad to have the chance to absorb this new knowledge and learn alongside of her.
A Childhood Milestone Should Always Be Celebrated, Even In Tougher Times
Whether your child is 1, 8 or 12, you should always celebrate those big milestones. It might be as something as small as a “I’m proud of you,” but at least it’s still being acknowledged.
Parenthood and raising kids is so much more surprising than people expect when they first find out they’re having a kid. There will be good milestones surrounded with love, happiness and excitement. Some childhood milestones may be more cautious and melancholic, but they still may create a sense of pride. Each kid is different, so it’s only natural that some have to reach more milestones than others.
I never once expected that I would be celebrating these three childhood milestones, but here I am. While things were tough in those moments, I am such a stronger person because of it. I know that I am fully capable of being there for my kids in the toughest moments while still remaining strong for them.
What unexpected, unusual childhood milestones have you tracked and celebrated with your kids? I would love to hear about them in the comments below.