Sweet Relief – After 27 Months of Waiting, James Speaks

I have daydreamed about this moment since the very first time I heard James shriek. Mere moments out of the womb and I knew this child had an amazing set of lungs! Ear-piecing cries filled the operating room. He was whisked away to get cleaned up, weighed and measured and rated on the apgar score. All the while he continued to screech I kept thinking, “I am going to have my hands full with this one!”

The moment the nurse put that tiny little swaddled baby boy on my chest, I was in love and that was the moment I had waited 9 months to enjoy. Now, was the beginning of a new waiting game; waiting for all his “firsts.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed every moment of motherhood with my newborn (with the exception of some very tiresome sleepless nights). Becoming James’ mom was the most fulfilling experience of my life. I did not want to rush through all the amazing milestones, but the one thing I knew I wanted more than anything was to hear this sweet, handsome, adorable baby boy call me, “Mom.” I knew his first words were many, many months away, but I anticipated them with an absurd expectation that I would somehow feel “complete” or “fulfilled” upon hearing him call me “Mom.”

I dreamed about it. I needed it. I yearned for it. I have my theories as to why it was so important to me, but I believe I felt the need to replace something precious that was lost. When I was 10 weeks pregnant, I lost my mother suddenly and unexpectedly to a heart attack. That horrible, black day is etched into my memory. It was the last time I would speak to my mom. The last time I would get a chance to say “I love you” to a remarkable woman, a role model and a best friend. I am grateful that I have no regrets about my relationship with my mom. Okay, one regret – I wish I had more time with her to hear her laugh, to knowingly wink at inside jokes, to enjoy her sharp witted humor, to taste her home cooked meals made with love. I wish I could go back in time and then slow down the hands of time and sit once again at her dining room table surrounded by friends and family who gathered to be near her and feel her warmth and enjoy her generosity. I wish I had just a few more moments to tell her how much I appreciate everything she did for me, and that all she silently sacrificed did not go unnoticed.

That dark day was supposed to be a day of joy and celebration and hope. I was scheduled for my first sonogram and Mom was going to join me to see the very first glimpse of her newest grandchild. She was going to be delighted by the sound of the heartbeat of my tiny little miracle. We were going to share this amazing experience together. Sadly, we never made it to that appointment. Instead I stood beside a gurney in a hospital and said my final goodbye. I whispered, “I love you Mom,” as I held her lifeless hand. I put Mom’s hand on my belly and promised that I would pass on her traditions to my unborn child. I promised that I would show this child as much love as Mom had shown me and to help set a good example with kindness, empathy and generosity.

That was a huge promise to make. My mom had the most amazing spirit and zest for life. She gave me guidance when I needed it and encouraged me to spread my wings. She often stood by silently and allowed me to fail, teaching me that I needed to pick myself up and try again. She nursed my wounds and soothed my broken heart more times than I care to remember. She was my greatest cheerleader and my voice of reason when I needed a reality check.

I stood there in that cold, lonely hospital room clutching her hand and understanding that I would spend the rest of my life trying to make her proud. I understood that I would make mistakes. I understood that I would falter. Most of all, I understood that I would teach my child to take chances and reach for things and I would be there to help pick him or her up. I understood that the one thing Mom would want for me and for my child would be for each of us to embrace life and love without regret.

And, so 27 months had passed since James came into this world, kicking and screaming and leaving his indelible footprints on my heart. Twenty-seven excruciatingly long months of agonizing, waiting to hear his first word. Okay, so I only agonized over his lack of speech for the last 18 months or so, but you get it.

It was a warm July afternoon and James and I were playing in his sandbox. My husband was removing the “baby” swing from the play set in the backyard, replacing it with a “big boy” swing for James and his little friends. The dog was resting in a shady spot near my husband.

Let me set the scene: sickeningly sweet suburban back yard snapshot – Mom, Dad, Baby and adorable black dog. It was the kind of afternoon that makes me appreciate our idyllic little life. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. The roses were blooming. The air was warm and dry with a gentle breeze. It was the kind of moment you wish you had on video. If I could go back and do one thing differently about James’ early years, it would be to have a video camera trained on him 24/7 to capture the magic, the humor and sweet moments of joy that only babies can create. But, I digress. This is about James’ first word.

After all the worry, all the guessing, all the research into what was “wrong” with James and why he didn’t speak, at long last, he opened his mouth and uttered his very first words.

“Dada, more juice.”

James stood in front of my husband, holding up a red plastic cup.

I stopped raking the sand in the sandbox and looked up at my husband. My husband stopped twisting the bolt on the swing set and looked at me. In my memory, even the dog looked up in amazement, though I am sure this did not happen.

The world seemed to stop at that very moment. Everything went completely silent and still and we both turned to stare at James in disbelief. Neither one of us knew what to do or how to respond so we stood there, mouths hanging open and waited for James to do something.

After a few short moments James did do something. He repeated, “Dada, more juice?”

This time is was a question, as into ask, “Dada, did you hear me?”

Granted his pronunciation wasn’t perfect. He actually said, “Dada, mo zhoos,” but you get the idea.

I raised my eyebrows and looked at my husband who was just as bewildered as I.

After a few more silent moments my husband reached out to take the cup.

“Do you want me to get you more juice, Buddy?” my husband asked.

“Yesh,” was James’ reply.

I sat there next to the sandbox and started crying. My body heaved with uncontrollable sobs, giant salty tears streaked down my cheeks. I was elated. I was proud. I was relieved.

