To the One.
See, from the beginning the world tried to crush this child of my heart.
In utero medication assaulted him. We prayed it would be of no consequence, this medication known to cause cleft palate.
Even in birth the struggle was more than normal. Those strong, wide shoulders, the shoulders that would one day carry so much, lodged and wouldn’t budge. His own body sought to block entrance. Stuck, even before he’d seen the world.
But he came through.
Near death at 9 months, hospitalized. Pale skin belying the life within. Struggling again for the very breath to survive. This baby who demanded solid food much earlier, who never seemed to be full, refused to eat. But he survived. Stephen is an overcomer.
Then a toddler, so cute with that white blond hair. Diaper crackling as he ran up and down, up and down the hallway, straight bowl-cut hair bouncing. Swish. Swish. Big smile.
This post is for you.
The joys and struggles.
Even then the tears. “I not talk good!” You wept when I couldn’t see your lips to discern your thoughts, and the words from your car seat floated out unintelligible as I drove, eyes on the highway.
It pierced me, that cry of desperation. One so young fighting to be heard.
I weep even now as I type.
But we fought together. You, me, Dad, and Jesus.
Cried out for answers.
And we fed you.
Lots of food.
Even then your auntie joked she’d done the grocery shopping so you could come over.
Free speech therapy came with preschool. Me, the mom who homeschooled, driving you to a public world at such a tender age. I fought for services if you went half-time instead of full, and they relented.
God gave you a teacher who loved you. Who saw your beautiful heart. We watched Angels in the Outfield, and you couldn’t understand how a daddy wouldn’t want his son. You talked and talked about it to me, to your teacher. She saw your compassion, and she cared. The last day of preschool she whispered to me, “Keep doing what you’re doing, Mom. Homeschool. The difference shows.” This public school teacher cheered me on.
Your speech teacher was awesome, continuing with you once you were school-aged, but she was also quick to point out to me any area she felt you were behind the public schooled children. It was silly, really. Different classrooms learn different things at different times. I know. I taught public school before you came. But I smiled and taught you to count to 100 or to do whatever little task she found deficient. At one point she mentioned that you made some sounds she’d never heard before except in children with cleft palate.
And I knew. God had answered my prayers.
The medication had sought to deform, but He didn’t let it, protecting you even in the womb. He allowed only a little whisper of a noise so we would know He had stood guard. Had protected from greater sorrow.
Even as that speech teacher said you were now “too good” for her services, she warned that you’d struggle in school.
I didn’t want to hear it.
I kept working with you. Held onto my philosophy that children, especially boys, be allowed to develop at their own rate.
I prayed. Sought help. Found resources. We made race tracks that looked like 8s, drawing the circles over and over, crossing at the mid-line, teaching the brain hemispheres to communication. Did full body exercises to force your arms, your legs to cross mid-line.
Often you cried. Those positions were painful to you, the tasks tedious.
But you started forming letters in one stroke instead of many tiny pieces.
We gave you fish oil, grapefruit seed extract, and lecithin.
Fed you. Always you needed lots of food.
Reading was still hard. A resource said we should focus on teaching you to rhyme. And so we rhymed and rhymed and rhymed. It didn’t come naturally to you. But a little progress. A little forward movement resulted.
Even with all the frustration reading lessons were a joy. We did lessons reading from a Toddler Bible, and you’d ask questions, deep, spiritual questions. How could you understand so much, make such spiritual connections at 4, 5, 6?
It took you a long time to learn to ride your bicycle. Even after I could no longer stay next to you, trying to help you find balance, you fought on your own. Trying again and again as I peeked often out the window to make sure you were safe.
You never gave up. Eventually you rode that bike.
But over the years . . . tears and questions. Both yours and mind.
In the day you would ask, “Why is it so hard?”
“God has big plans for your life, Stephen.” My answer didn’t change. “He is teaching you perseverance. When you are old, and he gives you a task that really matters, you won’t give up like so many people would. You will do it because you learned as a child to work hard and never quit. You have something important, something good to do someday.”
“But why can’t I be good at something now?”
And in the night I would cry, begging God to help my son and to show me how to help him, too.
“Pray,” I’d tell you when the task overwhelmed. “Ask God to help you.”
And I watched character emerging. Tenacity. Diligence. Patience. Compassion.
Gymnastics was recommended to force the body to deal with mid-line issues. You hated it. Felt inferior. I didn’t let you quit that session, but promised you wouldn’t have to go back if you didn’t want to. Moldenhauers would not be quitters, but I also wouldn’t torture you.
Tenuous, this balance between stretching you without defeating.
Swim lessons helped. In-line hockey did what gymnastics didn’t, and the balance improved. Still, you struggled. Held your feet and head funny when you ran the bases in baseball.
Took three times as long as normal on school work.
But you didn’t give up. You worked so hard.
And I cried in private. It shouldn’t be so hard. You shouldn’t have to work that hard.
Please, God. I need answers.
And He led us to Anna’s House where you were treated for auditory, visual, and vestibular dysfunction.
Now a preteen you had your good days and bad. You hated the therapy. How it made you feel. You often fought it, but you didn’t quit.
