Today I took my kiddos to the Audubon Trail on Fripp Island. Usually when we do this I force a little homeschooling in there by making them read the placards that are displayed and then tell me about it. When it was Coles turn he quickly got frustrated over some harder words and started to shut down. It certainly didn’t help the situation when his ten year old brother tried to help him and within seconds 12 years of hard work on both Cole’s side, as well as mine, and others who have poured into him gets diminished down to a paragraph about Egrets.
One of the tag lines or mottos with Fit To Fight is Everyone’s Fighting Something. They have it on T-shirts, written on the walls, and it’s used on Instagram and Facebook. It’s three words that very much hit home for this mama. What are we fighting? What is the person next to you fighting? In self defense we are learning to fight against the bad guy, even the odds of violence against your person, but it doesn’t start there and everyone’s journey looks extremely different.
Cole started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ten years ago, he was eight. As a family he was the first person that was involved in marital arts outside of a couple year stint for Ryan in Tae Kwon Do when he was like five. Because of Coles background and learning disabilities we wanted him to be able to defend himself… and break arms.
Cole is adopted and came to us at the age of six through foster care. He could not speak more than three simple words, was tongue tied, had cigarette burns up his arms, also we were told he spent most of his time in a closet before he was put into kindergarten. His teeth were rotted out with only a couple left because the dentist pulled them, he couldn’t count to three, he was tested through the Schmeiding Center and we were told a vague medical history that stated how he never crawled. This is usually because the food needed is up high on coffee tables or such and babies that are hungry learn quickly they need to rise up to eat whatever’s there, not go across the floor. That’s a hard one to let sink in when you think of other little babies you have kept safe and nourished. But he still smiled at me. He was weary, had spent a month in the children’s shelter with his eighteen month old sister who came with him, had bags under his eyes, and yet he still smiled.
We had a feral child. The likelihood of a child learning to speak after the age of four is slim, like super slim. We fought those odds. We had to have his tongue clipped immediately so he could even form the words in the first place. We took his diagnosis and decided we were not settling, it was going to be a fight, but we were going to give him every opportunity to turn the odds that were stacked against him starting out. We bought him a bike. This was the first time we saw him fight for something he wanted. He spent hours upon hours when we couldn’t work with him outside in our driveway teaching himself to ride. At one point I watched him go off the back end and down the ravine; I ran out the door just in time to see him pull himself up and out of the blackberry bush and throw his fist in the air cheering himself. It was an awesome first victory.
We homeschooled him, put him in speech, pulled him out of speech, and then made the call that we were going to be more invested than strangers. We never wanted to put Cole in a box with what the world felt he could and couldn’t do so we sort of just struck out on our own with him. I remember wondering constantly to myself if we were ever going to be able to hold a conversation with him, would he be able to live a fairly normal life. We had so many friends along the way to help, a speech therapist who went to our church gave me sounds and worksheets to run though and we spent hours doing, “puh, ti, cuh.” And then one day we slowly realized he was talking to us.
It was and still is hard, but we still fought what the world was going to say about him. Sometimes he fought us and it was heartbreaking. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I would be in a doctors office or someplace public and I would watch him and I would get so angry and sob at the injustice of what had been done to him prior to our home. But when we have victories, man we have victories.
In our home we have a quote by Walt Disney written out as a reminder, although I don’t know if ol Walt meant it so much in the fighting aspect, but it means the world to our family. It has been part of a driving force when we need a pick up from the traumatic pasts we are fighting. “Around here however we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors, and doing new things because we are curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” Walt Disney.
When he was nine he asked to be in his BJJ tournament. Ryan and I both hesitated because we knew how far behind developmentally he was to other kids; mentally he still was around four or five. We very reluctantly agreed and all of us went to watch. Out of eight kids he placed fourth. He was directly in the middle and you have never have met a mama who was so happy her child was average at something. I also haven’t cried more happy tears in my life; he fought for something and it was a good victory.
