Look At All She Can Do

all she can do

all she can do

As a young mom I felt like a colossal failure. Being the oldest of four children, it was a complete disconnect to struggle in an area that never fazed me before. I was a natural with kids, calm and patient. I had years of child care experience: numerous nights babysitting, summers spent as a nanny, college years working in a nursery. Instead of becoming more confident as the years ticked by, my self-reproach grew. Whatever my parenting style was at the time (though I seriously doubt I conscientiously had one) wasn’t working for anyone, especially me.

Prior to my daughter’s birth, I made the decision to put my career on hold to stay home, but the transition was definitely not easy for me. I became a mother at the dawn of social media – iPhones hadn’t appeared, and the Internet parenting community was non-existent. The isolation was startling to me. We did what most parents still do to socialize: play groups, sporting lessons, and preschool. Only one of the three went well.

I’m honestly surprised play groups never included a trip to the emergency room for us. I can’t tell you how many times a mom would pop her head in after supervising to say, “Stephanie, you need to check this out.” Inwardly I’d cringe, knowing I’d find my daughter precariously perched on something well above the other children, like a little bird. The bar on top of the swings was a favorite spot of hers. Her balance was incredible!

The other children encouraged her amazing feats. My best friend once caught my daughter standing on a ball balanced in a wagon while another child pushed the wagon back and forth, just like a circus show act. The moment I stepped outside, she tumbled off to the concrete, but immediately popped back up and announced to the little crowd of short people gathered around her, “I’m okay!” to the cheers, clapping, and delight of the other kids.

Once the outdoor play group activities were over my daughter found it difficult to be around the other children. This triggered intense meltdowns that would require us to leave, and her outbursts would continue for hours. I thought she needed more exposure to get used to it, so we continued. When she turned four, the meltdowns were almost daily, and I could no longer take her out of the home without one.

I worried when her preschool teachers conveyed that she didn’t speak or interact with the other children. They thought she couldn’t talk. In the car on the way home one day, I asked her why she didn’t play with the other children. She answered me plain as day, “Because I enjoy watching the other children play, Mommy.”

My friends and I speculated about what condition was affecting my daughter. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was most often suggested. But, I would reply, “I don’t think that’s it.” My daughter was high-energy compared to the other children; however, she never had a problem completing a task. She did best with routine and order. What did stand out to me was her strong avoidance streak when outside our home and her tendency to take physical risks. She didn’t talk or interact much with people. She was completely different within our home, very verbal and engaging. Why wasn’t she connecting with the outside world like the other children?

While I was focused on what was going wrong, my husband was my behind-the-scenes cheerleader telling me everything I was doing right. I just couldn’t see it. I didn’t understand when he told me, “Look at all she can do!” To him it was a huge achievement that she was meeting so many developmental milestones. What?! We can barely leave our home. However, he understood what our little girl faced in a way I didn’t. We didn’t know it at the time, but she was living as a small child with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome. In hindsight, he was right.

She’s conversational with us.

Her memory is outstanding.

Her agility is extraordinary.

“Look at all she CAN do!”

My husband and daughter opened my eyes to a different way of thinking. Through the years of diagnoses, therapies, and intervention, “Look at all she CAN do!” became a mantra of sorts. We used her strengths to help her overcome her deficits to allow her to do more. I marveled at my daughter’s tenacity; it was infectious, and I was all in.

When our second daughter came along and it became apparent she too would have her own challenges, we continued to focus on what we could do. With our youngest, her difficulties manifested differently and included motor planning issues. My mantra became a family motto when she began to hit developmental milestones that were hard-earned.

She doesn’t trip over her feet.

She walks up the stairs on alternating legs.

She dresses herself independently.

“Look at all she CAN do!”

I never once thought we wouldn’t be able to teach our girls what didn’t come naturally. I fully believed in their capability. I became their cheerleader chanting, “Look at all she CAN do!”

Then the motto became even more poignant when I began to struggle with physical challenges of my own. While my youngest was in the middle of her therapies, I had surgery to stabilize my upper spinal cord. Our motto was so fully ingrained we continued to be thankful everything we could do. I added myself to the list of “she.”

I can walk.

I have use of my arms.

I’m still my daughters’ greatest cheerleader.

“Look at all she CAN do!”

In motherhood it is easy to beat yourself up when it gets hard. I still have moments of self-doubt, but on those dark days I stop and remember those life-changing words my husband whispered in my ear all those years ago while I sobbed on his shoulder …

“Look at all she CAN do!”

About the Author

Stephanie Mouton grew up in various spots around the country, from rural Wyoming to the urban sprawl of Houston, before settling in Texas with her Louisiana-raised husband. She now resides in the Chicago area, where she has taught her husband and daughters about the joy of sledding and the agony of getting up early to shovel snow. She loves reading and writing about the pleasures and challenges of motherhood. You can follow her on Pinterest and Twitter

8 comments

  1. This was a heartwarming read. I felt your emotions as I went through them with my son. Moments when I thought he may have something eventually subsided. There are many things he CAN do and many things that are just him learning at his time and pace. Oh, yes I checked and had him checked and there is nothing wrong with being him. *hugs*
    1. I'm glad my essay resonated with you and your experience with your son! It's beautiful to watch each child learn about the world in their own unique way!
  2. This is such a moving article. As a parent you always question, but this truly shows how looking for the positive in every situation can make the hard times turn to good. Thank you for sharing your story and I will look for your articles!!!
    1. I agree! I think it's easy to second guess yourself as a parent, but sometimes a change in perspective is all you need! Thank you for reading my essay!
  3. This article truly speaks to everyone. Parenting is so difficult, but it shows that's a positive outlook really does help get us through the hard times. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading more of your articles.
    1. When you focus on what’s going right, it’s easier to get through the difficult days. Thank you for your comment! I do hope all parents can relate to our story in some way!
  4. Loved seeing your article and you're so right!!! Have to remember this as an educator as well!! Hope all is well. I am not sure if our kids are on the same team again this year?? That would be a record of 7 years in a row!!!
    1. Love that my article is helpful to you as a mom and an educator! Your ability to impact many children's lives is huge! Thank you for reading it! I hope we didn't break the streak this year! It's been wonderful to see a friendly face every year for school activities.

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About The Author Stephanie Mouton

Stephanie Mouton grew up in various spots around the country, from rural Wyoming to the urban sprawl of Houston, before settling in Texas with her Louisiana-raised husband. She now resides in the Chicago area, where she has taught her husband and daughters about the joy of sledding and the agony of getting up early to shovel snow. She loves reading and writing about the pleasures and challenges of motherhood. You can follow her on Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/moutonfam4/) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/moutonfam4)