He’s Got This
When our second child was born, my husband and I were unaware that we were entering a profoundly difficult decade. Once it finally receded, like a tornado blowing out of town, we found ourselves bruised but standing side by side, blinking in the sun.
The short-lived colic we had endured with our first baby was not even on the same planet as our second child’s. Our son was so often inconsolable in his first six months of life that, in photos of that period, our three year-old daughter is the only one who doesn’t look completely spent. Hollow-eyed, we desperately cycled through remedies. Holding, singing, swaddling, playing a white noise machine, winding a baby swing, and driving him to sleep were all remedies that worked but only briefly…it was as if we were outside the Garden of Eden without a key, staring through the gates at the happy families strolling around contentedly with cooing babies. Slowly we learned his triggers and how to better soothe him. A structured schedule was key, and nursing was a godsend I overused. By his 12-week checkup he was at 100% height and weight and I was fitting into my pre-pregnancy clothes.
In the ensuing years, it seemed our son had assessed the situation and was pissed off he had been assigned to go through childhood instead of somehow qualifying to be skipped directly to adulthood. The peaceful periods in his first decade often corresponded with him hitting developmental milestones. As he learned to sit, walk, talk, go to preschool, then to Kindergarten, and read and write, he would grow periodically calmer. During those times I would breathe more deeply and gather my strength for the next round.
Unlike his sister’s more even distribution of strengths and challenges, our son’s enigmatic personality highlighted greater gifts and deficits. At age three he had epic meltdowns as he struggled to moderate his emotions. In Kindergarten his teacher directed him to a speech specialist but noted his ability to negotiate. He was slow to learn to tie his shoes. But he was also highly verbal, and a born entrepreneur. By age nine he had read his way through all of Harry Potter. He was social and active, gravitating to ball sports and especially baseball, where his strength and intensity helped him to shine. Of my three children this child elicited both the most compliments and the most complaints—the complaints notably from parents who were affronted by the man-sized competitiveness that often radiated from his child-sized body. At home he argued incessantly, could be tough on his siblings, and was so stubborn I prayed for guidance and the grace to bear it. When my husband once confided he felt that our son was the cross I carried, I burst into tears. It was true.
In third grade we had him tested by a neuropsychologist, and she explained to us what we had long observed. The discrepancy between his under-developed processing speed and his gifted auditory linguistic skills was causing him to overlook the emotional component in any given situation. For me, the diagnosis was an indescribable relief that allowed me reframe his behavior. He applied his trademark spirit to his therapy sessions and his therapist taught us strategies to support him. Our family began to heal. By fifth grade, he was managing his intensity more gracefully and our home life had normalized.
Looking back, it’s easy to see how worn down I was before the diagnosis. I wish I could advise my younger self to worry less and laugh more. I wish I could hug her and whisper, “It’s going to be OK.” I wish I had been more patient. I still cringe remembering the time I grabbed my son viciously by the hair when he refused to listen for the umpteenth time. I still feel guilty about how my other two kids, without complaint, often put aside their own needs, while allowing me to give their brother extra focus and the time to seek answers to help this boy my heart knew was different.
At the same time, I learned from him. I learned with him. I learned to advocate for him even when my courage felt small. And ultimately, in order to cope, I pushed down my exhaustion and resentment, leaned in, and developed more grit. I cultivated gratitude and ignored the judgment of others. I loved him hard alongside my less challenging children. And when we finally found the answers we needed and things improved, I was quick to move on without looking back.
Now sixteen, my middle child is mature, bright, and ambitious. I love the boys he has chosen as friends. He is engaging, an excellent student, and a sought-after babysitter. For a teenager he talks to me a lot, and he can make me laugh like almost no one else. He’s still competitive as hell, and some people still take it personally. But he has learned to focus his intensity, and these days more often than not it works for him. Is he perfect? No. Will he stumble and fall in his life? Of course. But I believe in him and know he will pick himself up.
Lately, I’m allowing myself to remember. I’m realizing that somewhere along the way, that cross I carried became a blessing. Those hard, messy years provided my family opportunities to re-frame and persevere, and although some were fails, we learned resiliency and life tools that I can now see we’ve used to become more authentically ourselves. I believe we are closer and more supportive because of it. Our life isn’t the storybook version I pictured as a young mother. Instead, we have forged our own, real version. I learned the hard way that it is our grit that defines us. And ironically, it may be this model that ends up serving my children best.
Last month my son got his driver’s license. He was nervous, and asked me to drive to the DMV with him the day before so he could practice the route the driving teacher had shown him. He did it twice, directing me to watch him for mistakes. The next day, when he emerged from our car after the test and shot me the victory signal from behind the teacher’s back, my heart flipped. Another milestone.
These last weeks of school he’s been enjoying his independence, driving himself to school and baseball, hanging with friends on the weekends. I admit I’m relishing my freedom from being his designated driver. And I’ve noticed that in the absence of all the car opportunities we used to have, he’s taken to talking to me at the kitchen island while I cook or clean.
Today marks the official first day of summer, and he’s driving himself to camp to be a counselor for the week. I can tell I’m annoying him as I kiss him goodbye, remind him about sunscreen, and make him promise he’ll call when he gets there. He gives me a half-smile and a quick escape hug, and I stand on the front step as he throws his stuff into the back of our old Suburban. He backs out of the driveway. For a second, I see him at six, running down the hallway as fast as he can and launching himself upside down into our old green chair, his flushed face grinning up at me impishly. I recall a long-ago snippet from a Ralph Covert song, “Riding With No Hands.” Man, we must have listened to those Ralph’s World albums a thousand times when the kids were small: ‘Look at me, Ma, I’m riding with no hands…” I wave. The boy he was merges into the man he is becoming, and as he finds his balance, he lifts his hands from the handlebars, and the car rounds the corner out of sight.
Ariele Taylor has a B.A in Literature and Fine Art and has spent the last 15 years focusing on raising her family, restoring and remodeling houses and keeping her equilibrium by reading and writing. In her previous life, she had an art studio and ran an art gallery. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, kids, and dog and is planning on starting a blog as she embarks on the next chapter of her life.
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