All posts by Lee Seegert

One Tuesday afternoon in November 2012 I suddenly found myself a single parent with only one income and no child care plan. The stress, the struggles, the worries, are all overshadowed by the immense joy I derive from helping my son not only cope with the situation, but thrive, in spite of it. Friends and family have always been important to me, but now I suddenly realize just how much love and support is needed to help raise a happy, healthy, independent, brilliant child. With a tendency to hyper-organize and over-schedule, I am now forced to learn how to "loosen up" and "let go" and become an Unscripted Parent. Something tells me it is going to be a wild ride!

The Marriage of Q and U (really, this is a thing now)

Lately I have been talking with some of the “younger” moms who have little ones in daycare, preschool and primary school. Seems odd, but they turn to me for advice because I have “experience.”

Ha. I laugh because I have no clue what I am doing. Don’t tell my son, but I am mostly making this up as I go along. Sometimes I think, “what would Mom do?” and that gives me a little bit of confidence, but in all seriousness who among us has any idea what we’re doing in life? I know I am attempting to raise a decent young man who will make his mark on the world with his genius and his altruism. But, I am totally winging it. I try to guide him and advise him, but I make mistakes. Lots of them. I look to my friends for their advice and their opinions regularly. We’re all just winging it, but it feels better to do it together, right? It takes a village.

I noticed that other parents were asking this question of me a lot lately – “did you ever miss out on the in-school events when your son was little?” Yes. I missed quite a few, even despite the fact that I had a pretty flexible schedule. Yes, I forgot to send him in with money on book fair days and Mother’s Day plant sale days. Yes, I missed a few “in class” occasions and several field days.

I started thinking about all the occasions my mom may have attended when I was little. I couldn’t think of too many because way back in the day, we just went to school. Parents were seldom invited. I recall an in-school carnival when I was in 4th grade, but parents were asked to volunteer. They were rarely summoned to be an audience while we entertained them. There was no parent “reader” visiting our class every week. No one was there to suffer through our in-class recitation of the Gettysburg Address.

We did not have the “marriage of Q and U” or Thanksgiving turkey at pre-school. I remember pre-school graduation. Mom was there for that. Dad was in the military and out to sea, so he very seldom made it to the school day events. Few dads ever came to the graduations or carnivals. Presumably, they all had jobs while the moms did not. My mom was a career woman when it was rare. I was proud of her, though I recall people looking at me strangely when I told them my mom had a job. Not just a job, a title. Weird, to think about that now.

So, why are there so damn many occasions these days to call parents in and have them witness these minor events? I understand that the idea is to get parents more involved in educating our children, but why do these events all occur during the workday? Teachers work outside the home, correct? Don’t they miss their children dressed up like little old people for the 100th Day of School or wearing a weird hat for Dr. Seuss’ birthday parade?

Yes, it’s okay to teach little Johnny that Mom and Dad won’t be able to make it to all these parties and parades. And, Mom and Dad learn that they have to let their kids down once in a while. But seriously, why? Why so damn many in-school events? The parents who are least involved in their child’s education are more than likely the ones who won’t be able to show up for this crap.

As a single parent, I implore the educators among us, to stop. JUST STOP. Schedule your art shows, guest readers and Pi day festivities for the evening. Or, better still keep it in school and share a video with us. It is the digital age, after all. Seriously. We’ve had enough. Make the special events really special by limiting the number of “special” events you schedule for workdays to 1 or 2 a year. Thank you.

Eulogy

For the past 13, nearly 14 years I have had this nagging need to get some closure. Because my mother passed away so very quickly and unexpectedly and because the world was in turmoil that fateful day in New York City, Washington DC and Shanksville, Pennsylvania – and because my mother was the one who held everything together when everyone else was falling apart, I did not deliver a proper eulogy.

We had a few lovely services for my mom, during which I was asked if I wanted to say something. The truth is I was a weeping, blubbering, crumpled mess and couldn’t pull myself together enough to utter more than a few words without breaking down. My mother and I had an extraordinary relationship and losing her was overwhelming. Now add to this enormous loss the fact that I was pregnant, and you can imagine how my emotions were running rampant. Now add in the crippling feeling that the world was spinning out of control on 9/11/01 and everything was upside down.

