A teenager named Angeline LeVasseur with spina bifida walked in public for the first time EVER. The special occasion? Oh, a little thing called her high school graduation.
When I first read about this girl, I did what most of you probably did. I got all misty eyed and let a goofy smile spread across my face. There was a lot of leaping of my heart and butterflies in my stomach as I read about how the determined 18-year-old worked with physical therapists because after years of being in a wheelchair, she was determined to be able to WALK to receive that diploma. But then I had to know something more. Something about not just LeVassuer herself.
I wanted to know about this kickass girl's parents. Because my daughter, I realize I'm very fortunate to say, does not have spina bifida. But the family that raises a girl like that is doing something incredible. Their daughter deserves credit, but so do they. I wanted to learn about them.
And so I discovered that Brian and Susan LeVasseur put their daughter into water therapy at 18 months, and now she's an internationally accomplished swimmer. They have nine kids, but they've tried to make sure their eldest, despite her spina bifida diagnosis, has a "normal" teenagehood. As Susan joked to one newspaper:
Little old ladies used to yell at me at church, when I would make Angeline (get her wheelchair) up the wheelchair ramp by herself. They would say, "You’re not helping her!" And I would say, "But I am!"
Aha! Helicopter parents take note! I've been saying this one for years; coddling kids doesn't help them; it hinders them. But hearing it from the mouth of a differently abled kid, and one who has turned out so darn well, just warms the cockles.
If we don't push our kids to push themselves, the question remains -- when will they start? It's hard, oh, I know it, it's hard. It's just so easy to do stuff for them. Whether it's opening the darn juice box so you don't have juice down the front of every t-shirt or cutting up their meat so they don't choke. But when do they learn to stop squeezing the box and learn to start chewing more carefully?
Take it a step further. When do they learn to stop turning to you to define words and start looking them up in the dictionary? When do they learn to stop having you make their sandwiches and actually pull a sleeve of bread from the cupboard, and so on? It's easier, faster to do it for them but, in the long run, much harder on you both to maintain that level of constant "do it for them."
Our kids need support, but that ends up meaning someone who will stand behind the bike and say, "I'm here, I'll catch you if you fall" rather than someone holding tight to the seat the whole walk down the driveway.
My takeaway from Angeline LeVasseur's story today is twofold. I'm happy to know there are teenagers graduating from high school this month who really are ready to take on the world, teenagers who have the drive to do exactly what they set their mind to. But I'm just as empowered to know that as a parent, the method I believe works for kids well ... does. Our kids can do great things, if we only let them. Like walk at graduation.
What's your takeaway from this amazing story?
Image via man pikin/Flickr