Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Just Trust In Yourself and You'll Climb Every Hill"

-- aka the wisdom from children's books.

The best written children's books or movies contain fun ideas for the kids, but also have underlying wisdom for Mom, Dad or any adult other reading along or watching. I cry every time I read Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch and don't even get me started about the life lessons contained in Dr. Seuss books.

On the weekend, we had dinner with friends. Like us, they had a premature baby in NICU. Like Torran's parents, they were asked a number of times whether they wanted to remove life support from their child. When they declined that option, the wisdom of their decision was questioned by the medical team.

Having a baby in NICU, and following the 'usual' issues of prematurity with your child and having to make medical decision after medical decision on his, her or their behalf, on a daily basis, is horrific enough. To sum it up for you, it's like running a marathon, combined with military basic training, writing an LSAT or MENSA test, while grieving and trying to maintain your 'regular' routine all at once. There is no life lesson more harsh than this one because it involves a defenseless, vulnerable, innocent newborn child and, as most parents are not trained in neonatology, they are not equipped to care for their child while he or she is so ill. For those parents who are offered the choice to remove life support from their newly born child, the suffering they undergo is exponentially 100 times worse than for other parents of very early premature babies.

Tonight, our friends shared with us a book they read to their son while he was in NICU. In addition to reading it to him, they read it together daily because it helped them get through their experience. The story (I Knew You Could!, by Craig Dorfman) is inspiring with layered meaning. Based on the 1930's story, The Little Engine That Could, by Watty Piper, the little blue engine returns to inspire adults and children alike to do their best, to endure, and to believe in themselves.

"The stories in our mind become the stories in our life."
~ Kody Bateman, CEO, Send Out Cards

What makes someone be able to achieve the 'impossible' while everyone around him or her is not able to do the same? Roger Bannister is a good example. He broke the 4 min mile. After crushing failure at the 1952 Olympics, he decided he was going to be the first to run a mile in 4 minutes. He focused, he set his mind, his will, his training, to accomplishing that one thing. Within a month after he broke the record, 4 others accomplished the same thing. Why? Because they saw someone else do it and now felt it wasn't impossible. Up until then, the rest of the world looked on breaking that record as an impossible feat.

Bruce Jenner is another example. He was not the most talented athlete of his era, but he decided he was going to win the decathalon at the 1976 Olympics. He trained 8 hours a day, 7 days a week. He made this goal his sole focus and he imagined breaking a record and standing on the podium while listening to the national anthem. He visualized this scene over and over and over again. By the time he did break the record and win the medal, he had already won the race a million times in his mind. It was a familiar act for his body to re-create what his mind had already perceived and achieved so many times already.

So what has Roger Bannister and Bruce Jenner got to do with babies in the NICU? And parents reading children's books?

Children's books are written simply and directly. You only have to read a few pages to get the message. The best written books strike a deeper emotional chord with you. My friends found I KNEW YOU COULD!, which talks about meeting challenges head on, doing what it takes, and most importantly, the book conveys unqualified confidence that the reader/train will accomplish whatever s/he set out to do. This is a book someone undergoing a challenge could pick up and read over and over as needed. It's inspirational and it doesn't require a lot of time because it's not wieldy and it sets the seed, the idea in your mind. The repetition of reading it daily, sets your mindset to expect successfully overcoming the crisis at hand.

These parents tapped into the simple message in that book. Not only did it help them bond with their son while in NICU (parental presence and involvement in the baby's care has a HUGE impact on how well the baby does medically, developmentally, emotionally - on all levels, really), but it helped them create a picture in their mind of success. A vision that they would make it through that nightmare successfully, and the vision of their son successfully overcoming all the medical odds. And he has overcome (and continues to do so) an enormous number of odds, despite his prognosis.

I am a product of parents who decided to treat me as a 'normal' kid, despite being very ill with a particularly frightening case of epilepsy. Doctors told my parents I'd never make it past public school, that I was not to climb or have a bike, that I would not be cured and I would not be able to participate fully in life. While it was not news of extensive brain damage, it would have been a devastating blow to any parent. And I proved those doctors wrong. Not only did I graduate from high school with Honours, I graduated from university, am able to drive any vehicle, and have no ramifications after recovering fully 28 years ago.

I credit my parents to a great part with this success. While they told me how dangerous it was to climb things (I did nothing else but, as a child), and kept me fully informed about my condition, never once did they tell me I could not, or would not be able to, do something. They made a decision - I think it was when I was cycling down the street on some other kids' bike with hands and feet flailing in the air "look Daddy, no hands" - to treat me as if everything was normal. I got a bike. I took figure skating lessons. I went to weekend girl guide camps and on week long school ski trips. I did everything the other kids did and moved forward without labels or limiting beliefs. I knew that if I climbed something, it was possible that I could have a seizure and fall - thereby becoming injured or killed. It was a sobering thought for a child, but I learned to either make responsible choices or else assume responsibility for my choices if they were unwise. It was an important life lesson.

If we trust in ourselves, in our innate abilities, if we nourish ourselves with stories of success, and promise and love, that will become our experience and our outlook. And if we instill those beliefs and strategies in our children, no matter what kind of start they begin with, they will overcome or work around what obstacles they are presented with, even early on in life. We strive to achieve what we believe. So be careful what beliefs you adopt, because they are your blueprint upon which the foundation of your life will be built. Build well.

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