15 10 / 2014
During a meeting at John’s school - or maybe it was occupational therapy or a doctor appointment - someone mentioned the unique challenges of parenting a “special needs” child. I looked around the room to see if she was talking to someone else. Then I realized she meant John. I’ve thought a lot about those words - special needs - as we continue to see doctors and therapists and research and try to figure out what we’re doing with this new version of “normal.”
John is the same child with the same quirks; the only difference is he has an official diagnosis to explain some of his challenges. But no one has ever heard of his disorder - including some doctors - so labeling it is meaningless in the real world. Even in the Google-verse, there isn’t much information available.
I feel Marty and I are kinder, more patient parents. John isn’t necessarily being uncooperative or difficult; there may be deficits preventing him from meeting our expectations. Yet, we can’t let him off the hook entirely; it’s easy to say “Oh, he’s misbehaving because he has issues,” but that excuse does no one any favors. Where I may have snapped at John because it was taking him too long to complete what I considered simple tasks, I now know he may require extra coaching and encouragement. Even then, he may not accomplish his objective independently.
Everything - absolutely everything - is a struggle for John. His lack of focus makes getting dressed in the morning a monumental task. He understands what he needs to do, but there’s a disconnect between knowing it and actually doing it. Before, I would get frustrated and annoyed. Was he too caught up in his imagination - too busy telling stories to himself - to concentrate? I force myself to slow down, talk him through each step (multiple times) and allow his mind to get to where it needs to be in whatever circuitous route it takes.
I am not strong or a great mom or anything special at all, and while I know people are being kind when they say things like that, it makes me uncomfortable; I think any parent in similar circumstances would educate themselves so they could better advocate for their child. Seriously, what else can you do? I have brief moments of anger at the injustice of it all - John went through so much crap during his first months of life and now this? Can’t the kid catch a break? Ever?
And it’s incredibly difficult because there is nothing we can do. We just deal. We continue with his occupational therapy, and we work with his school to provide necessary accommodations to help him be successful, but that’s really it.
I get so depressed and exhausted thinking about how hard all of us have to work every single day. After the challenge of getting John ready for the day, we go to school. I walk him to his locker, talk him through putting his things away, redirect him when he starts to wander down the hall, squat down, touch his face, and remind him to “Focus, John. Listen to Mommy. What do we do next?” After school, I stand in the front foyer, craning my neck to see him as he walks down the hall with his class, hoping I don’t miss him, that he sees me, that he doesn’t slip by and start walking away from school like he did as a kindergartner. Then I look in his backpack to make sure he has his folders, then we go back to his locker for his jacket. Then we go home and try to do his homework before it gets too late in the day and whatever focus he had is gone.
It could be so much worse. As the pediatric neurologist explained the anatomy of the brain and the functions of each lobe, we realized John’s malformation is in the “best” possible spot. She said John’s “left high frontal polymicrogyric area…very well may be clinically silent.” So unlike some with the disorder, he can breathe and swallow and move. He doesn’t suffer from constant seizures. But there is something different in his brain, something that differentiates him from his neurotypical peers, and no one can tell us what that means for him in the short-term or in the future. I get the impression it is what it is, and we continue and do what we can to ease his way.
I want there to be an answer. A surgery. A miracle drug. A treatment to “cure” him. When he was critically ill as an infant, there were “antibiotics of last resort” and surgeries and follow ups. Then we were done with that part. It was over. This won’t be over. We could get a third opinion; we could travel to Seattle Children’s Hospital - the epicenter of all things polymicrogyria - but we won’t learn anything new. I know enough about the disorder to know they will tell us exactly what we’ve already been told.
So we keep going, trying to get John through first grade. At least two mornings a week, I start to cry as I walk out of school. I get back to my car and call Marty at work, tell him we need to homeschool or do something because John won’t survive in a traditional school environment. Marty talks me down, reminds me John is incredible - that has not changed.
30 8 / 2014
There were three things I hated about the house in Vinton. Actually, there were more than three, but these enraged me on a nearly daily basis.
1. The Laundry Room
The problem with the laundry room was that it wasn’t really a room. It was a narrow passage between the garage and the kitchen. In the winter, it was full of sand; it’s difficult to get excited about clean clothes in a perpetually gritty room. It was also extremely narrow - so narrow, in fact, if the front-loading washing machine was open, one could not walk past it without closing it. There was no room to sort laundry, so piles of dirty clothes lined the hallway each time I did laundry.
