My Life | Despite early challenges, an amazing child is emerging

Sometimes joy and pain come hand in hand. My son was born with both an unbelievable gift for learning and severe heart and hearing conditions.

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 control.

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 shoulder.

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 mom.

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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