I was thinking back the other day to this season in our lives three years ago.
Not many people know this, but the year the sweet girl was two was an incredibly hard year for us. In early summer, D. and I had essentially been forced out of our jobs, work we liked and work we thought we were doing well. We thought God was calling us to relocate and spent a ton of time, energy and money traveling so D. could interview for various jobs. Doors kept closing on us, including some that initially looked very promising.
By Christmas, we were beginning to run out of resources, both inwardly and outwardly. We spent that whole year basically unemployed (except for a few temporary assignments we could get once in a while) and running on fumes. We had received an inheritance from D's grandparents, money we had hoped could pay down some debt and perhaps even provide a down payment on a house...something we've never been able to do. Instead, we were forced to live on it, grateful beyond words that we had it, but frustrated too to see it going toward daily expenses when we'd hoped to put it toward the future.
In the middle of all these things (and more) that swirled around us, our little girl was not talking. Not at all. When we thought back, we realized we had not heard her little voice in a long time. I won't go into details here, but we had a long and difficult stretch of time when we thought we might be facing a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. Besides the loss of language (she had been speaking a few words for a while, then stopped completely) there were a few other "quirky" things going on in behavior that made the developmentalists wonder aloud.
I know, all children have "quirks." And all grown-ups too. I certainly had (and have) my share. But when you're trying to keep anxiety and concern at bay, some of those quirks can look hugely significant, perhaps disproportionately so. One that always concerned me, perhaps more than it should have, was the sweet girl's high sensitivity to loud, mechanized noises. The vacuum. The blender. The juicer. My hair dryer. Hand dryers in public restrooms (which could send her into such a frenzy that I dreaded ever having to take her into one). During her first three years, I essentially had to give up using any loud appliances when she was in the house. Well-meaning friends sometimes encouraged us to just keep doing those things and she'd get used to it. Or to take her along on my hip while I vacuumed, for instance. What I couldn't always explain was the gut-wrenching quality of her reactions. It was such a visceral reaction -- she would quite often literally shake in fear, and no amount of calming or soothing or shutting of doors (in our one floor apartment, hard to conceal sounds) seemed to help.
In the past two years, she's made huge strides in this as well as everything else. Once she could use words to express her feelings, she could talk about how much she didn't like the noise. Step by step, that led us to be able to help her to do other things about her own response. Now, for instance, when I use the blender to make her favorite blueberry smoothies, I just give her fair warning that I'm about to start, and she heads to her bedroom and closes the door.
I knew we'd come far when, several months ago, I suggested that she let me dry her hair...and she let me. Mind you, only on the lowest setting. And this was a special, relatively "quiet" hairdryer that my dear sister had bought for me when the sweet girl was a baby, hoping I might be able to use it. Drying her hair on bath nights quickly became an enjoyable and relaxing time we'd spend together, though for the first several weeks, she always prefaced the moment with a long string of "remember, Mommy, don't turn it on high, I don't LIKE it on high, it's too loud, please keep it on low."
Until last week. When she suddenly said, oh so casually, "Maybe next time you can dry my hair, you can put it on high. Just so I can feel it. Not this time. But next time."
"Okay," I said calmly, inwardly turning cartwheels of joy. It's such a little thing really, but it's not. It feels big for her. For all of us.
So when it came time to get the hairdryer out the next time, just the other evening, I tried to match her casual tone. "Remember you said you might want me to turn it on high the next time? Would you like me to?"
She hesitated, and then she said yes.
So I slowly moved that button down to the high position. The pitch, the volume, the hot air, all zoomed to loud life right behind her. Startled, she jumped, and for a second I braced myself for quick shouts to turn it off. But they didn't come.
She relaxed. She relaxed into the warmth. "Mmm! Mommy, it feels GOOD! It feels good on high! I like it!"
Like I said, I know it seems small. But sometimes small victories can also feel hugely significant, maybe disproportionately. Or maybe not. Right now, I am just rejoicing in this little step my sweet girl has taken, knowing there will be so many more.
I'm also wondering how many times I am rigid and frozen in my own fears and insecurities, while a loving God sits behind me (and before me and round about me) ready to move the button to a higher, louder, more passionate setting, knowing I am ready for it long before I know that about myself. Like my little girl, I hope I will have the courage to relax into whatever he has in store for me.