Oliver is turning five at the end of March, and I kind of can’t believe it. Maybe it’s because he was my first baby, but I still think of him as a little guy. Well – little in spirit, since he’s roughly the size of a very short middle school child…
And truly, he’s so far from toddlerdom, I can’t even pretend anymore. He doesn’t need me nearly as much as he used to. He can get himself a snack – typically not the kind I would have selected for him…but still. He can turn on lights (yeah – electric bill!) and the television. He can even dress himself although his apathy for wearing clothes makes for some rather incomplete outfits – usually missing pants.
And he never ceases to amaze me with his talent for putting on any shirt inside out and backwards.
Anyway – I can’t help but think about how the apron strings still firmly knotted through his belt loops just keep getting longer and longer. Now, when we play outside, he’ll often disappear from my line of sight. Something that would once have been the source of a panicked sprint in the direction I last saw him and possibly some pre-hysterical yelling of his name. Now I lean toward a much calmer mosey and unconcerned yoo-hooing for his return to the fold. Of course, that’s typically followed by some bellowing about notdoingthatnottouchingthatnoteatingthat… But that’s another issue altogether.
When he was a newborn, we lived in a third floor condo apartment. The trash chute was only four doors down from ours, but for the life of me, I could not bring myself to leave my tiny baby alone for five seconds to take out the garbage. I was convinced that I would one day lock myself out while my son lay trapped in the apartment, wailing from fear and hunger.
So I did what any other concerned mother would do – I took him with me. And holding Oliver in one arm while I used my other hand to carry that one trash bag was pretty easy. Even opening the door to the trash room was simple enough. The complications began when I had to open the chute.
It opened in much the same way that a mailbox does, but there was a latch that needed to be held down in order to pull the handle. Most definitely a two hand job. While I could open the chute with one hand, I still needed to hold it open so I could lift the bag into it. And this presented an entirely new venue for my mania.
Since my other hand was already in use for baby detail, I had to look to other body parts for assistance. Unfortunately, the chute was located too high on the wall for me to secure it with my foot or my hip. So left with waist up options, the only feasible candidate was my elbow.
The process was that I would first open the chute with my right hand. Then, holding that down, I’d press Oliver to my chest with my left arm and rest that elbow on the open door. Then, as I cut off his oxygen supply, I would say approximately five Hail Marys while I let go with my right hand and used it to pick up the trash bag, even thought I’m technically not Catholic and hadn’t been to Mass in years. Then I dropped it in the chute, and the minute it left my grasp I would wrap both arms tightly around Oliver and say prayers of thanks to God for not letting me drop my baby with the trash.
You would think I’d pull out the stroller for this – but what can I say? A mother’s love and paranoia go far beyond reason.
As the year went on, I took the CA-RAY-ZEE down a notch and relaxed a bit. I could watch my toddler run around on the grass and not worry about every stumble and scraped knee. While I hated the idea of him being hurt in any way, I knew that the falls were inevitable and all part of learning to stand, walk, run…grow. Like all other mothers, I knew that I had to let go a little. And the apron strings lengthened.
Having the twins when Oliver was still a baby himself probably helped. I simply didn’t have the luxury of time for unnecessary worry. I embraced the old adage that children bounce and just held my breath (and said a few Hail Marys) when I saw him doing something perfectly normal that still made me nervous.
But I’d be lying if I claimed to take everything in stride. There was always a resonance deep below my love and pride for my children that screamed, “DON’T…STOP…DANGER!” And sometimes it was pretty hard to ignore. I could turn myself inside out from the fear that anything could happen. That every step they took away from me could lead them into forces beyond my control. What if Oliver tripped on the stairs and broke his neck? What if a rabid squirrel attacked him? What if a big crack opened up in the ground? The possibilities were endless.
Fortunately, I am not a complete psychopath and never take this beyond ordinary watchful wariness. But the irony of the situation is that my big beautiful boy who has never been seriously ill or hurt in his life continues be a constant source of worry for me.
No – not just worry…fear. Bone chilling, stomach churning fear of the far more possible what ifs. What if he still can’t hold real conversations by the time he starts Kindergarten in the Fall? What if he’s so awkward that the other kids are cruel to him? What if he starts to realize that he’s different…an outsider…?
I put up this strong front of not caring what anyone else thinks, and I actually don’t – for myself. But I do care for him. I care so much – too much, and it tears me up inside to imagine him feeling any less than a bright, sensitive boy so full of potential.
But those apron strings aren’t retractable. I can’t stop him from falling. All I can do is be at the ready with bandaids and open arms. They’ll always be there as long as he’ll have them. Which won’t be forever…but again, that’s another issue altogether…
Please don’t comment with the “you’re such a good mom” pats on the back, because the truth is – I’m not. Or at least, I could be so much better when it comes to this oldest child of my heart. I hate research…I’m terrible at schedules and structure…I have of yet to discover effective punishment for bad behavior… This doesn’t come naturally to me – this mothering of a special needs child. I’m good at the love, patience and acceptance part – but not so good at the “work” involved.
But I’m trying. I sit with Oliver and help him practice his pencil grip. I encourage him to work on the things that would be easy for him if he just tried. I wheedle him into trying the things that don’t come so easily with baby steps and little pressure. And I watch as he dresses, no matter how long it takes, reminding him to stay focused. I show him how to make sure his shirt isn’t inside out and correct him when he starts to put in on backwards.
And he’s learning. His shirt is now rarely inside out and backwards.
For a few years now, my heart has felt inside out and backwards. But I’m learning too. And with a little time, I think I’ll get it right.
*Oliver is starting Kindergarten TODAY, and I’ve devoted both this and last week to posts I wrote about him and his special needs. It helps me to re-read these and see how far we’ve come. It gives me even more hope for the future and reminds me of why I’m so proud of my son. Worry about the future will always take a back seat to that feeling. I wrote this one in March 2010.