"Go on, Julie," I encouraged. "Katie will be fine with me. After all, I have three kids of my own, and they've survived my care! Besides, Katie has gotten used to me...she'll be fine."
Giving Katie one more affectionate hug, Julie rose from the floor and backed slowly toward the door. This would be the first time she had left Katie with anyone, and it had taken all I could do to convince her that she deserved a day to herself. Remembering how difficult it had been to leave my little ones, I could commiserate with her feelings of apprehension.
"Don't forget to give her her medicine at lunch. And she loves to throw things off her feeding table..." Julie reminded me.
"I know, I know, we've been over everything a dozen times. A body would think I'd never even seen a kid, let alone taken care of one! Now scat, woman!" I ordered. With one last glance, Julie stepped quietly out of the door and closed it behind her.
Absorbed in watching her hands as she lay on the blanket on my living room floor, Katie didn't offer a whimper at her mother's departure. Unable to resist the cherubic little blonde, I lowered myself to the floor for a game of "Creepy, Creepy Spider." As I walked my fingers up her legs to the age-old dialogue of the tickling game I'd played with my children, Katie giggled joyfully. Soon, though, she tired of the game, and rolled away from me onto her belly. Scooting along the blanket-covered floor, she wiggled her way over to her favorite toy, a clear plastic ball with tumbling butterflies inside.
Sitting back onto my heels, I watched her play, until my eyes caught a tale-tell splotch on her terrycloth playsuit. At about the same time, a familiar odor wafted through the air to my mostrils. "Katie," I cooed gently, "you didn't have to save your little surprise for me! I'm sure your mom is much more used to this..." Scrambling up off the floor, I dashed into the bathroom for a clean, wet washcloth, then grabbed the diaper bag off the sofa. Tempted to find a clothespin for my nose, I resisted the urge.
Returning to Katie, I sank onto the floor and pulled her across the blanket to me. I searched the diaper bag for the familiar Pampers I had always used, but I found that Julie, in her bid to help the environment, had switched to cloth diapers. "Great for the environment - not so great for the diaper changer," I groaned. Hurriedly cleaning Katie up, I pinned a fresh diaper on her squirming little body and raced for the bathroom, diaper in one hand and nose pinched with the other. Holding one corner of the diaper, I swished it around in the toilet bowl. Wringing out the diaper, I laid it beside the sink and washed my hands. "Phew! I sure hope she saves her next little surprise for Mommy!" I exclaimed as I flushed the smelly "surprise" down the toilet and rushed back to the living room.
"What a gentle little soul you are," I commented, observing Katie from the doorway. At the sound of my voice, she turned her head toward me and flashed her adorable dimples. How could I even begin to gripe about a little smelly mess when she was such a joy to watch? Once again, she rolled to her stomach and started wiggling toward her stuffed "Pooh Bear" toy. Getting on my knees, I climbed over to her. "Come on, lazy, get up on those knees!" I urged, lifting her fanny up to give her an idea of what I meant. As she wobbled on her knees a moment, then collapsed back onto her tummy, I sighed, "I guess you just aren't quite ready for that, are you? Oh, well, maybe next time."
After a few more minutes of self-absorbed play, Katie grew quiet, and in another minute she was asleep. "Naptime. Good." I thought, placing "Pooh" next to Katie and covering her with her "blankie". "Now maybe I can relax and read that new Cosmopolitan that came in yesterday's mail," I thought, my eyes still gazing at the sweet expression on Katie's sleeping face. Getting up from the floor, I sank into a nearby easy chair and reached for the magazine. "I must be getting really old," I conjectured. "I've only had Katie an hour, and I'm already pooped!"
Katie slept about an hour, then began to stir around as if to wake. Looking at the clock, and realizing it was lunch time. I got the Tupperware container of blended food out of the diaper bag. "Might as well get this ready...she'll be howling to be fed when she wakes up," I thought as I ambled into the kitchen. Removing the lid, I placed the container in the microwave. "Let's see, Julie said `precisely 60 seconds will be just right.' Okay, Ms. Over-anxious Mom, I'll do it `precisely' your way," I giggled to myself. Just as the microwave beeped, Katie began to whine.
Bringing Katie into the kitchen, I sat Katie in her feeding chair. Strapping her in "precisely" as Julie had ordered, "because she loves to wiggle her way out the bottom," I began to spoon the home-made baby food into her open, demanding mouth. I had forgotten what a messy process this could be! By the time the dish was empty, Katie had spattered its contents all over me, her, the chair, and the nearby wall. I wasn't sure how much she'd managed to get in her tummy, but from the looks of both of us, Katie had thoroughly enjoyed her meal!
"I wonder what you'd do with a Popsicle," I asked the messy little angel. Deciding it would be okay, I reached into the freezer and brought out a cherry Popsicle. Breaking the two sections apart, I handed one to Katie and sat down at the table to munch on the other one. Katie grinned as she attempted to aim the pop into her mouth, finally succeeding with a gurgle. She made cute faces at the cold, tart object, then threw it at me. "Oh, well, not her idea of dessert," I guessed as I bent to pick up the melting Popsicle and toss it in the garbage can.
I finished my Popsicle quickly then got a washcloth and cleaned the worst of the mess from Katie's face, clothes, and chair. "Gosh, you get heavier and heavier," I groaned as I lifted her out of the chair and carried her back into the living room. Looking up at the clock on the wall behind the sofa, I exclaimed, "My how time flies when you're having fun...Amber will be home from kindergarten soon! Won't that be nice, Katie?" I questioned, obviously not expecting an answer. "Amber was so excited when I told her you'd be here today. She didn't even want to go to school...wait, I think I hear the bus now." Putting Katie back on the blanket, I went to the door to greet my youngest. Just as I opened the door, she hurried past me and collapsed onto the blanket beside Katie.
"Watch her for a minute, will you sweetheart? I almost forgot to give her that medicine her mom was so worried about." I explained as I dashed into the kitchen to get a spoon. Returning to the living room, I stopped in the doorway to observe the two girls. Suddenly, tears came to my eyes and rolled unbidden down my cheeks. It had been so long, yet seeing the two girls together still made me hurt inside.
You see, Katie was born two weeks after my daughter. Julie and I had so looked forward to watching them grow together. The realization that Katie would never be able to do the things my Amber would do came slowly in the first few months. Perfect in the womb, Katie had been damaged by a careless physician in the delivery process. Of course, the truth had not been revealed to Julie and her husband then. It became clear as the darling little baby failed to develop normally in her first few months. She didn't hold her head up, she didn't turn over, she didn't reach and grab. She was so peaceful, too peaceful. Finally, at about three months, Katie's pediatrician gave Julie and her husband the sad news.
Katie has cerebral palsy, caused by lack of oxygen and resultant brain damage at birth.
Wiping the tears from my face, I joined the two five-year-olds on the floor.
Please note: This story and all characters represented here are fictional. Any resemblance to real events or persons is purely coincidental.
Cerebral Palsy affects many lives. This story is dedicated to those who experience the challenge of this disability every day and the loved ones who share their lives.