Our laundry room at the new house is an actual room. There is a floor to ceiling window. There is room for two drying racks. (Previously, the drying racks lived in the master bedroom. Not classy.) There is a built in cupboard and drawer for laundry accessories. Even when I’m not doing laundry, I will stand in there and just enjoy.
2. The Hallway
Speaking of the hallway (where I sorted laundry), it also was freakishly narrow. I am not a tall person, and I have short arms even in proportion to my height. I could not walk down the hall without touching both walls. Two people could not pass at the same time. And there were frequently piles of dirty clothes too. I was irrationally angry every time I walked back to the bedrooms. My mother suggested hanging a mirror in the hall to give “the illusion of more space.” David Copperfield could not have given the illusion of more space.
3. The Outside Lights
If you read my blog on a semi-consistent basis, you know I’m a little bit crazy about a lot of little things. The outside light situation in Vinton was poorly designed to the point of insanity. There were lights on either side of the front door. The switch to control them was right inside the front door - makes sense. There were also lights outside the garage doors. To control those, one had to walk into the garage, down six steps to the utility door leading outside, and turn them off. Garages are inherently dirty year round and freaking cold in the winter. So I’d freeze my ass off (and dirty my socks because who wants to put on shoes to turn off a light) every time I’d sprint down the steps at 11:30 p.m. to shut them off. The situation goes beyond a design flaw. It was just stupid.
At the new house, I can control the light above the front door and the lights on either side of the garage from the switches inside the front door. Check this: there is also a switch just inside the back door leading from the garage to the house! It makes so much sense, yes?
I’ve taken to turning the outside lights on at dusk and leaving them on until I go to bed, not because we’re expecting company but just because I can.
If we’re Facebook friends, you probably know our family has experienced a medical crisis the last month or so. It’s terrifying and sad, and until we have our appointment with Pediatric Neurology at the University of Iowa at the end of September, we won’t really understand the implications of what we’re facing. Even after the appointment, we might not truly realize the scope. So I’m focusing on other things right now. Things that make me happy on a day-to-day basis. Like the ease of turning the outside lights on and off and the quiet joy of the laundry being confined to the laundry room.
25 7 / 2014
Happy Reunion Weekend to the Kennedy High School Class of 1994! Not only were we one of the best looking classes to pass through the hallowed halls of Kennedy, we have also turned out to be exemplary members of society. We have become doctors, lawyers, engineers, musicians, and absolutely fantastic parents. Most impressive to me is the number from our class who have gone into the field of education - that, friends, is really something and speaks to the outstanding teachers who shaped our young lives.
I did not attend our five year reunion, because I spent the summer of 1999 in England. (Yes, that was just as awesome as it sounds.) I had every intention of going to our ten year reunion, but social anxiety paralyzed me, and I spent the weekend lying on my couch. I created a Facebook account just in time to find out about our 15 year reunion, and I had a lovely time. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, but I am glad I did. It was wonderful. And I am super, super excited for our 20th this weekend. Many classmates who were unable to return to Iowa five years ago are making a point to be here this weekend.
My dad totally does not “get” social media. In my opinion, social media were created for events like high school reunions. People I didn’t necessarily know well in school have become important to me through our Facebook/blog/Twitter relationships. I wonder how their kids are doing, if their husband likes his new job. If they update their status pretty consistently, and I don’t see anything new for a couple of days, I worry. They are relationships, and they matter to me.
To the girl from sophomore year French class.
To the guy from elementary school who has an amazing wife I also consider my friend.
To all the people with whom I have reconnected online - I value every single one of you, and I cannot wait to see you “for realz” this weekend! Let’s get #JFKClassof1994 trending on social media!
07 7 / 2014
We moved a week and a half ago. We bought my parents’ house when they downsized to a one-story home on a smaller lot about five miles north. When hearing where we would be living, most people’s first question is “Isn’t it weird living in your parents’ house?” Nope. Not at all. I was a senior in high school when we moved here over Thanksgiving break in 1993 - it was not my “childhood home.” I lived here off and on during college, during my “drop out of college and work full-time phase,” and during my second stint in college (University of Iowa, Class of 2001 woot woot!). My parents lived in England for 15 months during that time, and Marty, John, and I house-sat when they spent a month in Italy a few years ago. (My dad teaches in the MBA program for the University of Iowa and was fortunate to teach at the University’s satellite campus in Asolo, Italy, near Venice.)