My husband took the cup from James and started to make his way across the yard toward the house. Smiling and virtually skipping as he glanced over his shoulder at me, he gave me a thumbs up.

James simply walked back to the sand box and picked up a dump truck.

I sat there, staring at him, wondering if he understood what just happened. I wondered what to do. Should I ask him to repeat himself? Should I ignore it? Should I jump up and grab him, squeeze him and tell him how proud I am that he spoke? I opted for no reaction at all, worried that making a big deal about it would cause James to go silent again.

After a few moments of silence, James looked up from the dump truck and sand. I stared at his beautiful little face and looked into his gorgeous eyes. He has my mom’s eyes; their grey-green irises are mesmerizing and beautiful. James looked back at me and handed me the dump truck. He took his tiny little hand and patted the tears on my cheek. He smiled. I smiled. Did he understand why I was crying? James patted the dump truck and then patted the sand, instructing me to play. James and I played side by side in silence.

My husband returned a few minutes later and handed James the cup full of juice.

“Here you go, Buddy.”

James eagerly grabbed the cup and took a long sip.

“Ahhhh. Zhoos,” he said and handed the cup back to my husband.

At long last I was able to relax just a little. The weight was lifted off my shoulders and the worry was alleviated – at least temporarily. Any parent can relate to the constant barrage of things to worry about, especially when you are a new parent. Journal Entry: Okay, so it was ‘Dada’ but it was so much more than that. It was a complete sentence. It was James showing us that he understands, that he is brilliant and that he is amazing. And, he has the cutest little voice! Fingers crossed that the silence is now broken permanently.

And when did James finally say, “mama?”

The following evening we were cuddling on the floor in James’ room for our nightly ritual of bedtime stories. After reading our beloved “Chugga Chugga Choo Choo,” as I closed the book James tapped my hand and said, “Mom.”

He turned to look at my face and I am sure I was grinning from ear to ear, then he stroked my cheek and repeated, “Mom.” He then nonchalantly got up and retrieved “Good Night, Moon” from his bookshelf.

James handed me the book, sat upon my lap and eagerly opened the cover.

“Read,” he instructed.

I was too choked up to read aloud so I simply hugged him. I squeezed him and kissed the back of his neck and he giggled.  I tickled him and made him wriggle and laugh uncontrollably until I could regain my composure. After I calmed down, I read “Good Night, Moon” while James turned the pages in his usual fashion. I gave him a huge hug and lifted him up and over the rail placing him into the crib. He touched my face gently and again said, “Mom.” This time I wept openly and stroked his cheek and said, “Mommy loves you, James. Good night.”

I kissed him on his cheek and he giggled then laid himself down and softly repeated “Mom, mom, mom,” before pushing the button on his musical night light.

I closed his bedroom door and melted into a heap of joyful tears. I glanced at the portrait of my mom and smiled. I knew she would adore this child. I was sad for all the love James was missing out on because of Mom’s absence. Oh, how she would have spoiled this child. Journal Entry: Tonight I heard the sweetest voice say the sweetest word I have ever heard. James called me “Mom.” I am bursting with pride and also heartbroken because I want to call Mom to tell her that her grandson is a genius. 

 

 

Yearning for Yellow

The mastery of the overreaction – this is a skill that toddlers seem to spend countless hours honing. Their repetitive exercise seems to be designed for one purpose alone: to make grown ups miserable. What is this obsessive need to control the tiniest details? Anyone who has ever had to deal with a screaming, ranting, crying, inconsolable, unreasonable toddler understands my pain.

If you have ever secretly opened and then carefully resealed a bag of M&Ms to make sure that the number of green M&Ms does not outnumber the yellow M&Ms, you understand my pain. If you have ever found yourself “pasting” an Oreo back together to avoid the inevitable temper tantrum, you understand my pain. Have you ever tried to reason with a little one who will not accept the fact that sometimes the raisins that pour forth from the tiny red box are not all uniform in size? If so, you understand my pain.

I think I noticed James’ preference for yellow when he was a toddler and he sought out the yellow hula hoop at tumbling class or insisted that he receive the yellow smiley sticker at the pediatrician’s office. I am not quite sure when his attachment to all things yellow became an obsession. I tend to think that I helped feed into his enthusiasm by indulging him whenever possible. At the toy store, if he wanted the yellow kickball, I would fish through that giant basket of balls relentlessly until I got the yellow one and proudly handed it to James.

I now wonder if feeding him his meals on the yellow Snoopy plate had something to do with his obsessive need to have everything yellow. I allowed a 2-year-old James to pick the paint color for his play room. He chose a bright yellow Disney color called “Get Goofy.” Was James predisposed to like yellow, or did he learn to like it because I unwittingly encouraged him?

When James was a toddler I tended to dress him in bright colors intentionally, especially if we were going to a crowded public place. James’ closet was full of orange and day-glo yellow and lime green shirts and jackets. I fretted over the idea that if we were to get separated I could see him from a distance, even in a large crowd. Did this have any bearing on the obsession?

Yellow became a problem for us as a still non-verbal James started attending classes, participating in sports and getting invited to birthday parties. At soccer tots, if James was not given a yellow jersey, he refused to play. He would sit in the middle of the field, arms crossed and pouting. He would not move, even as the other children were tripping over him and kicking him and aiming the ball at him. At gymnastics class if he was not instructed to stand on the yellow dot, he would attempt to obtain a yellow dot by pushing another child off it. When the dental hygienist would apologize for not having a yellow toothbrush, James would throw the green one back in the drawer and shake his head, opting for no toothbrush at all if yellow was not an option. If birthday party goodie bags came in rainbow colors, he needed to have the yellow one. If I total up the amount of time I spent bartering with other children and parents to ensure that James would have the yellow (insert literally any object here) at the camp, party, class, etc. I have probably lost 6 months of my life.

