Sometimes joy and pain come hand in hand. My son was born with
both an unbelievable gift for learning and severe heart and hearing
We've endured three heart surgeries over three of his four years
of life. Gratefully, each surgery was successful but brought on so
much stress and so many tears that I am only now able to understand
the magnitude of it all. During that time, we provided him with
hearing aids that have enhanced the gift of sound, practically
reaching normal hearing levels-a blessing after the uncertainty of
whether he could hear our voices at all when he was born.
Michelle Redman and her son, David.
Without realizing it, I shut out friends and family through all
of this, cocooning myself to shield the pain. It's amazing what you
can endure when faced with an unimaginable challenge.
I feel as if I've been living in a fog for the past four years.
My world is so different now. I no longer see small things as
important. I guess that happens when the child you brought into
this world had to breathe from a machine while his heart was opened
for repair. It changes you forever and you understand what is truly
important. It's a strange relief to know we can now live normally.
We don't have to stress about the next looming surgery, which was
our previous reality.
I dealt with the stress by focusing on protecting, nurturing and
teaching. The latter became my escape and joy.
And a silver lining appeared. Not only is he the most wonderful
child, as all parents feel, but we realized he was learning at an
accelerated pace, unlike anything his teachers or doctors had seen
before. His ability was evident as early as infancy.
I remember showing him his letters and numbers when he was just
a few months old. Everybody thought I was crazy. They didn't
believe he was able to comprehend much yet but I didn't care.
As he learned his numbers, he would count his fingers every
night for comfort. By 18 months, he was able to count up to 100. At
2, he was remembering addresses, birthdays, ages, license plates,
anything with a number. He would recall the address of places we'd
visited once or twice. He started referring to our cars by the last
two digits of the license plate numbers. He remembered song lengths
after watching the number counter once or twice.
At first, I thought something was wrong. Why is my child so into
numbers? I initially tried to steer him away, but he always
gravitated back to something related to numbers. It was not my
place to change. This was his destined path, completely out of my
So he led and we followed. Soon addition and subtraction entered
his world. It started very simple and grew to adding multiple
numbers in his head.
Letters and words became his second passion and he started
reading by age 3. We started showing him flash cards as a game. I
started trying to make the connection with the flash cards and the
words in the books we read. Eventually he made the connection and
started correcting me if I missed or skipped a word as we read.
That's when I realized he was actually following the words on the
page. Before long, he read words on signs as I drove, words
flashing during commercials, restaurant menus, magazines over my
He was showing us something remarkable almost every day. We were
so elated we just wanted to share this joy with family and
friends-especially after everything he had been through. And he was
more than happy to count, add and read for anyone who asked.
As happy as I am, I realize this, too, will bring some
challenges. We will have to figure out how to keep up with his
fast-paced learning and keep him challenged, what kind of school he
should attend, where he will feel comfortable, etc. But these are
good challenges to have as a parent. Helping him navigate through
school and life will be a privilege because I am so proud to be his
As long as he now has his health, I am able to smile more, let
more things go, enjoy life more because my son has been given a
chance at a wonderful life, beyond our highest expectations.
Michelle N. Redman is a mom living in Romeoville.
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