Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Filed under things they never tell you when you become a mother

I cried today. I felt the tears well up, drowning my vision in what ifs and what could have beens and a healthy dose of you were not enoughs.

He sat before me, alternately working his pen across the page and looking up at me, the mother. He told a story, an anecdote meant to comfort me, while his eyes darted to my son writhing in my husband's arms, my son in the grips of an unexplained urge to bolt. Our daughter lie on the table, clad in a diaper and a drool-filled grin. Patient. Waiting.

I'm sad. When I looked in his tiny eyes nearly 2 1/2 years ago vivid images of a laughing toddler, a boy curled up with a sleeping puppy, a young man proudly walking across a stage, a father cradling his child took up residence in my mind. My boy. My son. Those images are nothing but hazy reminders that I am not in control. That sometimes life renders you powerless.

The doctor gave us our referral. JR will soon be in therapy for a disorder I'm still trying to wrap my brain around. While I take comfort in a checklist of symptoms, I find I have more questions than I do answers--the questions are tiny voices echoing in my ears--"Is this my fault?" "Has my history inked itself upon your present, your future?" "How will I fix you?"

* * *

This is it. I gorged myself on optimism. This will work! Fresh lies pushed the nagging truths to the shadowy recesses of my brain. I will make this work. My conviction wallowed in fatigue, as did my body. I knew this was going to suck. Hope was nothing but a sucker punch.

He ran around the room. I introduced myself to the other mothers, pulling suckers out of my bag and watching as JR climbed the stairs, peered through the windows of a plastic house, and happily greeted the pretty girl who has become his best friend.

An unstructured art class. For toddlers. This was what JR needed. I just plunked down a small fortune to make it true. I tried preschool. Fail. I tried a gymnastics class. Fail. Playdates. Fail (mostly). This had to work.

***

He's such an awesome kid. He's charming. Engaging. He's learning new words and phrases nearly every single day. Do you know he can identify every letter of the alphabet? Maybe it's no big deal, but to me it is simply genius. He is so bright. But . . . he never, ever stops. Never. He lives by the credo- "Why walk when you can run?" His energy level is astounding, infectious, exhausting. But only at home, in a world carefully constructed by me, his mother, or in a world where there exist no walls, no hands pulling him back, no voices telling him NO, does he truly thrive.

***

The unstructured art class was my undoing. I was THAT mother of THAT child. With an infant in one arm, I raced after him as he headed for the door, the big room, the staircase. The other children crowded the easel, the bean table, the train set. Their parents sat with them, taking in the look of gleeful wonder that gilded their toddlers' faces.

Except for mine. He screamed. He writhed. He dropped to the floor. He wanted out. And so did I.

"Do you want me to take her while you handle him," her voice was kind, masking the pity she felt for me. I handed my baby girl to another mother, a stranger, so I could stop my son from running out of the room, up the stairs, and out onto the street.

We sat on the floor in the outside hall. I pulled him to me, willing him to be like the other children. Willing him to just stop.

"If he can't do it, that's OK," the teacher said to me in a hushed, yet supportive tone. I heard only, "Please don't come back, ever." I'm sure that's not what she meant. Actually, I'm not all that sure.

We left early, both of us empty and a little lost. I was too tired to be mortified. Too afraid to be angry. It didn't work and I had no idea how to fix it.

***

My daughter is six months old and today was her six-month check up. While I wanted so much to immerse myself in her growth, in her amazing development, I was lost in a haze of self-doubt, of worry, and of an undeniable fear for my son. I raced through the questions about my daughter, who gurgled and grinned her way through her exam. My hand rested on her soft belly, her fleshy legs kicking excitedly at my touch. But my focus was on the small piece of paper I had in front of me--a penciled in checklist of all the ways my baby boy was broken stared back at me.

Broken.

I know every child is different. Evey child has his or her unique challenges. I don't seek platitudes or even heartfelt words of support and encouragement. I simply seek a soft place to land. For now. I want time to inhale and exhale. I want a few more minutes, hours, days to look at my son and not think therapy, disorder, referral, special, delayed . . . broken. I just want to look at him and feel the weight of his perfection one more time.