The yellow obsession became a major problem one winter when James refused to put on his lime-green ski jacket. Every morning I would struggle to get him into the jacket as he ran away. James would show me the sign for yellow and shake his head, saying “no, no no.” He would wait until I strapped him into the car seat to try to wriggle out of the jacket. At preschool on afternoon, he hid the jacket beneath the teacher’s coat on the rack. When we finally discovered the jacket, James realized he would need to take drastic measures. He threw the coat in the garbage later that week.  Once he took it off on the playground and attempted to bury it beneath the wood chips.

After weeks of wrestling every time we prepared to leave the house, James came up with his own solution. He would anticipate our departure time and go into his room, take the yellow rain slicker off the hook on the wall and slip into it before I could attack him with the lime green jacket.

I took to haggling with him and bartering with him to get the yellow rain slicker off and the lime green jacket on and zipped.

“James, if you put this jacket on now, after work tonight we can go to the mall and look for a yellow jacket in your size.” He looked at me with utter confusion then shook his head “no.”

“James, if you put this jacket on now, you can have an all-yellow dinner this evening. Wax beans, yellow rice and lemon chicken.” He looked at me with disdain and shook his head “no.”

“James, if you put this jacket on now, Saturday we can take a trip to the toy store for a Thomas the Tank engine car.” This momentarily got his attention, then he came to his senses and shook his head “no.”

After begging and pleading and giving him a few minutes to calm down eventually, although reluctantly and tearfully, James would allow me to remove the rain slicker and slip him into the lime green jacket. Some days were easier than others. Some days he just flat out refused to put it on, signing “yellow” and running away. These mornings I would warp him as best as I could in a yellow fleece blanket and strap him into the car seat.

I exhausted every possible avenue to locate a yellow jacket. Try as I might, I could not find a yellow winter jacket in his size or even a size or two larger anywhere. I checked ebay, amazon, and every possible search engine imaginable to track down a yellow winter coat. I was getting desperate. I considered having a seamstress make a yellow ski jacket for us. I started a new search for the water-repellant fabric I would need in a bright, cheerful shade of yellow. No one had this fabric either. In desperation, I combed through the girls department of every store, hoping I could find yellow and somehow remove the feminine characteristics of the coat should I actually find one. I had no luck.

During my travels, if I drove by a discount department store I felt the need to stop in and browse through the racks in search of this elusive yellow winter coat. I found myself browsing at high-end boutiques. These shops certainly would not have an item I could afford, but if it meant finding a coat, I was willing to sell some blood or skip some meals to pay for it. I combed through local thrift stores, though I bristled at the idea of giving my son a stranger’s worn jacket. I had my own obsessive problems – I worried about bed bugs and countless other “cooties” that may be lurking in cast-off clothing and fabric items.

One particularly harried morning, James and I managed to come up with a compromise. I promised James that he could wear the yellow rain slicker if he agreed to wear a fleece-lined hoodie beneath it. It did not matter that the fleece-lined hoodie was orange. James did not fight me at all, just as long as the yellow slicker covered it up. He did not even complain when the sleeves got caught up in the lining and bunched up inside the sleeves of the slicker. He was okay as long as the yellow slicker was on and snapped. It was a bit snug and looked uncomfortable, but he seemed content.

Then by chance one very brisk December day, I crammed James into the slicker/hoodie combo and trekked over to my friend Dee’s house for lunch. Dee had been holding onto a large bag of  hand-me-down clothing that she had earmarked for James. Dee’s son is 2 years older than James and they are often the recipients of extravagant gifts as Dee’s employer also employs some very affluent physicians. Frequently she has bags of unworn high-end clothing as a result of the generous nature of her work associates. After lunch, I rummaged through the bag excitedly discovering brand new clothing with the tags still attached while Dee and I chatted and the boys happily played with cars and blocks.

As I reached into the bottom of the bag to pull out what I thought may be a small blue sleeping bag, I squealed with delight! Could it be true? Could it be so? I had in my hot little hands one blue and yellow Nike winter jacket! No, not just any jacket, a reversible blue and yellow winter jacket with the tags still attached – size 3T! One side was navy blue with a bright yellow stripe. The reverse was yellow with a blue stripe. Jackpot!

James looked over at us to see what all the commotion was about. His face lit up when he saw the jacket. He dropped the blocks he had been playing with and made a beeline for the jacket. James placed his hand on his chest and then on the jacket. He was signing “mine.”

Excitedly he grabbed the jacket from my hands and hugged it to his chest. He bounced up and down and hugged the jacket.

“James, would you like to try it on?” I asked.

I gently took the coat from him and helped him pull his arms into the sleeves then zipped it up. His face was priceless. He kept looking at the jacket then hugging himself. At long last, we had found the elusive yellow jacket. Thank you, Nike! Thank you, Dee!

James refused to take that jacket off the rest of the day. I managed to get him out of it long enough for dinner and then again for bath time. I had to agree to let him take it to bed with him that night. I managed to slip it out of the crib while he slept, afraid he’d get too hot or scratch his face on the zipper or Velcro closure.

I worried that the new obsession would be wearing this jacket 24 hours a day, but thankfully, that concern did not come to fruition. Better still, no more arguments about the jacket. Each morning he  put it on before we headed out the door. Occasionally I caught him looking at himself in the bathroom mirror wearing his beloved yellow jacket. He would smile and hug himself, then trot out to the foyer and wait for me to take him to the car happily wearing his yellow jacket.