I never got to talk about how amazing my mom was. But as I begin to think of all the wonderful things my mother was, I have come to realize that perhaps she didn’t need a eulogy. The people gathered at the services were her closest friends and family. My closest friends. My two brothers’ closest friends. My dad’s closest friends. Mom’s numerous “adopted” children. Mom’s grandchildren. These people all had the honor of knowing my mom.

Some of them knew her as the kind woman who was generous to a fault. Some of them knew her as the woman who warmly embraced everyone who walked through her door. Some of them knew Mom as the woman who invited everyone to Sunday dinner. Some of them knew her as the woman who rolled up her sleeves and pitched in any time, anywhere. Some of them knew her as the lady who loved holidays and spent days decorating and cooking in preparation for every holiday, even St. Patrick’s Day – and we are neither Irish, nor Catholic. Some of them knew her as the impeccably dressed intelligent banker and business woman. Some of them knew her as a spitfire kind of gal who liked her scotch and cigarettes and was fond of a dirty joke, which was quite funny coming from a woman whose outward appearance was so prim and proper. Lots of people called her “Mom” and genuinely loved her. So, I realize that as we all came together to remember her, a eulogy may not have been necessary. Everyone loved her and remembered her in their own special way.

But no one knew her like I knew her. Few people got to see the fragile side of Mom. Few truly knew the young mother who was married to a military man who spent months at sea, leaving her to care for two young children on her own. A very select circle of friends knew the woman who cried alone behind closed doors because it was hard to make ends meet and even more difficult to hold it together in front of the rest of the world. Few got to see sadness in her eyes when she spoke of losing her beloved dad at the age of 13, when she needed him most.

Even fewer got to see the pain in her heart when she shared the story of taking her ailing mother on her crappy 2-day honeymoon to look at some stupid steam engines in Pennsylvania – boy you sure did know how to romance Mom, didn’t you Dad?

Hardly anyone knew her as the woman who found out at the age of 25 that her entire life had been a lie. She was not the person she believed herself to be. Mom had discovered she had been adopted. She dealt with an identity crisis while nursing her sick mother through her final days, all while she was pregnant and basically on her own. But, as I said, few people saw this side of Mom. I was one of the select few who truly knew the depths of her pain and appreciated the spark of life that extinguished that pain time and time again.

Most people knew Mom as the formidable woman who never let fear hold her back. She was an intrepid traveler who loved to make plans at the last minute and just go. Together with her best friend Patty, she ventured out with no money and two young children in search of simple fun. And, she delivered. I never realized when I was young that we “went without” because we never seemed to be in need of anything. Our bellies were always full. Our beds were always warm. And, Mom was always smiling, telling us everything was going to be alright. Mom was not a woman who would let a beautiful sunny day go by without getting outside to enjoy it. She fully embraced the idea of stopping to smell the roses. She understood that life is indeed much too short.

Mom was famous for her picnic lunches. I remember sitting in the picnic area of many different parks and family attractions chowing down on fried chicken and home made potato salad, savoring every delectable morsel. It never occurred to me that I may be missing out on something scrumptious from the concession stands at these places. I was always content to have Mom’s home cooking. I now realize that Mom’s culinary adventures were her attempt at bringing the carnival fun home and keeping within a budget. I wonder if she knew the life lessons and valuable education she was giving us while trying to create some fun at home.

She tried her hand at everything and let us help. We made funnel cakes, doughnut holes, and churros just like the ones at the traveling carnival.  We scarfed down chili dogs like the ones at the beach hut concession stand. We enjoyed sausage and peppers just like they served at the Italian feast. She was the queen of Belgian waffle ice cream sandwiches. She could whip up a shake better than any soda jerk at the local Friendly’s restaurant.