A few years ago during a particularly hard time I was sitting across from Cole at Outback with my other son Gratton looking at their physical differences. We had always contributed his situations to drugs in utero and environmental, but I had recently been reading about children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. We had been so focused on working with him that we tried to never dwell much on the whys and this one hit me hard. I looked up the symptoms physically of FAS and looked at my son across the table. He ticked all the boxes and I felt like a stupid mother that had missed it all; if someone is doing drugs while pregnant its not a far stretch to think they would drink as well. Once again I was tearing up in a public place at the injustice that this kid flat out couldn’t catch a break.
And still we fought as a family. We went through hyperbaric chamber therapy for two months driving an hour there and back daily. Cole fought to learn to read, he wasn’t too far behind in math, and soon he was reading some ridiculous chapter book about warrior cats and I didn’t care because he was reading.
We fought against our own doubt. Would he ever be able to live away from us? As time grew on it was leaning towards a no, how do we discuss that with him? How do you talk to your child who has normal desires and dreams for growing up that he may be limited in some of those when you have done everything you can to tell him he could? We have never lied to our kids even under the thought of protecting them, we are dead honest, and it has served us well because they know we will never BS them. So here we were having to have hard conversations with our teenage son who loves sports cars and can drive our pickup to drop the trash off at the end of the road, about how we aren’t certain he will be ready to drive a car. Our job as parents is to prepare him for the real world so he can jump out of the nest and here we were having to rethink.
So Cole fought some more. We rolled with those punches and he never plateaued. So we kept moving forward, it didn’t matter that it wasn’t at everyone else’s pace, with nine kids from traumatic backgrounds you tend to learn quick you cannot look around you for comparisons because it will break your hope. So you look forward. We looked forward past the shuffle walk he still has occasionally when we don’t remind him, a remnant of that lack of crawling at a crucial developmental stage. We looked forward past his tics that he developed, this loud swallowing thing in the form of Tourette’s that he would come to me sobbing because he flat out couldn’t prevent himself from doing it and he was frustrated beyond belief. We looked forward when they finally eased off and we had to fight with other issues commonly associated with FAS. We fought for him, he fought for himself, and we fought forward.
My husband fought against himself when someone in boxing class didn’t know his story and waylaid on Cole during sparring hitting him harder than was necessary. Ryan warred inwardly as he was that persons next partner and he only punched him “a little” harder. I mama-beared during a drill where I “accidentally” hit said guy in in the groin a few days later. Cole fought the tears and the fear of going back into that class the following week. He still went. He won.
He has fought me. Sometimes normal teenage angst fights that I am strangely okay with and some not so normal fights of me holding him until he was calmer. We have fought in recent months in jiu jitsu. He has rolled with me and constantly impressed me on what he can do for someone that moves at just a little bit slower pace than most. He fought me the other night when he asked to go to a boxing class while Ryan and I attended another. This class was all adults, he would not be with us, and these were some rather serious boxers. I relented, he went, he thrived.
He is fighting for his goals, to graduate, to get a job, to drive a car. Things that most would take for granted and yet still he fights. Sometimes we fight him to push him.
Today after this particularly small win we were headed back down the trail and our little Rosie was lagging behind. Cole went to go get her and I couldn’t catch my breath as I took these pictures. His shirt he was wearing instantly choked me up and reminded me of just how damn far we have come, this kid holding his three year old sister’s hand is a walking miracle.
We kept him out of a box and put him in the ring and then sat in his corner so that when “fights” come up where he is tearing up over an Egret placard on a seemingly normal day of hiking I can help him fight by calming him down, hushing the kids around us for more concentration, and he can finish that paragraph correctly even though neither one of us gives a damn about the local bird population of Fripp Island. Everyone’s Fighting Something, be kind, and keep moving forward.
#everyonesfightingsomething #keepmovingforward #bikesandblackberrybushes #intheircorner #outofthebox #FAS #fostercare #adoption #egrets #coledoesntlikejumpropeeither #waltdisney #fighting
Author- Christun Erwin
"Thank you for your words. They make an impact and its important that, human to human, woman to woman, mother to mother... you know that you make a difference, even to those you never knew your words" -Krystal