When James finally began to speak, he once asked me my favorite color which I happily shared with him. As most toddlers are inclined to do, “why?” James asked.  I gave him my answer and he seemed satisfied, so I asked his favorite color, though I already knew the answer.

“Yellow, Silly.” He smiled.

“Why?” I asked and I was genuinely curious.

“Because it is so happy. So very, very happy. The happy bees are yellow. The happy face is yellow.  Everything happy is yellow.”

Journal entry: So glad to know my boy chooses to be happy. Happy yellow. Smiley face yellow. Happy bees yellow. Happy James. Happy Mom. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smarty Pants

If there was a toddler equivalent to an “eye-roll” 2-year-old James would be the master of this mannerism.

Because James was basically non-verbal until well after his second birthday, he devised other ways to communicate with the world.  His favorite game, one which he invented, required the undivided attention of a second participant. James would hold up an object, or point to an object and then wait for eye contact with the second party to be certain they understood he was asking a question.

For instance James would pick up a red ball and then hold it up for me to observe. I would then have to use descriptive words to talk about the ball until James got the answer for which he was searching. Ordinarily the guessing game took just moments per object and would play out like this:

“James, that is a red ball you are holding. The ball is plastic and its shape is spherical. It is a sphere. That is a ball from your ball pit and it is not heavy. It is light and fits nicely in the palm of your hand.”

James would then grab another ball from the ball pit and hold it up for me.

“James, that is a yellow ball you are holding. The ball is plastic and its shape is spherical. It is a sphere. That is a ball from your ball pit and it is not heavy. It is light and fits nicely in the palm of your hand.”

Most of the time when I hit on the description James was looking for, he would simply walk away, seemingly satisfied. We played this game numerous times a day and James would always initiate the interaction.

One day we were at “Mommy and Me” and during free play I was engrossed in conversation with another mom, so I was a bit distracted. James walked over with something in his hand and held it up for me.

“James, I can’t see what’s in your hand, Honey. Can you show me?”

James responded by opening his fist and balancing a pastel piece of chalk on his palm.

“Oh, that’s chalk, Sweetie.”

James stood there holding the chalk and waited for more descriptors.

“Pink chalk, James. The color is pink.”

Still he stood there.

“The chalk is a cylinder James. The shape is cylindrical. The chalk is used to write or draw on the chalkboard.  A teacher uses chalk to write lessons on the board for her students.”

Still he stood there.

“Chalk can be used on paper to draw. Artists sometimes use chalk to make beautiful pictures. You can use it on the sidewalk to draw hopscotch boards and make art on the driveway.”

Still he stood there.

“James, Sweetie, I am out of words and ways to describe that chalk to you.”

James looked at the chalk. He switched it from hand to hand and held it up for me to take another look.

“James, that chalk is pink and it appears to be broken. The cylinder is imperfect because the edge is broken at an angle.”

James sighed. He held the chalk up higher, as if to give me a better view of what I was so obviously missing.

Trying to hide my frustration I kneeled down to him and took the chalk from his hand gently. I then stood up and walked over to the chalkboard. James followed. I showed James how the chalk could be used. I then handed it back to him and walked away so I could resume my conversation with my friend.

A few moments later James was back. He held up the piece of chalk again.

This time my frustration was clearly evident.

“I am so sorry, Buddy. I honestly don’t know what word you are looking for because I am out of ideas.”

James held up his right hand and I said, “You are holding pink chalk in your hand.”

At that moment James held up his left hand. He was holding a second piece of chalk.

“James, that is also pink chalk.”

James looked at both pieces of chalk carefully then held up both hands with a piece of chalk balanced in each palm. That is when I realized my mistake.

“Oh, yes, Honey. This is pink chalk,” I said as I pointed to the chalk in James’ left hand. “And this is lavender chalk,” I said as I pointed to the chalk in his right hand. “You’re right James. The first one was lavender or purple and this one is pink. My mistake.”

And with that, James gave me a satisfied nod, then turned and walked away.

I looked at my friend Michelle and said, “I think James just called me dense.”

Michelle laughed and said, “I think you’re right.”

This was the first, but certainly not that last time James would give me his toddler version of rolling his eyes at my ineptness.

Journal entry: The non-verbal two-year-old called me “stupid” today. Thank you James for the lesson in humility.

 

Worried about Words: My Non-Verbal 1-Year-Old

From the moment my son James was born, maybe even before his birth, I looked forward to hearing his little voice utter the word “Mama.” I anticipated how joyful it would be to hear him call for me, to have him recognize me, to have him give me a name. I had heard that his first word would most likely be “Dada,” and I must admit, I did everything in my power to ensure that “Mama” would come first.

Before James could even walk, I would take him in my arms and guide his little hand to my chest. I would pat his hand against my collar bone and say, “mama.” I would stroke my cheek with his open palm and say, “mama.”  While he was taking his nightly bath I would sing songs with him and splash with him and point to myself and say, “mama.” During story time I would snuggle with him and stroke his hand against mine and say, “mama.” I would urge him to say my name every chance I got. As the days wore on and James approached his first birthday I would consult my baby milestone books and search the internet and talk with other moms. Every resource I checked seemed to confirm my suspicions. I started to seriously grapple with the idea that something was “wrong” with James.