Mom’s house was the epicenter of fun in our neighborhood. We rode our bikes over the lawn, wearing down a path around the swing set and jumping over plywood ramps. We camped out in the tent on warm summer nights – okay, so the girls NEVER made it past midnight before we creeped each other out talking about bugs and wondering what all the scary noises might be, but Mom was waiting when we came inside with all the makings of S’mores which we cooked over the flame of our wood burning stove, even in the heat of the summer.

Sure, she complained about the ruined lawn or muddy feet, but she forgave us eventually. She used to warm scarves and mittens in the clothes dryer while we played outside in the snow, so when we came in for hot cocoa, she would swap the wet ones for toasty dry ones and then she would venture out with us, digging deep tunnels in the snow for us after shoveling the driveway by herself. We pitched in, but in all seriousness we all know how well a 5-year-old shovels snow, right? She would roll giant snowballs and stack them three high for us and give us a carrot stick and odd buttons to make a face for our “Frosty.” She was the quintessential suburban mom.

But, she was also a neat freak and a bit, shall we say, anal retentive? Somehow, she balanced her obsessive need for cleanliness with the ability to have fun. She helped us build countless blanket forts in the dining room and living room. She let us make pinatas in the kitchen. Play-doh was always allowed. When we were old enough we had chores and we couldn’t have “fun” until the chores were complete.

Saturday morning was dusting and vacuuming time and the whole house was cleaned from top to bottom, with Mom finishing up on her hands and knees, scrubbing the “no wax” floor. Then lunch. Then our Saturday adventure. She’d pile us into the old station wagon and her best friend Patty would ride shotgun and we’d go someplace perfectly ordinary, but Mom and Aunt Pat would make it fun. We would go on scavenger hunts through department stores. We’d be sent on “secret missions” in a craft supply store. We’d pick through the piles of “irregular” socks at a flea market or search for cans without dents at a salvage store. No matter where we ended up, it was usually a lot of fun. Then home to a warm and hearty meal.

Every once in a while we’d have enough money to actually go “somewhere” and do “something” like the Bronx Zoo or an aquarium. And, if our planned outing happened to be a washout, we’d put on our dime store ponchos and weather the storm. I soon discovered this was a great way to see lots of local attractions. The rain kept everyone else away and we’d have the whole place to ourselves.

When we got a bit older and Mom went back to work full time, we still had our Saturdays. Mom would be at the bank on Saturday morning, leaving us to complete the chores alone. She’d be home for lunch and then off on an adventure.

These days, I think about Mom a lot. Her smile. He intrepid nature. I am trying to be like Mom or at least live a life that would make her proud. I am not as organized as I’d like to be, but in all honesty, I think I’m doing pretty well. I try to be adventurous and I would love to have the hustle and bustle that Mom had when we were kids. I don’t know if I have it in me to be the perfect hostess. Okay, so Mom wasn’t a perfect hostess and that’s what made her entertaining so easy. She just cooked from her heart and everyone just showed up.

This may just be the year that I finally get my shit together and jopen up my heart and my home without caring that things are not perfect. Now that I am learning to leave the past behind, I  can start to imagine the future. I wish Mom was here to share it, but at least I know she’d be proud.

 

 

notoriety

When we began this blog, I had the idea that I would chronicle my life as a single parent raising a brilliant child. As it turns out, raising a brilliant child as a single parent is more time consuming than I estimated.

Okay, so I never estimated the time as I never planned on becoming a single parent. I never planned on a lot of things that have happened. (That’s life, right? It’s what happens when you’re busy making plans, or something like that.)

A couple of years have passed since I became a single parent and decided I’d like to write a blog, and I have learned a lot. I have loved a lot and I have worried more than I probably should. This is hard work; single parenthood.

Being a single parent can take many forms. Here is my version. I was suddenly, without any warning whatsoever launched into single parenthood in a split second. My partner, my child’s father was ripped from our lives without giving me a chance to prepare. I have no child support or alimony and my son has decided to sever ties with his father altogether (but that is a topic for another blog post, or several blog posts).

My parents have both passed away, my in-laws are gone as well. So here we are, my son and I, facing this world alone for all intents and purposes. Sure, we have friends and family who support us and they are a wonderful bunch of kind-hearted, sweet-minded, well-meaning folks. We could not make it without them. But the nitty gritty, day-to-day crap, that’s all on me.

