In March I came to John's preschool and watched/helped him walk with his walker from the playground all the way back to his classroom. Walking was finally becoming real for him.
A few months later, he was turning the walker by himself, walking in line with the class (when he didn't stop to gaze around for several seconds every 10 yards) and no longer needed the improvised guide string linking the walker to his teacher.
In June I moved to a second-floor apartment. Not only was it on the second floor, it wasn't three yards from the parking lot, like the old apartment. How were we going to get down two flights of stairs, along a sidewalk, and down another set of steps? With two people using walkers and three sets of lunchboxes and backpacks?
For one thing, John was going to do every bit of it that he could. The only thing he couldn't do was walk up and down the stairs. He could crawl up them, but because of their design, not down. He also wasn't comfortable being assisted in walking down the two flights of stairs, though I made him practice just a little sometimes. (I tried to use the opportunity to tell Sister that if we spent this extra boring time now, it would pay off far in the future because someday John might be able to do it himself.) So we developed a routine where I carried everything down the stairs to the bottom. I carried John downstairs and stood him up by his walker. Then we all proceeded slowly down the sidewalk to the small set of steps. I threw everything in the car while John waited in his walker, then I helped him with my hands down the small steps and all the way to the car. If the car was far away, there was another stage of retrieving his walker again and having him drive that to the car.
Once at the open door of the van, John could transition from his walker or my hands to the van floor and climb up into his carseat himself. Yippee!
Repeat the process in reverse at school, after school, and upon arriving home. Except in the late afternoon, add copious amounts of sweat on all family members as we did it in the Texas heat.
There was some working with Sister, as she alternated days of angelic patience with days of hating the rest of us for making her wait in the heat. I got used to giving her the keys upon arriving home so that she wouldn't have to inch with us toward the apartment in a 15 minute process of special-needs sibling torture.
Over the summer John did more walker tricks and more walking tricks. Before school started this fall, I took him for a walk in the summer quiet around his new school: down the hallways, down the courtyard sidewalks, past the library, into the lunchroom with stage, to the ancient three-child handwashing sink.
The school is laid out in the shape of a letter–though which letter I can't figure out–and two of the hallways have a short staircase halfway down their length. We approached the first steps we discovered. Thankful for the apartment training, I had John stand holding both hands on the bannister while I put both walkers at the bottom of the steps. He held the bannister and I held his other hand as he stepped slowly down. Step. Step. Uh-oh.
There was a 6 or 8 inch gap in the bannister to accommodate a wall-inset sliding metal security gate.
This gap was the object of much curiosity.
"Where's the railing?"
"It has a gap in it. It's right down here."
"Why does it have a gap in it?"
"There's a fence here that comes out sometimes, that has to go through this space."
"Why is there a fence here?"
Uh, why indeed? Probably to keep people at evening assemblies from creeping into the classrooms and causing destruction.
"It's for when they have cows down in the hallway, to keep the cows from coming up the steps."
Each time we used one of those railings that week, he asked again.
During the first week of school, one day we had occasion to go up some of those steps, and as I set the walker down at the top of the steps I saw that John was not waiting for my help, but using both hands on the railing to slowly get himself up the steps. It was exciting.
This week the school bus request came through. We can't bus from either parent's home, but a bus had been requested to take John to aftercare. The first day he told me he had ridden on a yellow school bus, I couldn't believe it. I wished I had been there to take pictures. After two more days of school bus, I asked, "So, does the bus have a lift that goes up and down, or does it have steps?"
"NOOO! It has steps."
"Does someone carry you down, or what do you do?"
"NOOO! Sometimes big boys can use a railing!"
"Oh, so you went down the bus steps yourself and you used the railing?"
Cool. So it shouldn't have come as such a surprise when on Friday evening, after we inched our way from the car and I carried all the walkers and stuff into the apartment and came back out to watch John crawl up the stairs, I discovered his sister standing at the bottom, open-mouthed, and John slowly and painstakingly walking himself up the two flights of stairs by gripping the railing with both hands. Wow. Sister and I both started talking excitedly at the same time, about him, to him, all mashed together, until he reached the landing and I realized that it would be fitting to get down there and make sure he could handle the landing as well. To enjoy with him rather than at him. I did, and he made it all the way up, dropped to his knees, and crawled proudly into the apartment, ready for something else.
The whole thing was so thrilling that I forgot to ever go back down for the walker, and left it on the neighbor's sidewalk all night.