James was nearly a year old and he did not speak. Yes, he babbled, but he did not ever say one recognizable word. The term “autistic” cropped up during my forays into diagnosing James’ affliction. Not one syllable that James ever uttered could be identified. Lots of ba ba ba ba and ya ya ya ya, but never a word that resembled an English word. He would point at the dog and say “ee-ee-ee.” The next time he pointed at the dog he would say “ow-ow-ow.” There was no recognizable pattern. No obvious words. He did not seem to recognize that every object had a name. Each person or thing has an identifier and James was not picking up on this fact. With every incoherent utterance I was crushed. I woke up every day with a new hope that today would be the day James pointed at me and would say “mama.” I would write about my heartache in my journal. Journal entry: James still has not said his first word and as his first birthday approaches, I am seriously concerned he may show signs of autism.

At James’ 1-year well visit with the pediatrician, I wriggled in my chair, balancing a squirming James on my lap as I opened my journal to review my talking points. I restlessly sat in Dr. G’s cozy office and listened while Dr. G discussed James’ growth and pointed at the chart to show me how James was growing at a normal rate for a child his age. I listened as intently as I could, but I was distracted by the issues I needed to discuss.

“Do you have concerns, Mrs. Seegert?” Dr. G. asked.

“Well, yes,” I said as I tried to remain calm and composed. James was contentedly sitting on my lap playing with a Scratch and Sniff board book.

“Yes?” Dr. G. prompted.

“Well, James isn’t speaking.”

“Okay. Does he babble?”

“Yes, he babbles to himself.”

“Does he use all the vowel sounds?”

“Yes, he does use all the vowel sounds, but he is just really not verbal at all.”

“Would you categorize him as quiet most of the time?”

“Yes. James prefers to babble when he is alone. As soon as I put him down for a nap or for bedtime, I close the door and he babbles to himself. If I open the door, he falls silent.”

“Mrs. Seegert, I understand you are worried, but observing James right now, I see no reason for concern. He is alert. He responds to his name. He seems to be practicing speaking when he is alone. James?”

James stopped shaking the book and looked directly at Dr. G.

“James,” continued Dr. G, “can you show me the apple?”

James closed the board book and tapped the picture of the apple on the cover of the book.

“That’s right James, apple,” cooed Dr. G.

Dr. G. continued speaking to James and asked him a series of questions and James responded to each question with a finger point or a tap of his hand, then smiled triumphantly each time he was praised by Dr. G. for the correct response.

“Mrs. Seegert, my assessment of James is that he is a very bright child, but he does not see the need to speak yet. He is only a year old. If he still isn’t speaking at 2, then we would take a closer look to see if something might be amiss.”

I left Dr. G’s office feeling deflated. I had no answers and my child still was not speaking. Journal entry: We might be resigned to using sign language from now on as James still refuses to speak to me. Perhaps I am just not connecting with him. Maybe it’s me. Maybe James can sense that I am worried about it. Wish I had some answers other than “wait it out.”

The next few months brought no relief to my worries about the lack of speech. Every day I grew more and more concerned about it. I was consumed with the idea that James was intentionally withholding his words. I could hear him through the baby monitor making sounds and babbling. Sometimes I thought I heard recognizable words like Choo Choo or Dada but whenever I opened the door he fell silent.

One night while giving James his bath I kept repeating, “say mama, James. Say mama. Just once.” I was relentless and I was getting myself worked up over it and James could sense my frustration. I shouted and cried, “why won’t you say it? Why won’t you talk? Why won’t you love me?” James sat in the tub looking up at me and tears streamed down his face. He was completely silent and very obviously devastated.

That was the single lowest moment of my life. I had made my child feel badly for something he very obviously could not comprehend. I could never apologize for such a cruel act. I tried to recover and lighten the mood by singing “Rubber Duckie” but James just sat there looking at me, tears streaming down his chubby little cheeks, his spirit completely crushed. I tried picking him up and hugging him to my chest and wrapping him in his favorite hooded frog towel as I hugged him tight. I tried rocking him to give him comfort. I tried wiping away his tears and repeatedly uttered “I am so sorry. James, I am so sorry.”

But, my ordinarily affectionate child was stiff. My little mush would not let me comfort him. He did not melt into me and bury his face in my neck as usual. He was completely still except for his breathing that was now the staggered breathing of a child who has been crying. Sniffling and quiet sobs were his only sounds.

I held him and hugged him for what seemed like hours, eventually giving into the fact that I had hurt my child deeply. I did not know if I could ever repair our relationship. I intentionally shamed my child. I am a monster.

Silently I finished drying James gently with the frog towel and took out the blow dryer to warm his little head. Ordinarily James loved the hair dry and giggled when I put it on a low setting and ‘teased’ him with it, alternating between his hair and his tiny little feet. I would nibble at his bare belly and we would get silly and then snuggle and then I would slip him into his pajamas. Tonight, none of the playfulness brought him joy.

After pajamas and tooth brushing I sat James in my lap as always and I read his favorite book, “Chugga Chugga Choo Choo.” James ordinarily turned the pages. Tonight he just sat in my lap and stared at the pictures on the pages. I tried not to cry when I picked him up and placed him into his crib. I covered him with his favorite blanket and kissed his warm little cheek. I whispered, “I love you, James.” He just rolled over, turning away from me as quickly as he could.

I fell apart. I stood next to his crib and sobbed uncontrollably. I could not bare the pain of what I had done to him. I climbed over the railing of the crib. James sat up and looked at my face. He took his tiny little hand and touched my tear-streaked face. I hugged him and he snuggled into me. Eventually we both laid down and I curled up with him, spooning his tiny little body and sobbed until I fell asleep. I woke up somewhere around midnight when my husband came home from work and couldn’t find me. I was achy and sore and tired and emotionally drained. I did not tell my husband what had happened. I was afraid of what he would think of me.