To make matters more difficult, what my ex did to us was earth-shattering and humiliating as he had a massive public meltdown. His notoriety taints every aspect of our lives. Every. Single. Aspect.

You wouldn’t think his actions could be that far reaching, but truly, they are and it is crippling. Somehow, we work through it.

I hold a considerable amount of anger and resentment toward the man whom I once loved. That anger is never more seething than the times I see my son struggling or hurting. I blame his father for the struggles. It’s not entirely right of me to do so, but damn it, he hurt us and the hurt keeps burning. The wounds are deep and they are compounded by the notoriety. I never realized what an ugly word that is, but there it is, in our faces every day. We can’t forget it. The world won’t let us.
That is not to say that the cruel people of the world, and unfortunately we’ve met a few, use the notoriety daily. But it is always there and it taints everything we do. Every good day is tempered by its ugly, dark, ominous presence. It’s like a virus that underscores everything we do, all that we are or all that we ever hoped to be.

We wear it like an ill-fitting jacket. It would be wonderful to unzip it and slip it off. Just peel it off and leave it in the donation bin. No, strike that, I wouldn’t want anyone to have that jacket. Not even the cruel people. It’s that ugly.

Let’s put this into perspective, shall we? Imagine that you are a brilliant student and creative and funny. You could really make a mark on the world and teachers like to nominate you to receive awards and accolades, but you shy away from the recognition and positive reinforcement because there it is, behind every good feeling, that awful biting, terrible notoriety.

Now consider the assholes of the world. There are a few of these in middle school, right? The assholes know about your family’s shame, they hone in on it and see how much it hurts you, so they take every chance they can to rub salt into that wound.

Yes, I could take my son out of this situation. We could sell our home and move. He chooses to stay because his friends are here. His life is here. I support his decision. I admire his strength.

I wonder and worry about his future. How many times will he back away from something spectacular and life-altering because he’s afraid he’ll be recognized?

He doesn’t want to be called to the front of the assembly for fear of being heckled. He doesn’t want to have fun with his friends in the school cafeteria for fear he’ll be recorded and have those recordings used to bully him on social media.

He censors his life. He stops himself from being himself. He closes down. I hate what is happening to him. I hate that horrible, terrible word. He doesn’t deserve this.

I am so filled with anger I want to lash out and wound his father. I want to reach out and hurt the little assholes who wield the shame like a sword. The scars of this will endure. Notoriety is not something a young teenager should understand. It’s not right. It’s not fair. And worse, I can’t change it.

 

On the Eve of Your 13th Birthday

train boyAs I sit here on the eve of your 13th birthday, I am thinking of wisdom I wish that someone had shared with me when I was your age. No, I am not going to write some lengthy discourse for you to memorize. I just want you to know a few things that may help you get through life a little easier. What can I say? That is my job as your parent. So, here it is, my advice. I know you didn’t ask for it, so you may take it or leave it as you wish. Just know that all that I do, as imperfect as I am, and as haphazard as it may seem, I do so simply because I love you. Know that I always did my best for you, even when I made mistakes, I tried my best and that is all I can ask of you. Just do your best.
So, there is number one – whatever you do, give it your all. Don’t waste time giving something only part of your attention. It’s okay to fail. In fact, fail often. It is when we fail that we begin to understand what we need to do to succeed. If you start a project and your heart isn’t in it, the end results will show your lack of focus. That’s just wasting your time. Life is short. Don’t waste time.

And, that leads me into the second bit of advice. Time. It really is precious. I know you are in a big hurry to grow up and “do things” and “be somebody” and “leave your mark” but honestly, I know I say it an awful lot, growing up isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. I also know that my words (on this subject anyway) are completely meaningless. But if you could just remember every day to take a few minutes and metaphorically smell the roses, you will have a much richer life. I am not kidding. It’s true. Whether you actually stop and smell the roses is completely up to you of course, but I wholeheartedly suggest that you literally do this, too. You won’t be disappointed. Other ways to “smell the roses” will change as you mature. Perhaps today it is reading a good book or drawing a sketch of a cartoon, mindlessly completing a jigsaw puzzle, or even gazing at the sky watching clouds drift by. There is a lot to be said for slowing down every once in a while. It’s cathartic. Some days it’s like getting to hit a “reset” button. Other days, it’s just a way to not lose your mind and choke the crap out of someone.