Sometimes we both cried. Together and while hiding from each other.
I was mad at God. Mad I didn’t find this help sooner. That you suffered for so many years.
Now I know He had a plan.
The suffering produced more than ease ever could.
But then. Oh how it hurt.
But we set our faces like flint.
And you prevailed through NDD therapy, bi-lateral integration, listening therapy, and intensive phonetic and spelling sessions.
You took mixed martial arts and Anna cheered, telling me it would continue the bi-lateral integration you needed without all the specific exercises.
“He’ll catch up,” Anna said. “We’ve set him free to progress through normal developmental stages. It will all come.”
And slowly but surely it did.
I purposely put you with other teachers for your hardest subject, writing. I knew you wouldn’t believe me. I was only mom. But you were becoming a good writer. I thought if the other teacher told you it might stick.
You still talk about winning a giant gummy bear one day for the best short story in class. (Food. It’s always about the food.)
Even in classes your character shined. Your math teacher whispered that your calm, comforting spirit set the tone, even for her.
Suddenly you went from being the one without interests to having so many I couldn’t keep up. Baseball, guitar, mountain climbing, backpacking, mixed martial arts, volunteering, umpiring, teaching.
And always you were hungry. For food. For challenge.
The enemy tried to keep you stuck from the beginning. But now it was too late. You were moving forward. There would be no stopping the momentum.
You loved your MMA instructor who taught you much about being a man who was strong and still compassionate, who helped you process how your physical strength and spiritual strength didn’t have to be opposed as a man of God. You became protective and your muscles hard as rock. We both cried when he left to be with Jesus forever.
Two varsity baseball letters. Continued straight A’s in your classes. Learning to lead as an umpire, standing tall as authority to people three times your age.
Then you were chosen, a waiting list of 60 who were not, to participate in the Outdoor Leadership Program. And you climbed mountains, explored caves, repelled down cliffs and floated in canyon rivers. Even there you stood out for the strength the struggles had birthed. And your peers elected you president. Said you were a strong leader. That you made them feel safe. That they could tell you cared.
You took a voice class, and the boy who once couldn’t hear pitch sang a solo for a full crowd. Sang well. And my young seventeen-year-old with the old soul fell in love with the greats from the past, singing Johnny Cash (much to his siblings’s chagrin).
Your diligence continued to pay off. The A’s came not just from your homeschooling momma, but from FACE teachers, Warren Tech, Front Range Community College, and Red Rocks Community College. When you did poorly on your first quiz in College Algebra you dug deeper, then earned a 92%.
But I worried about standardized testing. Though your work was no longer debilitatingly hard, you still read a little slow. If the ACT would just give you extra time I knew you would shine.
But they didn’t believe you needed it, despite all the hoops I jumped through to get you more time. I was mad, but you weren’t.
I think you were relieved.
You took the test without accommodations. Didn’t want any special attention. The score wasn’t what you could have done if you’d been allowed to work at your speed, but it proved you could perform at the college level. And that score, combined with your 4.0, earned you a merit scholarship to college.
Tomorrow you graduate, oh son of my heart. In front of a full auditorium I’ll be given 30 seconds to honor you. With your permission I will mention the struggle, not just the glow of success in these final years of high school. I have to. The success means multitudes more because of the challenge.
And now my tears start again.
How can I ever express how proud I am of my Stephen, my overcomer, my gentle giant, my warrior son, my Jesus and people-lover?
How can I truly honor the sacrifices you made to become all you could be, the way you dug deep, worked with diligence, fought through what could have destroyed you and came out a victor?
I’ll shout my gratitude to the world. Feed you mounds of food and throw a big party. It’s a process, this letting go.
I’ve already released you to manhood. I had no choice, really. You embodied maturity. I’ll never forget how when my momma ways were too . . . momma-ish . . . you’d stand tall next to me, wrap a muscled arm gently around my shoulders, look me in the eye, and say, “I can handle this. I know what I’m doing. It will be okay.”
And I knew you were right.
But now I have to say good-bye, and oh how my heart breaks and greatly rejoices at the same time!
In a couple of weeks you’ll leave for the summer, working with kids, sharing God’s love at a camp in the mountains. And then you’ll be off to college. So far away.
I release you, my child, this six foot man of courage and compassion, of strength and gentleness, of perseverance and faith. I release you to live out your integrity, your diligence, your wisdom, strength, skills, and abilities. I know you will continue to be a good thinker. To serve others. To stand tall.
I offer you as a gift to this big ole world that tried to crush you, keep you stuck, hold you back. I send you flying forth, strong and confident. You will make the world a better place.
Thank you for indulging this momma. As I’ve said before we writer types process by typing it all out, and so I write.
BTW, if you have a child with learning struggles, maybe there is something in my journey that can help you. I wrote the following articles to give hope and help to families struggling with learning: Tips for the Struggling Reader, My Hand in His: Homeschooling Through Learning Disabilities, Confronting the Learning Disabilities Lie, An Interview with Anna Buck. You can also find several articles on parenting at my website or by putting Paula Moldenhauer into the search engine on Crosswalk.com
Until next time,