I easily become overwhelmed. (See my post on OCD.) It has been a blessing to be able to move in waves. Marty and his son spent one weekend moving boxes and miscellaneous to the basement storage area. They then spent a day moving the basic things we needed to live (beds, dressers, kitchen items). I have had time to unpack and organize before the next wave arrives. Thankfully, the buyers aren’t scheduled to take possession of our home in Vinton until August, so we have time to get everything moved.
My parents left rooms full of furniture they wouldn’t need in their new house as well as some family pieces I would have inherited eventually. Since I hadn’t moved my many boxes out of their basement storage area, they just left them. (Wow…I had a lot of boxes down there. Corey Haim posters? Yep, they’re there! Every pair of ballet slippers/toe shoes I ever wore? Those are there too. Life-size cardboard cutout of Captain James Tiberius Kirk? Oh yeah…Captain Kirk is still there. I tried to put him in the corner of my bedroom - where he resided during my high school years, but Marty wasn’t on board with that idea.)
I have to admit I am much more relaxed since we moved. We’ve had guests for meals a couple of times. At the house in Vinton, I would have needed to be medicated. Heavily. At the new house, I am remarkably chill and have even…gasp...enjoyed myself. I think in Vinton I was so worried people would look too closely and find fault. In Cedar Rapids, I feel at home. I know every inch of this house, and I’m completely comfortable.
My mom is out of town for a few days, and my dad came over for steaks this evening. Rather than the bundle of nerves I always was when my parents came to visit in Vinton, I was remarkably okay. Dad helped me with a few projects in John’s room, and he replaced some light bulbs that had literally burnt out right before his arrival. It was really nice.
I have this thing about dirt - my dirt versus other people’s dirt. When I moved into Marty’s house in Vinton, it wasn’t my dirt. No matter how much I cleaned, I never felt okay. Eventually, I kind of gave up. Granted, my parents always took really good care of this house. When we’ve had people over, they’ve commented on how clean it is. When my parents toyed with the idea of listing the house, the realtor couldn’t get over how well cared for it was. All the things one needs to do when moving - wiping out drawers, cleaning every crevice - were done for us. I told Marty how lucky we are to start over in this environment. In some ways, my OCD has kicked into overdrive in an effort not to mess up what we have going. In other ways, I am completely relaxed knowing things were in good shape before I even got here.
Marty and I already feel very much at home. John, despite having spent more nights in this house than he ever spent in Vinton, has had trouble. “I want to go home,” he says. “We are home,” I assure him. “We live here now.” “No…my real home,” he insists. Bedtime has become more difficult - he is scared of everything. I pointed out his blue canary nightlight from the other house is plugged in in his new room. “It’s too dark,” he insisted. Fair point - his new room is roughly twice the size of his old room. I found a second nightlight to plug in across the room from the blue canary. He was up out of bed approximately 27 times last night. Tonight, it was only three times before he finally settled in and fell asleep. I’m confident he’ll be okay, and I’m grateful we have the rest of the summer to get into a routine.
Marty’s commute to the library is 12 minutes versus 40-ish. That’s basically an hour and a half a day he gets “back.” Not to mention the fuel costs. John has occupational therapy three times a week all summer and numerous doctors’ appointments - minimal drive time is wonderful. (A seven year old with attention issues trapped in a car seat for over an hour a day is less than ideal.)
It’s good. It’s all good. Except John will attend a new school and that worries me. A lot. Will the staff be as caring? Will everyone understand John and his quirks? I’ve made many friends in Vinton, and I will miss seeing them at school drop-off and pick-up or at Fareway. The Vinton Parks and Recreation Department is truly amazing and offered so many activities John enjoyed. Cedar Rapids recreational offerings pale in comparison.
Last night, while messing around on Facebook, I realized a Vinton friend “unfriended” me. I checked with Marty. She had “unfriended” him as well. I was truly upset. I contemplated texting a mutual friend to see if I had inadvertently upset her. I honestly didn’t think I had. Marty suggested she severed ties because we are no longer Vintonians. That makes me really sad.
So…change. It’s hard for everyone. In many ways, this great change is as easy as it could possibly be. But there are things that are difficult and sad and lonely. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens. John remains perfectly John-ish, Marty is enjoying the new house, and I get to organize and alphabetize to my heart’s content. There’s that.