Truth. I'm broken. Yet I need no salve. No tape. No glue. No bandages. No glaring faces with a notepad and wire rimmed glasses. No labeled bottles filled with pills. No bottles filled with booze (not yet, anyway).

I just need to dry these stupid tears, yank up my mom jeans, and push on. Right? Because that's what we do. That's what I must do.

Because right now . . . he's alive. He's happy. He's healthy. And he's gonna be OK. Broken or not.

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you
-Coldplay "Fix You"

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

How to Rip Off a Label

"I don't get it," I turn the pages and desperately try to understand the fascination with a green room, a rabbit and a painting of a cow jumping over the moon. Toy house. Mittens. Socks. And that old lady "whispering hush."

My husband shrugged. He didn't get it either. Why was this book beloved by so many? What was the big deal? There wasn't much of a plot and the character development was awfully flimsy.

Although I didn't know it then, I would be delivering a 5 lb. baby boy in a matter of days. It would be only then that I would get it.

***
"She's a daydreamer. It is hard to get her to focus." My mom nodded at what she already knew.

"I know. She's always been like this. She gets lost in her own little world." My mother had no idea the weight of her words.

We left the meeting with a label and a referral for services. I was now "special." I had a label and "it" had a name. ADD.

My mom refused the drugs, claiming that I would eventually grow out of it as if it were last year's woolly winter coat. Although I don't know if I grew out of the condition or if I just learned to manage it, I never grew out of that label. While over time the label no longer existed in my records, it wrapped itself around everything I tried to do. It became my crutch, my excuse, my reason to begrudgingly welcome failure. ADD--my chaperone to mediocrity.

***

"What are you thinking?" I watched her as she followed JR around the room. She'd tilt her head, sigh, scribble in her notebook, and then finally, she looked to me. What the hell was she thinking?

"Well, I'm just taking note of the things he is and isn't doing, you know, what's right and wrong for a two-year old." The sound of her voice was like a needle working its way through the back of my neck. I cringed. She was the developmental specialist assigned to our case. Since JR was a month early we qualified for special services. Although I didn't think we really needed them, I was eager for any help, any guidance that I could get. I was focused on speech--the extra help would be a bonus. But the look on her face, the haughty tone in her voice. What was she talking about?

JR was born a month early. Totally healthy except for having to endure time under a lighted blanket. He hit every milestone. No delays. I never expected him to be a genius, to play a concerto at 3 , recite the periodic table at 5, enter college at 10. I just wanted him to be where he was supposed to be, whether he got there early, late . . . didn't matter. I just wanted him to get there.

His speech was my biggest concern. While he was a physical dynamo, his verbal skills consisted of short grunts and my personal favorites, high pitched, groans and whines. I got it. He had better things to do than speak. He wanted to run, to jump, to make an attempt to land in the ER before 3.

"What are you thinking when you watch him? I only ask because you have a look of concern on your face." I prompted her to respond. I leaned in closer and searched her expression.

"Autism," she replied. And with that, the oxygen was sucked out of the room.

***
He doesn't have autism. I'm 99% sure. The doctor was 100% certain, shaking his head as I told him of the events leading to his "diagnosis."

Regardless, we live in a world of labels. What will be his label, I wonder? What word will bind his hands and cause him to second guess his ideas, his dreams, his abilities?

***

A wise friend once asked me, "What would you do if he did have autism?"

My mind was a swirling vortex of bubbled questionnaires, meetings around tables with "experts" scrawling notes, laborious hours of therapy, and the countless fears that he may never belong.

What would I do?

Love him. Intensely. Unconditionally. No matter what.

***
JR wraps his legs around my body, his head rests on my shoulder as I lean back into the chair and open the book.

GOODNIGHT MOON.

"Moon!" JR shouts.

"Yes, baby. MOON!"

"Goodnight comb and goodnight brush."

"Mush!" he shouts.

I squeeze him tightly in my arms.

"Yes, baby. Goodnight mush."

I hold him in my arms, gently rubbing the arch in his back. His words silence the nagging fears and doubts--in him, in me.

The labels fade into an imperceptible whisper.

"Goodnight noises everywhere."

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