Onto my third bit of advice. Don’t choke the crap out of anyone. Yes, you will meet people who will utterly disappoint you and/or annoy the shit out of you. You will meet some insanely stupid people who make you question how they manage to bumble through life, but the truth of the matter is, everyone has a story. Don’t pretend to know theirs. Exercise a little tolerance. Treat others as you wish to be treated. I know you already know this, but it’s good to be reminded every once in a while. We all deserve respect and we all deserve our dignity. Never look down upon anyone, ever. It shows a lot about your character when you belittle someone or try to make them feel inferior. Even if someone has mistreated you, please try to be the bigger man and simply walk away.

Don’t say or do anything you will regret. This one thing my mother told me that has stuck with me my whole life – don’t do anything that you would be ashamed to be doing if your mother saw you. Hopefully this keeps you from making some insanely bad choices. You are entering your teen years, hormones do crazy things to people. Consider yourself forewarned. If I could see you, would you be embarrassed or proud? If you can’t walk away, fight with honor. Don’t say hurtful things. Argue your point and be passionate, but don’t be a jerk. The world is full of jerks. Stand up and be a decent human being.

Standing up for yourself and standing up for others is an admirable quality. So, this is my fourth piece of advice – don’t be a bystander.  The world is full of people who just sort of let things happen. Sometimes not acting out or speaking up is just as bad as intentionally being hurtful. When you see someone being bullied, speak out. It takes a lot of guts to stand up to bullies, but know this, if you speak up others feel empowered. No one likes a bully, but often people just accept it, because standing up is hard to do. Know this too, that bravery is about being scared, but following through anyway. Being unafraid is not the same thing as being brave. As you become a man, you’ll find lots of times when you need to be brave and I hope you seize the opportunity to face your fears and experience the exhilaration of taking a leap of faith.

Which leads me to number five – don’t literally take a leap of faith. Teenagers do stupid things to impress their peers. Yes, you are smart and wise beyond your years, but seriously, remember you are human. You have bones that break and flesh that can tear and internal organs that you can not live without. You are my only child, my heart and soul, and the most important person in my life. Taking stupid chances that could lead to death and/or dismemberment is not advisable. Seriously. Think twice before you try to outrun a moving vehicle or attempt to cross the tracks after the gates have gone down. The split second thrill isn’t worth the risk. Also, remember that once it’s on the internet, good luck getting rid of it. Pictures, videos, texts, whatever you put out there has the ability to come back to haunt you. And it will.

And lastly, when you love, love with your whole heart. Be kind. Be good. Choose your words wisely. Face to face conversations really show the person that you actually care about them. You will fall in love, possibly many times, and you will have your heart broken, hopefully not many times. It will hurt, but you will heal. When you are hurting, do not say things you will regret. Do not say things in anger and frustration. People you love will often make you angry. And you will also make them angry. Sometimes that anger comes from passion. Sometimes that anger is just anger. Learn the difference. Always apologize. And lastly, whoever you bring home to meet me will never be good enough for you in my eyes. Know this though, whoever you love must treat you with respect and love you; faults and all. They must also respect me. They may not love me. They may not even like me, but they must treat you right and show me respect. I will do my best to respect your choices, and that includes your significant other. I make no promises though because after all, you are my son, and as I already stated, no one will ever be good enough for you in my eyes.

 

 

An Open Letter to the Mother of My Son’s Bully

Dear Ignorant Mother,

Okay, maybe ignorant is a bit harsh. Perhaps I should address you as “oblivious” mom or “preoccupied” parent. In reality though, I have no right to call you names because I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about you. I jump to conclusions about you because I see how your kid treats my son and I want to believe that you are a horrible person. You’re probably a nice person and had we met when our children were in preschool or even in kindergarten, I am certain the circumstances would be different. Perhaps we may even have become friends.

