She had done it a thousand times before.
When Emma was younger, she would carefully and slowly roll her body down the two steps of our sunken living room, from the foyer of our apartment. But as she got older, she evolved into scooting down on her bottom, with some semblance of graded control. It was a sight to see. Her four foot, seventy-five pound, lanky frame, propelled itself by pushing off the floor with the back of her hands while simultaneously pumping her legs, in what appeared to me as a painfully uncomfortable movement, much like a caterpillar.
She never did take to the hand splints that were custom-made for her when she was a little girl, to keep her wrists straight, and to prevent the contractures, that partly defined her life. Even as a small child, she was not going to be restrained and somehow always managed to remove the limiting splints–using her teeth to pull apart the velcro. A veritable Houdini.
I marveled at her determination to get to where she wanted to go, with all of her physical limitations, as she would lower her diapered tush, first one step and then the other, bouncing and closing her eyes in anticipation of the not so soft landing.
I would spot her from the corner of my eye, as she would rhythmically make her way to the couch where I would be sitting, attempting to go unnoticed as I would to try to sneak in yet another episode of the Housewives of NY, or Orange County, or Beverly Hills or Atlanta—my one guilty pleasure. Caught in the act, Emma would determinedly pause at my feet, reach for the remote control sitting next to me on the couch, place it, matter of factly, into my hand, and, without skipping a beat, turn her head to look at the television. And even though I always knew how this story ended, I would make an unenthusiastic effort at redirecting her from her goal, by placing the remote control behind my back.
There was no dissuading this persistent, then teenager. Survival was the name of the game for Emma—from the day she was born. With every obstacle that presented itself to her, she would somehow, with ingenuity, find a way of overcoming it, by resorting to the limited skills she had learned over the years.
Precisely the reason she learned to pull herself up on the couch by planting her forearms and elbows into the cushion of the couch and with nothing less than sheer superhuman strength, throw her body up, while pivoting it 180 degrees, so that she could land with aplomb, on her padded behind next to me. The next movement involved her reaching for the remote control behind my back, retrieving it, and triumphantly, and with a deliberate gesture, placing it in my hand once again, so that I could comply with her wordless command, to change the channel to Sesame Street.
It was an impressive battle of wills, and one that I invariably lost—secretly happy that I did.