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Published February 27, 2012, 11:30 PM

Parenting Perspectives: Sometimes, the right thing just feels wrong

Every afternoon the same CD spun in our living room. Cinderella sang about the wishes her heart makes. And my 3-year-old daughter, wearing a tiara and too-small Disney Halloween costume over her jeans and sweatshirt, danced around on her tiptoes, pirouetting and curtseying to the soundtrack.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

Every afternoon the same CD spun in our living room. Cinderella sang about the wishes her heart makes. And my 3-year-old daughter, wearing a tiara and too-small Disney Halloween costume over her jeans and sweatshirt, danced around on her tiptoes, pirouetting and curtseying to the soundtrack.

She doesn’t dance like that anymore after a recent whirlwind of medical appointments that still has me bewildered.

See, Eve’s tiptoeing wasn’t just limited to her living room ballet performances. It’s how she would walk most of the time, especially when barefoot.

I noticed it, but didn’t realize it could be problematic until a therapy screening at her preschool. The therapist who observed Eve walk on her toes talked about tight heel cords and the lifelong issues they can cause.

A call to Eve’s pediatrician in January led to an appointment with a physical medicine doctor, who referred us to a certified orthotist, and before I fully grasped what was happening, my daughter’s legs were being wrapped in a sticky cast to create custom leg braces.

The plastic braces, called AFOs, wrap around her feet and extend up her calves over special, seamless knee-high socks. They force her to walk on her heels. She can’t get up on her toes while wearing them, even if she tries.

She has to wear the AFOs, and her sneakers, whenever she’s awake and active, probably for a year.

She’s been a trouper, wearing them without complaint. But the first afternoon Eve started to dance to her favorite CD while wearing the braces, she got frustrated. She couldn’t twirl.

That’s when the pretend dance recitals stopped, I realize now.

It saddens me, as do so many other scattered thoughts that have barraged me since I was told she had to wear the orthotics.

I picture her this summer in sundresses and shorts with the clunky braces and shoes. I imagine her wondering aloud why she can’t wear sandals, and my heart aches.

I’m weary of extra appointments and corrective measures after years of dealing with Eve’s crossed eyes. I realize this sounds petty when so many children face much more severe health challenges, but I yearn for “normal” development. Why couldn’t we have had to worry about just one body part?

I fear kids will tease her, though the medical professional guiding us on this treatment path assure me kids her age don’t focus on things like that.

The obtrusiveness of the braces and the length of time she’ll likely have to wear them feels so drastic to me. I wonder if she wouldn’t just outgrow the toe walking, or if we couldn’t try some less cumbersome treatment first.

Again, those medical professionals dismiss my uneasiness. They tell me lots of kids wear braces, though I don’t know any. And they all tell me I’m doing the “right thing.”

That’s when a very cynical seed in my soul points out that every one of those medical professionals has a financial stake in her wearing those expensive braces.

I know that voice is being unfair, and I have enough optimism to believe the system is putting Eve’s best interests first. But I think all my disquiet stems from powerlessness.

I don’t understand why Eve walks on her toes, as toe walking usually accompanies some other medical issue like cerebral palsy. I don’t know what other options for treatment are out there, because none were offered. I don’t know what all this is going to cost us in the end.

I don’t know with 100 percent surety what the “right thing” really is.

So every morning I help Eve strap on the pink-and-purple braces. I shove her feet into her new light-up Cinderella sneakers, a full size larger to accommodate the orthotics.

And I just hope I’m doing what’s best for my daughter. That in the end, she’ll be healthy and happy and dancing.

That’s the wish my aching heart makes.

Sherri Richards is an employee of The Forum and mother of a 3-year-old daughter and 7-month-old son.

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