But, we have never met, so here we are, and I am addressing you as the mother of my son’s bully. That’s also not a great way to make friends, but then again, I don’t know if I want to be your friend. I mean, who would want to be friends with someone who has raised such an awful, hateful kid?

You may think that you are doing a pretty good job raising a decent human being. You may believe that your kid is a “good” person. I am here to tell you, that you are wrong. A decent human being would not be outwardly, openly mean to someone they don’t know. A good person would ask, “Hey, how are you doing today?” instead of shouting “Hey dude, I am going to beat your ass.” A decent human being would not take some tragic event from my child’s life and ridicule him because of it. A good person would not shout insulting names at a stranger for the amusement of others. Your kid is not a decent human being. Your kid is not a good person, and so it stands to reason, you are not a good person and you are not a decent human being.

But, in order to assume those things about you I must jump to conclusions. You know what happens when one jumps to conclusions? They end up behaving like your kid.

You see, what your kid thinks about my child is based completely on jumping to conclusions. Your kid doesn’t know my son.

What your kid sees when he looks at my son: a small, weird boy with strange ideas and a bizarre sense of humor who dresses in unremarkable clothes. Your kid takes a look at my son and sums him up as an easy target for his dastardly bullying. Your kid knows one important detail about my child, that my son has survived a terrible event that left our family shattered. Your kid views this information as a weak point and a spot that he will zone in on so he can torture my son. Gee, what admirable qualities your kid possesses. You must be so very proud.

Here is what my son’s friends see when they look at him:

A gifted visionary with creative ideas that take shape by way of drawing comic strips and storyboards…

a sarcastic, avant-garde satirist with a wicked sense of humor and a sharp wit who can turn his ideas and characters into elaborate stories with clay and Legos and stop motion animation…

a brilliant scientist who learns by conducting experiments and exploring the world around him every chance he gets…

a skilled go-kart driver who mastered the art and science of drifting by the age of 7, who earned adult driver status with his skills by the time he was 11…

a car enthusiast with an advanced knowledge of super cars, muscle cars and all things built by Mopar…

an adrenaline junkie who loves to race karts, dares to ride the tallest, fastest roller coasters and skis black diamond courses…

a big-hearted philanthropist who takes on causes for all things great and small. He often rescues insects and amphibians. He raises money and awareness and dedicates his time to charity so he can make the world a better place…

an amateur astronomer who knows the difference between asteroids and comets and finds Neil deGrasse Tyson very entertaining…

a water-park aficionado who never met a water slide he didn’t like…the scarier, the better…

a marine biologist in training who studies the creatures of the tidal pools and marvels at the complexity of nautilus shells…

and a thoughtful fisherman and boat captain who sometimes enjoys standing still almost as much as he enjoys going fast…

What I see when I look at my brilliant son:

a snarky, opinionated smart guy with an infectious laugh who is a joy to be around…

a sensitive, hilarious young man who has an uncanny ability to imitate virtually any sound he hears from engines to musical instruments, who greets every day with a smile on his face and an eagerness to tackle new challenges…

a smart, clever teen who wants to have fun and hang out with his friends without being tormented by your idiot kid.

What my son sees when he looks at your kid:

a physically imposing kid with a dark, mean heart.

What I see when I look at your kid:

a shallow, smart-mouthed wimp who is afraid that people will see his faults…

a cowardly jerk who can’t control his impulses…

an entitled little prick who thinks athleticism and brand name labels are all-important…

I see the douche bully from every 80s teen movie – Biff from “Back to the Future”, Johnny from “The Karate Kid”, Greg from “Just one of the Guys.” Your kid is nothing more than a caricature to me.

It doesn’t make me proud to think these things of your kid, but we are jumping to conclusions here, right? I don’t know you or your kid, so I have to fill in the blanks with what little I do know.

As a mother to a mother, I wonder what you are doing that you have no idea your kid  behaves this way. Are you a self-absorbed ego-maniac? Or, perhaps you know he behaves this way and you simply don’t care.