Journal entry: I hate myself. James has seen my ugly side. A side so ugly I did not even know I had it in me. I scared him. I scared myself. I am a horrible person. I am a horrible mother. I can never redeem myself for the pain I caused.  

The next morning I was sitting in the kitchen sipping my second cup of coffee when James woke up. It was 6am, his usual time. I heard him kicking the side of the crib rhythmically. I opened the door slowly and there he stood, in his crib, facing the door and he greeted me with his wide smile and outstretched arms. James had forgiven me. I still could not forgive myself. I looked at this amazing child and thought how I did not deserve his affection. His hug brought me to tears that morning. Journal entry: Patience. Calmness. Kindness. Three things all parents should practice. I am trying.

Earthquake…

What are you afraid of? What is the worst thing that could happen to you? With the exception of a loved one getting really hurt, job loss, is the most devastating thing that could happen to me. To me, its worse than death and the foundation of an explanation as to why is within Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and my history. Well, that is where I am, thus the ‘earthquake’. I lost my job just over a month ago. I was provided a good severance package so I still have a good income but now my job is some sort of a nightmare. My full-time job is getting a full-time job.

Ok, so Maslow recognized that there are levels to your needs. In short, first you need ‘Physiological’ needs. These are things like: breathing, food, water, sex, sleep. If you have those, you can work on achieving the next level, “Safety” needs. These are: security of body, employment, resources, etc. IF you can get that, the next level is ‘Love/Belonging’ which covers friendship and family. When you have that you get to the ‘esteem’ level where you build self-esteem confidence, etc. Ultimately you want to get to the final level which is ‘self-actualization’. Sounds like a video game to me but a hell of a difficult one as we all know. You might have bits and pieces of the different levels but supposedly it won’t all be complete until you have all of them within the various levels. Each level builds the foundation to the next.

I pride myself in my work. I’m passionate about it, it makes me happy, and it addresses ‘Maslow’s’ Safety need. I expand my ‘safety need’ to include the needs of my family. My need to provide for them.  Without this level complete, which is provided by MONEY and thusly my job, very little else matters. It obvious and undeniable that I can pay little attention to anything else in this type of situation. The only thing positive that was born of being unemployed for me is the temporary escape cycling provides during these times.

The fact that I lost my job 8 days after I left my wife is crazy. Living separate makes the fact that its been 5 weeks and she does not know almost ideal. I have no intention of telling her… when I get a new job I will simply let her know I got a new job. Telling her would do nothing more than make the situation worse as she is unable to help resolve the situation.  I had been unemployed before and I was a defeated mess. I did the job search thing, it was during the recession and got nowhere. Did the entrepreneurial thing out of desperation and lost more money than I can stomach to think about. It wasn’t that I’m not an entrepreneur at heart, its simply because you do stupid shit when you are desperate. I was desperate to ensure the safety and security of my family.

While I am not ‘desperate’ quite yet, I am certainly constantly fighting fears that I am not going to find a new full-time job before my severance package runs out which as I write this is 44 days, 10 hours, and 56 minutes away. I probably spend equal time between actually working to find a job and worrying about it. Can’t avoid it, can’t control it.

The bottom line here is that I am doing all I can to preserve the safety and security of my daughters. They are going through enough without having to worry about daddy not having a job. Be rest assured, they will never know I lost my job. I will fight to the end for the ability to tell them I left my old employer and have a new and better job. You know how people talk about ‘the light at the end of the tunnel?’ Well is really like a water well that I am at the bottom of looking up and seeing the light.  With a ton of different meanings, only the light at the end of the tunnel matters… just got to climb my way out. Will I is yet to be determined. I’ll keep you posted.

 

My Anxious Child at 2

My child has always been considered “exceptional” and I proudly smile whenever anyone compliments him (as if I can take credit for his precociousness).  Any adult who has ever had a conversation with my son has made a point of announcing to me, “He’s very smart.” My usual response is a simple, “thank you,” though I am always thinking, “he is, isn’t he?” all the while I know my smile reveals my overwhelming pride.

Over the course of the past 4 years I have learned that James’ exceptional intelligence may also go hand-in-hand with anxiety. Why should this be so? I still don’t understand the reason these two characteristics go hand-in-hand. Like most parents these days, as soon as I notice anything unusual in my son’s behavior, I race to the computer to “research” the condition. This is a very dangerous practice, as I am not a psychologist. I am not an expert in children’s behavior.

When James was 2, I found myself sifting through clinical trials, blog posts and medical journal articles on the web. I quickly discovered that a little research simply makes me more confused and concerned. At one point, I was ready to diagnose my son as bi-polar and wondered if my medical insurance would cover the cost of neurological testing to find out what was “wrong” with him. As I said, I am not an expert or a physician. I am however, an expert on my son. Who knows him better than his own mother?

Since he was very young, I would worry about James whenever he was behaving in a way I believed that was unusual or unique, anything that I thought set him apart from the other children at our play groups or gym classes. I went so far as to take notes in a journal, hastily jotting down the behavior I found odd so I would be able to describe James’ troubling issues to the pediatrician.

