In the beginning of my journey of accepting my daughter’s diagnosis of hemiplegic cerebral palsy, I had a very difficult time seeing all the things she was capable of doing. I spent my days focused on the can’ts, not the cans. It was hard on me because I claimed to be positive and encouraging on the outside, but on the inside, I was battling negative thoughts about her future. When she was very young, I spent my workdays supporting parents of children with disabilities and gave all of my positive energy to them, and was tapped out when I got home.
Because of her chronic muscle tone issues, I had a very hard time being around other children that had great balance and gross motor skills. When Olivia was around 2 years old and not yet walking, I remember vividly going to see my niece’s dance recital. I spent the entire performance secretly crying because I felt bad that Olivia would probably never be able to participate in a dance class. I realize now that I was giving up on her before she even got a chance to prove me wrong.
Olivia is fourteen years old now, and her favorite TV show is “Dancing with the Stars.” I sit every week and watch her enjoy every dance routines and all the stories of the stars. For Christmas, I got her tickets to see “Dancing with the Stars Live” in Cleveland. She and I recently went to the show, and it was amazing. I’m sure all the people in the theater were in awe of the talent and abilities of the performers, and the focus of their night was to be entertained.
The show was excellent and I enjoyed it, however, the people on the stage were not the highlight of my night. You see, I spent all those days when she was small worrying about what she wouldn’t be able to experience, and thought she’d never like to see anyone do the things her body wouldn’t allow her to do, and there we were….
We arrived at the theater right on time, with just a few minutes before the show was to start…and she was running up the stairs to our balcony seats in front of me because she didn’t want to miss the beginning of the show. As I watched her running up the old, beautiful stairs, the night of my niece’s recital came to mind. In that moment, I realized that even though I was in the midst of survival mode then, I didn’t give up. Even though I had negative thoughts and had some depressing days in the beginning, I pressed on….and even though I used to question if she would ever walk….there she was, surpassing my expectations as usual.
In my own way, I overcame the negative mindsets of survival mode and allowed her to blossom into this amazing girl….
A girl that enjoys watching ballroom dancing.
I was silently crying, once again, during the show. But this time, they were tears of pride and joy for my baby girl that has overcome so many obstacles and is her own unique, beautiful self.
Maria Spencer is the wife of Michael and the mother of Jonah and Olivia; they reside in Poland, OH. Her daughter Olivia a person with hemiplegic cerebral palsy. Maria is an Education Supervisor at Alta Head Start. Maria writes a monthly column for the Mahoning Valley Parent Magazine and Mid-Ohio Valley Parent entitled, “Special Parents, Special Kids.” She has stories published in “Women of Passions: Ordinary Women Serving an Extraordinary God”, compiled by Janet Ross, and “A Patchwork of Freedom” compiled by Lori Wagner. Maria is an inspirational speaker, blogger, parent coach and disability consultant. Maria is passionate about spreading the word to other special parents that they were chosen for their journey, and they are not alone. She can be reached through her website www.mariasmessageofhope.com