The Mr. wanted a football team, I wanted two. These discussions began on our honeymoon, I held him off, but kids were his biggest wish. Not that I didn’t want them, but we were relatively young, none of our friends were married, and we’d just started our lives together.
The first was born two and half years into our union. By the time he hit fourteen months, our cute baby seemed like such a big boy. Slowly, discussions began seeping into dinner chats, bedtime talks, and first of the morning conversations. We battled with the proper time for thinking about adding to the roster. We’d only been in negotiations two months when I began feeling a little under the weather. The all too familiar 24-hour flu and overly tired feeling settled in. Our eldest, sixteen months old now, fidgeted in and out of the bathroom, while I waited for the two lines to show me the answer I already knew. Once again, Mr.’s idea of discussion became reality, with me still slowly dragging my feet. The lines turned pink, the Mr. smiled, pleased with the outcome, and here we were back on the pregnancy train again.
Veteran’s day turned into a day ever burned into our calendars, as we celebrate the heroic deeds of those who gave to our country, and the birth of our second child. Now known as the middle child. While he was no tiny little tike, at twenty-three inches and ten pounds six ounces, he was longer and lighter than our first. His chipmunk cheeks had my heart from the moment he arrived. He spent the night in the NICU. He still had amniotic fluid in his lungs, since he made a quick dramatic entrance, with only three pushes and a great catch on the other end by the doctor! That night I looked around the NICU feeling terrible. My little hulk was healthy, although under observation, and his counterparts were so tiny and frail. Looking back, the foreshadowing of events over the next year would change my perspective.
Middle quickly developed a strange stuffy nose once solids were introduced. He’d only been fed breastmilk, and did fine with the mother’s nectar. The doctors figured he had a cold spread from his brother, who was attending preschool a few days a week. He loved the taste of Benadryl and Tylenol, so we let the doctors keep tabs on him, and went about our business. Here is another time I wish I had a better vantage point, and more knowledge upstairs, because I could have saved us some pain and heartache.
By nine months, like his big brother he was up and moving. His first birthday celebrated without a hitch. We felt pretty successful surviving the year with potty-training a two-year-old and dealing with the sleep deprivation of a newborn. The Mr. had put the football team breeding plan in a holding pattern, as we navigated through this year as a man to man defense. Two weeks after his birthday, middle developed a fever of 105. It was steady for eight days. We spent all our time between the doctor’s office, emergency room, and basement labs having our poor boy jabbed and tested. We kept him in ice baths, and rocked him for hours on end. They never could pinpoint the reason for the high fever, but when he came out the other side he stopped walking and talking. Our happy baby was now in a muffled world of his own. He played quietly and rarely made a peep. By New Year’s, the deep sinking feeling of knowing something wrong lay underneath finally got the best of me. I took him back to our regular physician, who quickly determined he had clear fluid behind his ears. Most likely the left over sign from the mysterious fever. The doctor sent us immediately over to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. He too observed the fluid and determined that Middle’s equilibrium directly correlated with the trapped fluid. All of this resulted in Middle’s inability walking and contributed to the little vomiting trick developed over the course of the illness. Vertigo in a one-year-old isn’t pretty. Whenever he moved his head in certain directions, or bent over too quickly, he promptly lost his cookies. His eight-pound weight loss by this point became a huge concern since he weighed twenty-four pounds at his year checkup. The ENT suggested tubes for draining the fluid and restoring his equilibrium. We signed all documents and went home praying the surgery date would be soon.
The devil who sits behind a desk and punches in codes, which do not equate to people and compassion, called us within forty-eight hours and denied services. This devil never once looked at the boy’s files, never once read the urgency with which critical mass was nearing, and simply refused coverage for the surgery because the Middle had not suffered chronic ear infections. If he had, then surgery would easily be approved. My momma lion went into full gear. I became the queen of letter writing and advocacy for slaying the Lucifer’s in control of the approval processes for necessary surgeries. After six months of hounding the evil insurance hell, they finally approved the operation. Within twenty-four hours we had a brand new baby.
Lagging behind his peers developmentally, the Middle spent about six months playing catch up. He developed quite a photographic memory with his visual world heightened, while the auditory waned. He became a master at observing others and committing to memory how things worked. With this little talent he hung in the shadows of video games, board games, and other kiddie friendly activities memorizing the successes before he actually threw his hat in the ring. People would give us very sad looks, as if we were raising a child with a max IQ of fifty and the potential of maybe a street sweeper if we were lucky. This trick he had up his sleeve paid out overtime, and the nah sayers eventually stuffed their sad looks and degrading comments back in their over active mouths.
One hurdle down and another crept in without warning. We limited his diet because of the sporadic vomiting trick, and I kept pumping an assembly line of milk. Too much change made Middle’s world too difficult, and we were still wrapping our heads around if he would actually turn a corner once surgery happened. Luckily within twenty-four hours he was walking and talking and making up for lost time.
