Charlie will be 3 years old in just a few weeks. I have fast-forwarded from a panicked, worried new mom hovering over her child’s NICU isolette to a relatively calm, worried mom who hovers outside her toddler’s bedroom door, praying for the strains of steady breathing and a night of uneventful sleep.

I've relaxed about many things. The tubs of disinfectant once scattered prominently throughout the house, leering at anyone who even considered touching my baby, are shoved into corners and not quite empty. After Charlie ate dirt the other day, I adjusted accordingly and we ate dinner a bit later, once his appetite resumed.

But as with all phases of parenthood, the infancy stage must ceremoniously close as we enter The World of Public Education. (Organ music rises… can you hear it?)

Starting school

Recently, Charlie had his play-based assessment with our public school system. Because he has Down syndrome, we had worked with our local Early Intervention Program even before we sprung Charlie from the NICU. In some form, he has received physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and play therapy since birth.

Those hours spent hunched over splayed blankets, checkerboard rubber mats and countless exercise balls all were supposed to culminate in a final exam of sorts: the day the county gets to look at Charlie's abilities from head to tongue to toe and determine what services (if any) he should continue to receive.

I managed to entirely overlook what I love most about my precious little boy: his contagious, infectious and enviable spirit and sense of humor.

In the weeks leading up to his assessment, I fretted about his verbal skills (he says, in order of reverence, “No!” “Da!” and “Oh, wow!”), his regressed mobility thanks to our family encounter with the norovirus in January and his stubborn disinterest in demonstrating any fine motor skills that require a moment of concentration.

I managed to entirely overlook what I love most about my precious little boy: his contagious, infectious and enviable spirit and sense of humor.

Toyland needs no introduction

Charlie ambled into the play room and paid no attention to the wall of therapists and school department representatives sitting with laptops, pens and paper, ready to observe, assess and report. He worked the play room like his mother shops for shoes: oh, shiny object over here! No, wait… these are just the right size… ohhh, those are soft…Oh, yes! GREEN!”

He was so enthralled with the 500 square feet of toys, it took about 10 minutes before he glanced up and noticed his audience.

His audience!

Charlie popped to his feet and swung his hips to face the adoring crowd.

“Ahh!” he shrieked, throwing both arms straight into the air, a look of sheer glee bouncing from his bright blue eyes and striking every last cast member in his play.

With a whoop of glee, Charlie began clapping voraciously. Without question, his cheers were for the most important and wonderful being in the room: Charlie.

“Ahhhhhhh!!” his audience returned, delighted by my son's exuberance. What happened next formed an image I know will stay with me until my final moment as a mother on Earth.

With a whoop of glee, Charlie began clapping voraciously. Without question, his cheers were for the most important and wonderful being in the room: Charlie.

Tears blurred my eyes as I held a hand to my grinning mouth. I reached for a box of tissues I hadn't noticed before, suddenly understanding the power of this moment and how frequently other parents must feel the same coursing pride.

My fretting days aren't numbered. But Charlie reminded me that the joy he brings to our lives is immeasurable.

More about Charlie's exuberance

The stunning reality of giving birth to twins, months apart
Sapped from illness, Charlie needs a special dose of fun
Throw Momma from the minivan!

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