23 6 / 2014
John completed swimming lessons. The final lesson was anticlimactic; it was overcast and chilly, and John was even less enthused than usual about getting in the water. He did walk around the entire pool and went down the slide a few times, but he made it clear he was pretty much done about ten minutes in. His instructor presented him with a certificate proclaiming he is “still working on Level 1 of the Red Cross Swim Instruction Program” which now graces our refrigerator. She seemed a little nervous, like perhaps I’d be upset he didn’t pass. Not at all - I’m just thrilled he went to all five lessons.
The following weekend, we traveled out of town for a family event and stayed at a hotel with a pool. Marty took John down to “swim” while I accompanied my parents on an errand. Marty texted the above picture, explaining “Johnny wanted to go completely under water so we did. ;)”
It was entirely John’s idea. And it was HUGE. HUGE.
19 6 / 2014
I have always been a bit particular about my stuff. Thankfully, I only had a brother and was not expected to share the majority of my toys. I distinctly remember feeling I had to wash my hands before playing with my Fisher-Price dollhouse. I also insisted my friends wash their hands before playing with my favorite toys. In high school, I would go through every single (color-coded) folder in my locker, straightening the papers, each afternoon before I felt I could go home. At night, I removed all writing utensils from my backpack to make sure the pencils were sharp and the pen caps were on straight. My high school friends enjoyed rearranging objects in my room while I was in the bathroom to see how long it would take me to notice (not long at all). My mother consulted a therapist my senior year in high school. That particular mental health professional did not feel I fit the clinical definition for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She said although I needed things to be a certain way, I did not believe something bad would happen if they weren’t. I didn’t like it and got really, really agitated, but I was grounded enough in reality to know the world would not end if the blue marker cap got put back on the red marker. Let’s just say I requested a single dorm room my freshman year in college.
Flash forward to adulthood, parenthood, marriage - basically having other people amongst my stuff. I have had to let go. I have had to let go A LOT. Some of it was really pretty easy, to be honest. Some of it was much harder. Some of it was simply non-negotiable - kitchen cleanliness/food safety, for example, is not open for debate. Having worked in healthcare, I’m also a little weird about infection control, but there are worse things about which to be concerned, right?
A couple years ago, I started seeing a new therapist. I have struggled with depression since high school, and I’ve seen different therapists off and on over the years, never really “clicked” with anyone, and would just stop going, only to try again a few years later with someone new. I gave the new guy the run-down of my mental health history: “Depression, blah, blah, blah…I’m a little goofy about my stuff, blah, blah, blah…that lady 20 years ago said it wasn’t OCD, so I guess I’m just eccentric, blah, blah, blah…” He asked a few specific questions about my “quirks.” “Oh…you are SO OCD!” he concluded. He suggested we treat the OCD and see how controlling that would impact my depression. HELLO! It’s a whole new world, and I’m (reasonably) well-adjusted.
Like any addict, I have occasional relapses. Pictured above is my “area” next to the computer. Until we move and I have an actual office, this is it. This is my center. My calendar, items I use daily, medical paperwork - it’s all there. Marty knows if there is something he needs, it is best to ask me to retrieve it for him. You simply do not go in unaccompanied.
I was gone last night, having dinner with girlfriends. My parents watched John for awhile, then Marty was back before bedtime. I arrived home and sat down to peruse Facebook. Although my “area” was in the periphery, I knew. Something was not right. On the bottom shelf of the organizer, you will observe a white legal pad (has to be white, not yellow) underneath a few smaller items. Someone had moved the items on top, torn a piece of paper from the corner of the top sheet, and attempted to replace the smaller items. (They FAILED, since things were not perfectly perpendicular.) Marty had already gone to bed, so I couldn’t interrogate him.
Fortunately, it was time to medicate, and I went to bed. I actually kind of forgot about it this morning in my haste to get John to his occupational therapy appointment in Cedar Rapids by 8 a.m. I remembered, however, when we stopped by Marty’s office to have lunch with him. “You know that thing in the kitchen by the computer where I keep my stuff?” I tried not to sound accusatory. Marty started to laugh - really, really laugh - hard enough that no words could come out. He finally calmed down. Wiping away tears, he said “He sure called that!” “What?” I asked suspiciously. “Your dad. He tore off a corner to write down what to order for takeout last night. When I got home, he pulled me aside and said ‘I need to tell you - I couldn’t find paper, so I moved Susan’s stuff and tore off a piece. Don’t let her yell at you about it.’” Marty started laughing again. “Oh man…”
They say recovery is a process. I believe in the process, and I will continue to work toward wellness, wholeness. Just don’t touch my stuff.
