I sat on the couch, holding my breath, watching Mareto play with a pile of squishy rubber blocks. It was a warm summer morning, and Mareto was quiet and focused as he placed one block on top of another. I was silent, afraid to move and ruin his process. A little stream of drool began running from the corner of his mouth, a sign that he was really working hard to concentrate.
He reached over to the pile and grabbed another block to place on top of the first two. When he carefully set down that third block to form a small tower, I burst into cheers of joy and excitement as he looked up at me with pride in his eyes. I clapped enthusiastically while tears streamed down my face.
Mareto is on the autism spectrum; he was diagnosed just a few weeks before his second birthday. In that first year, my husband and I had spent three mornings a week sitting in a room covered with mats, watching the occupational therapist play with our son. As they played, she explained all the steps that our brains take to do something as basic as stacking three blocks.
On this day, Mareto was finally taking those steps.
What we once would have considered effortless and unimpressive was actually the result of hard work, many mistakes, and a great amount of energy. I thought about how much we take for granted, and I realized what a gift it is to feel this level of joy over my child stacking blocks. Then I laughed out loud when Mareto began working on a new tower—this one five blocks high.
And while we celebrated and cheered for Mareto when he hit this milestone, it was simply one moment of victory preceded by several other victories. I think we need to shift our mindset to create a new definition of success. We tend to define success in quantitative terms. We want to be able to measure it in order to feel that we have accomplished something. It could be easy to look at Mareto finally stacking his blocks as the moment of success, but what about the months of hard work that preceded that moment? Just because we can’t see results doesn’t mean we aren’t building a successful life one moment, one effort, one step at a time.
Success isn’t defined by one culminating moment, but rather all the moments that came before and all the moments that follow. Success was found in each time Mareto sat on the floor with his occupational therapist, every time he got frustrated and cried, every time he reached for a new block even through tears. Success was in the determination and perseverance shown by my son, even though things didn’t always go how he expected them to. And Mareto didn’t stop with stacking a tower of three or five blocks… today he’s building space ships with his Legos and parking garages for his toy trucks.
What we tend to see as setbacks or standstills are actually turning points in our stories. They are little moments of victory hiding in the ordinary and extra-ordinary days that make up our one beautiful life. Learning to redefine success is just one of the many life lessons Mareto is teaching me as I watch him grow and experience the world through his own unique perspective. I’m so grateful I get to have front row seats to his story.