Before James could even speak, I had taken note of several ‘odd’ behaviors. One of his most notable quirks appeared while building with blocks. James loved to build from the moment he discovered that he was capable of clicking together two chunky plastic blocks. His face lit up when he realized he could build a tower taller than himself. James also loved to sort and loved symmetry. None of this is odd for a toddler. However, whenever James built something with his blocks, he insisted on perfect symmetry. If he placed two yellow blocks on the left, he must place two yellow blocks on the right. If he did not have the correct number of yellow blocks, he would dismantle the building and begin again. “He’s artistic!” I would exclaim, though I was thinking, “he’s so anal retentive!” Journal entry: Stubbornly insists on color order and symmetry. Even numbers are a must. If an odd number of blocks exist, James must put the odd block back into the basket. 

Once a building was complete James would stand up and get his face as close to the building as possible with his nose mere millimeters away from the structure and then he would circle the blocks. He would walk around and around the blocks so closely I thought he would bump into the tower and knock it down. Somehow, he never did knock it down. He would circle for up to 5 minutes at at time. He never seemed to get dizzy and he would often reverse direction. I never counted how many rotations per side, though now that I think about it, he may very well have had a set number of times he would circle in each direction. After a while he would stop and stare at the building. Sometimes he would lay down and scoot himself as closely as he could without touching it and look up at it, the way one would recline in the grass and gaze up at the clouds. Journal entry: Gets his eyes as close as he can to objects and circles them by walking around and around. If the object is large or he can not navigate around it, he paces back and forth.

When I brought this up to the pediatrician I used the term “autistic.” Dr. G. simply said, “Mrs. Seegert, your son is merely observing spatial relations. I know you are concerned, but does James look at you when you speak to him?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Does James respond when you ask him to do a simple task such as retrieving a book?”

“Yes.”

“Does James laugh and giggle when you tickle him or play hide and seek?”

“Yes.”

“Mrs. Seegert, I understand your concerns and if you wish I will give you a referral to a neurologist, but I believe you are overreacting. James seems to be quite “normal” (air quotes here from Dr. G.) and very intelligent. If this was 30 years ago, you wouldn’t even question his behavior. The problem is us. The problem is that anytime a child is acting in a way that is even slightly different from the documented “norm” (more air quotes) we start to panic that something is wrong. We are all so concerned with making comparisons to others we worry at the slightest hint that our child may not be like everyone else. I am guilty of it myself. Let us not punish our children for our need to be normal.”

That particular visit was a sort of wake up call for me. Whenever I got anxious about James’ behavior I would remind myself to relax and enjoy the quirks and his unique personality. Granted, I still kept hastily scribbling notes in my journal. And I was often frustrated by his need to be perfect.

When a simple bead-stringing exercise at “Mommy and Me” class turned into a project every single time we attended class, I would feel my blood pressure rising. James needed to string the beads in a certain order – red, yellow, green, blue – I would later recognize this as rainbow color order, so smart even at 2 years old (proud moments even in the midst of utter frustration). If one yellow bead was overlooked, James needed to remove each bead on the string until the yellow beads were all in order and then re-string all the other beads one by one, color group by color group.

Bead stringing was a painstaking task, but if I tried to divert his attention or take the beads away James would defiantly grab them back. He would tuck them under his tush so I couldn’t reach them. I soon recognized that making things orderly was a NEED. He simply could not move on until he was ready. He would stubbornly refuse to participate in any other activity until the beads were to his liking. He was also fiercely independent. If I tried to help by sorting the beads for him, he would mix them up and glare at me as if to say, “I am doing this!” If I tried to hide beads to quicken the pace, he would seek them out. Journal entry: James may exhibit tendencies of OCD!

Ultimately, I would learn to let James do his thing without hurrying him along. Slowly I cultivated the ability to observe and enjoy James and his painstakingly slow, deliberate exercises. I began to understand James better and I discovered that he was learning. Why was I rushing him? Why was I so eager to move onto the next task? Why couldn’t I savor each moment? Journal entry: I am a terrible mom. Wish Mom was here to help guide me through this one.

And so, James began to teach me patience. I wasn’t the best student, but James would persevere. Thankfully he was a thoughtful teacher and gave me many lessons and many opportunities to apply what I had learned in real world applications.  Thank you, James for the careful instruction.

 

 

 

 

 

Slumber Party II…

Its July 4th weekend, 2013. Saturday night and the second slumber party was planned. The holiday weekend went pretty good. Went to the house and spend the 4th with my girls and my ‘x’. Originally we planned to just hang out all day, eating and playing games. Lara the ten year old thought it would be a good idea to goto the beach so we did. There were no real issues other than the ‘elephant in the room’ but its was good.

Friday night into Saturday I was on my own. It was like a vacation for reasons that are beyond the scope of this post. Saturday afternoon I went to the house. I would be spending some time at the house and then taking the two girls to my house for a slumber party (sleepover).  I could feel the tension as I walked in. Lorraine did not do well last slumber party. The idea of being separated from the kids overnight was difficult. She said she had cried all night.  The reality of the fact we are separated is difficult. The knowledge that I don’t want to be with her is difficult and it showed. We started talking as the kids went upstairs. She still does not think I had a valid reason for leaving. All her friends thinks I am cheating on her and I left for ‘another woman’. An amazing person clarified things for me and it makes perfect sense.

Look, her friends were mostly blind-sided when I left. By believing that I cheated on Lorraine takes the blame for this failure off Lorraine, off me, and onto this magical, mysterious, and ultimately imaginary  ‘third party’. Its quite neat and clean actually, which should tell you that the answer is too simple. Too easy, and ultimately wrong.