Then the flaming red hives entered the picture. As we introduced foods and set him up for tackling the world, he randomly developed hives. He’d play in the grass, walk through the park, eat certain foods, or drink real milk and everything turned red, including the whites of his eyes. Back to the doctor we went. Good news, he had allergies. Bad news, he was allergic to more than he was not. Another medical plan made and here we were with bubble boy. He began an allergy regiment which cleared up all those watery eyes and runny noses he had early in life. Although he will always carry an epi-pen and take Benadryl, discovering the root of many issues was a huge relief. If he had only come with a manual we would have realized the bigger issue.
Bring on school. Through a series of tests, and other situations, he was ready to tackle public school. Although on the young side, he still made the cut off date of December second. With the birth of child number three we were strapped for cash, and he needed to leave the comforts of the nest. His smile sunk into those chipmunk cheeks deeply, when he realized he’d be going to big boy school with his big brother. He met friends who voluntarily sat at the nut free allergy table, his buddies asked him over for play dates, and everything finally seemed on the up and up. Until the first parent teacher conference.
He brought home the typical papers from class: stories, drawings, scissor skills, alphabet, and number practices. Which all looked up to snuff in my eyes. I really thought I’d be going for a simple ‘Your child is lovely, nothing askew, thanks for your time’ kind of meeting. He sat outside and played on the gym equipment, while I seated myself in the appropriate little chair across from the teacher. She presented a glowing report of his behavior, his willingness for helping others, and commented on how precise he was with his fine motor skills. Something in the lovely teacher’s voice however alerted my senses as I waited for the but…
“Middle is doing great. We love him in class. We were a little concerned with his age, but he really is quite mature.” Her pause kept raising the hairs on my neck as I sat observing Middle’s mad monkey bar skills through the window.
“Mrs. K and I do share a little concern.” There it was the bomb ready to explode. “We have a pretest for reading, writing, and math skills all children are taking. Middle refuses to take the exam. We’ve tried several times over the course of a month, and each time he gives us the same answer, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do that. I haven’t learned how to yet.’” Listening to her words broke my heart. I worried the Mr. and I, with our untimely third baby, rushed the Middle into something he wasn’t ready for. This is the problem with popping three kids out in five years and being young without a plethora of finances behind us.
Keeping my voice steady, “Is he too young to be here? Do we need to find him some extra help? He did…” Her hand reached over to grab mine and with a smile she backed me down off the ledge.
“Quite the opposite, we feel he’s gifted, and want permission for testing. This will allow us to provide extra services for him. He is smart enough to know he’ll fail, and he knows the skills need time for development. We don’t see kids like him often who also have the social skills, athletic skills, and compassion like your Middle.” She smiled from ear to ear like she’d uncovered a pot of gold. I was already a retired teacher, working a private sector job allowing me to work and raise the kids. I understood what she suggested. But I certainly did not see my son in those same eyes. The little boy who hopped up crisscross apple sauce on the toilet with his toothbrush to save time in the bathroom, or drew green pen on his little sister, because she looked like a nice canvas certainly did not indicate the workings of a genius in my book.
I thanked her, but knew Middle would never pass the exam. The exam before third grade is all auditory. Middle is a visual learner. Deliberately setting him up to fail certainly never entered my mind. We pushed off testing every year until third grade. He registered off the charts. The only bonus for him taking the test lead to ample opportunities for enrichment activities. The Mr. and I felt if his brain power was strong he’d succeed no matter where he was placed. We believe so much more goes into the pie of making a whole human being grow to a responsible adult, and Middle needed time to fill the areas of his pie.
Middle became an avid reader at an early age. He loved all books, all heroes and heroines, all genres, but his life changed between third and fourth grade. When J.R.R Tolkien entered his room one night and told the tales of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He reads these almost every other summer, filling space with the movies, revealing in the world Tolkien wrote so many years ago. I knew when he read them, and understood Tolkien at that age of eight, we might be in trouble!
Over all he never once laid down and blamed his allergies or troubles on any of his early health issues. He still favors visual learning cues better than auditory ones. Of our three offspring he is hands down the most compassionate and caring. His mind is a wonder to all of us. While his siblings also passed the GATE exam and are no slouches, Middle provides me with a question mark on the universe. He validates some people come pre-programmed with knowledge well beyond simple mortal understanding. We did do our job. We exposed him to multiple new activities such as travel, football, soccer, and baseball, Model United Nations, volunteering and community service. The Mr. and I did our best making him the best he could become. Now the time closes in on his departure from the nest, and onto a larger playing field from that of the kindergarten drop off.
My mind is racing around wondering how my little boy grew from the chipmunk cheeked cherub to the whisker covered gentle giant? When did he become mature enough to manage his own health issues? Will he be safe away from our cocoon loving home? I have a week to wrestle with these questions and prepare him for a world outside our nest. College, while still a safety net, is the jumping off point. I know we’ve been doing this for two years with Eldest, but his situation was different. After seventeen years of hard work, our job now is to watch him stretch his wings, guide him when he hits rough patches, and encourage him to fly on his own.