08 6 / 2014
John’s third lesson, Friday afternoon, was not bad. About two thirds of the way through, he blew bubbles in the water as directed at the previous lesson. His “new” task was to hold the pool wall and kick his legs behind him. If he preferred, he could put his back against the pool wall, draping his arms over it, and kick his legs in front. Instead, John opted to hold onto the wall with one hand, as one might hold a ballet barre, and kick his legs one at a time, like a Rockette. “Kick!” he shouted, kicking his right leg. “Kick!” He kicked the left. “It’s like at the hotel, John. When mommy held you up in the water under your tummy,” I explained. His instructor offered to support him under his tummy while he held the wall; he’d be extra secure. “If you must…” he sighed. He sort of did it, less than gracefully, but at least he got an idea of what it feels like to float. Of course, as soon as his teacher touched him, he shouted “Help! HELP! She’s trying to kill me!” I think he was teasing. I’m pretty sure. Thankfully, the pool wasn’t open to the public yet - just some lap swimmers and a few other kids having their lessons.
When we got home, I invited him to lie on his bed and snuggle with me while we listened to his new CD. He thought that was a great idea. Blessedly, he fell asleep. Despite the two hour nap, he went to bed well Friday night, slept through the night, and “slept in” until 6:10 Saturday morning.
Sunday dawned cloudy and chilly. My car’s exterior thermometer read 66 degrees as we drove to the pool. He’s not even going to get in the water, I thought, parking the car. As usual, John had a few false starts getting in the pool, but when his teacher assured him he would be warmer in the water than out, he got in and started walking around, moving his arms. While he usually tiptoes tentatively halfway across and back, he actually walked all over the pool - probably because being submerged up to his shoulders felt warmer. At the far end of the pool is a kiddie slide. His teacher asked if he wanted to go down it. He shocked us both by enthusiastically shouting “YES! I’ve been asking and asking all week!” [He had not mentioned it. Ever.] He climbed out and walked around to the back of the slide. I helped him get situated. “I am so excited!” he told me. Then he didn’t move. He sat there, shivering, tightly gripping the plastic on the outside of the tube. “You’ll catch me, right?” he asked his teacher. She assured him she would, but he still didn’t let go. I may have “helped” a little by prying his left hand off and giving him a gentle push. One time down the slide was all it took! He loved it and begged to go down again and again. Granted, his instructor stood at the bottom to make sure he stayed upright upon landing and didn’t go under water. But still, it was a pretty big deal.
John was in an incredible mood as I dried him off and bundled him in a sweatshirt after the lesson. I told his instructor I honestly didn’t think he’d get in the pool, so I was thrilled he seemed so comfortable in the water. When John is tired - really, really tired - he becomes giddy bordering on hysterical. He had been awake since 3 a.m. With each trip down the slide, his laughter became increasingly maniacal, and I knew I needed to get him out of there before he lost it. Driving home, we called Daddy and Grandma and Grandpa so they could revel in the glory of his water slide adventure. I had taken numerous pictures and even some video. The only thing John loves more than looking at pictures of himself is watching himself on video, so we did that several dozen times during the afternoon.
Swimming Lessons 2014 will draw to a close with his final session on Tuesday. Like most people who encounter John, I’m sure his teacher will never be the same.
05 6 / 2014
We are definitely making progress. First, I was able to drive directly to the pool today - no cruising around that area of town hoping to stumble upon it. (It’s at the corner of North 8th Avenue and A Street. I know this now.) Secondly, John entered the pool in less than five minutes, and it was mostly his own idea. He spent the morning with my parents while I went to an appointment. My mother, who knows more about child psychology than any professional therapist I’ve encountered, let John express his apprehension about the entire process. She nodded sympathetically when he explained how he was made to get into the “deep, deep, DEEP water.” She complimented him on his bravery and spent the rest of their visit raving about swimming lessons and how wonderful it was he got in the pool and how maybe today he could splash Mommy when he jumped in.
On the drive back to Vinton, we listened to his new favorite CD. Actually, we listened to Track 4 on repeat for half an hour, but it put him in an outstanding mood, and it really is a catchy tune. (You can listen to it here.)