As a mother to a mother, let me inform you, that you are failing at the most basic part of parenting – to teach your kid morals and ethics and above all, empathy. The golden rule, if you will, is fairly simple – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. You should have taught this to your kid before he was able to read or tie his shoes. Perhaps you did teach him this lesson, but you have failed to reinforce it. Now, at the age of 13 he needs to learn it all over again.

As a mother, I am sure you can understand this one thing that is paramount in my life – that I will fiercely, ferociously protect my child from those who wish to do him harm. I am certain you feel the same about your kid. So why then would you allow this behavior to go on? Would you like to see your kid suffer? Would it make you feel good to know that every single day your kid gets out of bed, goes to school and has to face a cruel and callous tormentor? I am sure it would really piss you off and I am sure it would break your heart to watch your kid go through such hell. I try very hard to contain my rage at you and your kid and your family. You may be good people, though I have not seen any evidence of it.

So, I ask myself and my friends, what kind of mother raises a bully? The answers we come up with are not very kind. It is so difficult to put ourselves in your shoes because we don’t know you. The general consensus is that you are the kind of parent who is failing at being a parent. After all, you are raising a bully.

Did you correct your kid when he was young and went around the yard smashing bugs or throwing rocks at birds? Did you brush it off when he kicked the neighbor’s cat? We struggle to understand how a parent turns a blind eye to this behavior.

So, we attempt to give you the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say you have tried everything you can to raise a decent person, but you find it increasingly difficult to reign in this behavior. If this is so, reach out for help. Your kid needs it. You need it. My son needs it. The other students at school need it. Ask someone to help you. You’ll be surprised at the resources available to you for the asking.

You see, while I have been busy showing my son how to treat people with kindness and respect and behave like a responsible young man, you have failed to do the same for your kid. I am trying to raise a person who will be respected and admired and who will go out of his way to help people. I lead by example and I am expecting great things for my son’s future. You, on the other hand, seem to be raising someone who merely “fits in.” Wow, what lofty goals you have set for your kid.

It seems you are content to have an average kid. It seems that you encourage mediocrity and conformity. And, while that is your prerogative, I don’t want your “ordinary” kid standing in my extraordinary son’s way. That is my right. That is my son’s right. So, step aside average kid and failing mom, and let my son live his life without you in it.

 

 

 

Fast and Furious – How His Vocabulary Grows

After more than a year and a half of over-analyzing and agonizing over James’ reluctance to speak, I quickly learned that James had been studying language very carefully for quite some time. When he finally broke his silence it became quite apparent that he was a clever wordsmith, carefully stringing together groups of words to form entire sentences; and he was funny.

“James, did you do that on purpose?” I would ask.

“No,” he would reply, “I did it by my stink.”

“Um, what?”

“By my stink. I did not mean it. By my stink.”

“By your stink? What does that mean, James?”

“It stinks I did it wrong on accident.”

Can’t argue with that reasoning. I also couldn’t correct him because it was ridiculously cute.

Three-year-old James used to love to watch Monster Truck racing on television with his dad. One of his favorite trucks was named Maximum Destruction. James preferred to call him “Maxi-Home Destruction.”

“Why is he called Maxi-Home Destruction, James?” I would ask.

“He would crush our home if he tried to park in the driveway.”

Fair enough.

James is also quite competitive.

One day I was gardening in the back yard and my husband was testing the new sprinkler system he had just installed. Just as the water stream shut off I looked up from pulling weeds to see James’ bare bottom across the yard.

Upon closer inspection I noticed that James had pulled down his pants and was peeing into my herb garden, so I shouted, “What are you doing, James?”

James shouted back, “I’m winning!”

“Winning what?” I asked.

“The sprinkler peed on me so I am peeing back and I am winning!”

When I stopped laughing I instructed my husband to run the sprinklers in the herb garden for a few extra minutes that evening.

Journal entry: Three year olds are a constant source of entertainment. James “sprinkled” in the garden today to teach the sprinkler a lesson. You can’t make this stuff up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.