Temptation is everywhere. Think about your day, your week. Tell me that there isn’t ‘that person’ that you would want  to <lets be civil here> “sleep with” in your life. You can lie to yourself but don’t bother saying it out loud cause there IS someone. What’s keeping you? Love your spouse? Happy? Dedicated? Feel heard, respected, and content in your homelike? Yes? THAT is what is ultimately a shield against all that temptation. Its like your immune system… when its down, you will get sick (no pun intended). I’ll tell you what I told Lorraine… I left because of what happened between us, not for some piece of ass… I value my family much more than that.

Now back to the slumber party.  Nicole wanted to stay home to take care of her mom but in the end, decided to ‘come with’. As the multiple bags were packed (really? this was for one night?, lol) I quietly put them in the car to minimize drama.  They finally got everything together and we were on our way.

We went to Friendlies for dinner and got that out of the way. It was late when we got to the apartment and I quickly turned on the lights. As we walked in they immediately commented that the apartment did not smell anymore. Last time there had been a ton of rain and the apartment smelled a bit musty. I told them how hard I worked to make the smell go away to make them feel more comfortable.   We put away the bags into the bedroom and got settled.

The rest of the evening, as short as it was was about making sure their experience at the apartment was as nice and fun as possible. Do you know why you love your favorite beer? Its because of the experiences you had with it, not necessarily about the actual taste. I happen to love Guinness and probably most of the reason is because of parties I went to where that is what I had.  Tangent alert! anyway, I want them to associate visiting the apartment with good feelings.

We played games, watched a movie, and had a quick snack along the way. When it was bedtime, I tried to make everything fun, even a little pillow fight. Before we went to bed, we sat on the floor and had a quick ‘talk’.

The family therapist has repeatedly told me that great communication is key in minimizing the effects of the ‘divorce event’ on the girls. In a positive way, I got them to sit on the floor in a mini-circle and asked them how they are feeling. It was late and they were tired but they did not say much. I was not discouraged, I used it as an opportunity to reinforce the message. I told them that they should not hide their feelings, they can tell me anything, even if it is to tell me they are mad at me.  Lara was quick to say it… ‘dad, i’m mad at you’. I told her that was ok and she had every reason to be mad at me. I asked if she was mad but also loved me and she said she did. Putting those two emotions together makes it more acceptable and ultimately I told her that if she is mad and she loves me then we can always talk about it and work it out.

Nicole had nothing to say but that has been normal for her. I find it harder to get to her and I have to focus on her a bit more going forward. She tends not to say anything and then she lashes out. The challenge with that is that she tends to be very direct and VERY accurate. She might be too smart for MY own good.

Ultimately we went to bed after the little talk feeling better. I slept on the couch and woke up the next morning to Lara sitting on the other couch playing with her iPAD. It was a quick slumber party but it certainly served its purpose. I asked them on the way home if they had a good time. They told me they had a great time and it was so much better than the first time AND the apartment did not smell !  Thank goodness.

Anxiety Issues

Anxiety. I thought I understood the concept of this term, but find I learn something new about this “condition” on a regular basis. I have read countless articles about exceptional children and their tendencies to exhibit anxiety. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s first start at the beginning.

When my son began second grade things seemed a bit “off” right from the start. My ordinarily easy-going child suddenly seemed to worry about every little detail. Was his backpack the right style? Was his lunch healthy enough? Had he remembered to pack all the homework assignments into the correct folder? These worries were so uncharacteristically important to him, I began to take note of each concern so that I could discuss the sudden onset of anxiety when visiting with the pediatrician.

As the days passed, the stress seemed to worsen. Each day brought more worries, more concerns, and above all, an increasingly unhappy child. A few weeks into the first semester of second grade the phone calls from the teacher began.

The first call outlined the fact that James was having “fits of rage” during class. At first I believed the teacher was overreacting by categorizing James’ behavior as “worrisome” but the teacher’s assessment of the situation proved to be all too accurate. Ms. W’s very poignant description of James’ behavior was spot-on. I witnessed the worrisome behavior for the first time at home during a routine homework assignment. We were undertaking a simple math review assignment when James made a very common mistake, and he had a complete meltdown because he did not want to use the eraser to make a mark on his paper.

When I use the term “meltdown” most parents picture a toddler having a temper-tantrum. You know the behavior – the red faced, wailing, throw-yourself-on-the-floor performance piece that is engineered for maximum drama. That is nothing compared to the meltdown that ensued because of a simple addition error. James threw the workbook across the kitchen. He shouted, “I hate this math! I hate this class! I am too stupid for second grade!”  The tears flowed freely and the rage was unprecedented. I had never witnessed anything like this from my child. The most troublesome act was directed at himself. James took his pencil and started stabbing at the back of his left hand. He repeatedly stabbed at his hand harder and harder with each blow until he drew blood. I wrestled the pencil out of his hand and tried to calm him with words. He slapped himself on the side of his head harder and harder with each hit and kept saying, “I don’t want to mess up all the time. I don’t want to mess up all the time.”

I had no idea what to do, so I just put my arms around him and hugged him and let him cry. He shouted incoherently and made awful guttural noises I can only liken to the sound of a dog growling. I just continued to hug him and after about 10 minutes he was calm enough to pick up the workbook and sit back down at the kitchen table with an eraser and carefully remove the errant number from the page. He silently finished his math homework and we both went into the living room to watch a movie together and decompress.

We sat and cuddled and watched a few Pixar short films to lighten the mood. That night we read a few extra chapters after bath time and I cuddled with him in his bed for a while — something I had not done for many months. He seemed peaceful as he drifted off to sleep. I didn’t sleep at all that evening. It was the first of many sleepless nights in our house.