As we pulled into the parking lot, he said “Mommy, I am sorry I wasted your time. I am sorry I wasted my teacher’s time.” “Buddy,” I told him, “You didn’t waste anyone’s time. They are your swimming lessons, so you get to decide how you do things.” I pretty much felt like shit then, because as I’d observed him tentatively putting one foot into the water only to pull it back out again for 25 minutes at the first lesson, that thought had flitted through my mind. We are wasting our time. Why did I think this was a good idea? Of course, I didn’t actually say it out loud! I pushed the negative thoughts down deep inside and continued to encourage and cheer for the 25 minutes it took him to get into the pool. I was shocked John was so intuitive as to make that leap on his own and then vocalize it. I reassured him the hard part was over - he’d already gotten into the water once, so today would just be fun.
He did get in the water well (comparatively speaking) and walked halfway down and back as he had the first day. His teacher encouraged him to put his chin in the water and blow bubbles. He does this in the bathtub frequently - which is really super gross if you think about it - so I figured he’d handle this task expertly. Nope. The parks department mowed the grass around the pool complex earlier, and it was a breezy day. The clippings had blown into the pool, and there was no way he was putting his mouth anywhere near the polluted water. Despite his teacher pushing the majority of the floating grass away from him periodically, John remained uncomfortable. “Why is there hay in the water? Who would put hay in here?” he kept asking. He eventually blew bubbles - he just kept his chin well above the water line.
Based on the established pattern, I predict he’ll get right in the pool tomorrow. Within the first ten minutes, he will complete today’s task of blowing bubbles. Whatever new concept is introduced tomorrow, he will refuse, but he will tackle it at the following lesson. (Since I made this prediction, that probably isn’t how it will go at all, but…)
If you look at the picture from today’s lesson, he is kind of/sort of smiling. And I think that is really, really great.
03 6 / 2014
"The only predictable thing about John is his unpredictability," my husband and I joke. If we have a situation we think will be uneventful, John inevitably freaks out. Conversely, if we prepare well in advance and have a logical plan of attack for an occasion we think may be difficult, John sails through with no problems. We’ve pretty much given up on Boy Scout-like preparations and just go with it. What happens, happens.
Going into today’s inaugural swimming lesson, I had no idea what to expect. I hoped John would be so enamored with his lovely instructor, he would follow her into the pool and hang on her every word; I also knew it probably wouldn’t go down like that.
John was fine this morning when I reminded him we would be going to the pool after lunch - it was still abstract. After putting on his swim trunks and applying sunscreen, he realized it was actually going to happen. “I am nervous,” he told me. I assured him there was no reason to be nervous. It would be fun! The water would feel great! “I am still a little bit scared,” he insisted.
We left the house extra early. I have a mental block about the location of the Vinton pool/Rec Center. Vinton is not a metropolis, and the streets are laid out in an organized, logical manner. Yet I can NEVER find the Rec Center. It’s somewhere over by the hospital. So I drive to the hospital and then drive around a couple of blocks until I see the water slide. As we got out of the car and approached the pool, I saw a few children already in the water having their private lessons. I saw the girl I knew would be John’s teacher from my Facebook stalking. “There they are!” I sing-songed. “Look! She’s showing that little boy how to swim! Isn’t he doing a nice job?” John was unimpressed. His pace slowed until he was barely moving.
I was angry with myself. Why hadn’t I ever brought John to the pool before? Why hadn’t we come some afternoon last summer just to splash around? Then the setting would have at least been familiar. Last summer, our afternoons were busy with day camps he begged to attend, and I hesitated to bring him on a weekend when I knew the pool would be crowded - he was hesitant enough. The entire thing was new to him.
We encountered a little boy from John’s school in the locker room with his mother. He is a year ahead of John, but I knew John would recognize him. I said hello and enthused “You must be here for swimming lessons too! John, isn’t that great? You’ll both learn to swim!” My optimism apparently wasn’t contagious, because John gave me a nasty look as we exited the locker room. I led him over to a deck chair near where his instructor worked with another child in the water, and John perched on the edge of it, the war between fight and flight that was waging in his head very obvious on his face. I positioned myself between John and the path back to the locker rooms in case he tried to run. John moved around to the back of the chair, sitting on the support bar across the bottom. “She’ll never find me here,” he hissed.
The teacher wrapped up the previous lesson and came over. I introduced John, and she suggested they get in the pool. John gingerly approached the edge of the deck and stuck one toe in. He hastily drew it out. His teacher hopped in the pool. The water barely came to her knees; it was obvious John would be able to touch the bottom, no problem. Except it wasn’t obvious to him. He eventually, after much coaxing, sat down on the lip of the pool and put one leg in, stretching toward the bottom his teacher assured him he’d be able to touch. Since his other leg was drawn up to his chest awkwardly, the leg in the water was never going to touch the bottom. She offered him her hands and encouraged him to just slide right in. He jumped up and scampered back to where I sat in the chair. “It’s okay, John. It will feel so refreshing on a hot day like this. Go ahead, Buddy.” His teacher assured him once he got in, he wouldn’t want to get back out. He looked at her like she was mad. She suggested picking him up and just lifting him into the water. The look on his face said Oh, hell no, lady!
And so it went - John would almost, almost, get in the water, only to lose his courage just before touching the bottom. He wasn’t really running - more of a quick little shuffle of five or six steps between the pool and where I sat - but I didn’t think it was a good idea from a pool safety perspective. “John,” I finally said, “I do not like you running back and forth. It isn’t safe. You need to get into the pool.” She warned him they only had about seven minutes left in the lesson. Didn’t he want to get in the water? He looked across the pool to where his acquaintance dove for colored rings on the pool floor. He looked back at me. “You won’t have to go under water like he is. You’ll probably just walk around and get acclimated today.” He looked back to his teacher, kneeling in the water with her arms stretched toward him. He slowly, slowly, slowly lowered himself down, looked at me once more, like a soldier going into battle, and slid into the water before he could talk himself out of it.
He held her hand and tiptoed gingerly around the shallowest part of the pool. They walked half a pool length, turned around, and came back. She helped him climb out of the water, and I wrapped him in a towel. “See! You did it!” I smiled so much my face hurt. “Wasn’t that great? Aren’t you proud of yourself?” He gave me the look my dad gives my mom when she returns from Pier One with new throw pillows. Genetics are truly an amazing thing. “Say thank you to your teacher, please.” “Thank you,” he muttered resentfully. “So…that’s why we decided to go with private lessons,” I explained - unnecessarily, I’m sure - to her. She nodded, smiled, and said she would see us tomorrow. The pool was getting ready to open for the day, and she had lifeguard duty.
John and I walked back to the car. I was torn between wanting to cry at the complete failure of it all or laugh because the whole thing had been so very John. I buckled him in and started the car. “Well,” he told me, “I’m certainly glad that’s over.” “Yep…all done for today, but we get to go back tomorrow!” I probably tried too hard. “What? Again?" he seemed shocked. "Yes! We get to come back four more times! By the time you’re done, you’ll be an expert." An “expert” what, I don’t know. “I think I’ll pretend to be sick tomorrow,” he declared, crossing his arms over his chest.
Before we even went, I told him to do his best work. He had. Sticking one toe into the water off and on for 25 minutes had been his best. Walking halfway across the pool and back was probably one of the hardest things he’s ever done. Despite my initial angry, irritated instinct, I couldn’t be mad. He’d done exactly as I asked - his best work.
When we got home, he changed into shorts and a t-shirt, and I encouraged him to lie down on his bed and relax - I did not dare say nap or rest, because he wouldn’t go near his bedroom if he knew that’s what I had in mind. I put on his Knuffle Bunny: The Musical CD and settled him against his pillows with what he calls his “snuggly blanket.” I went out to the kitchen to get a few things organized and to give us each some time to ourselves. He came out after 15 minutes or so and said “Mommy?” “Yes, Baby?” I asked, turning away from the kitchen sink. “I could really use some adult supervision.” “Okay.” We walked back to his room hand-in-hand. I sat down in his bed and leaned back. He laid down with his head on my lap, and we listened to the rest of the CD together.
31 5 / 2014
Around February, John told me “I would like to learn to swim this summer.” He comes from a long line of non-swimmers (my dad, my mom, my brother, me), so I was pleasantly surprised he expressed interest in the world aquatic. (Incidentally, my brother Tom almost drowned during the required ninth grade swimming class in high school. The coach literally had to fish him out of the water with one of those poles that hang beside every pool but you never actually see anyone use. The coach met with Tom and my mom and gently suggested a medical waiver - apparently severe asthma and physical exertion while holding one’s breath makes school administrators worry about potential litigation. (Even in ninth grade, everyone knew Tom would be a lawyer.) When I found out Tom had been granted a waiver, I expressed concern for his safety - of course - then proceeded to throw a fit I had not known medical waivers existed when I was a freshman. “You don’t have asthma,” my mom pointed out. “I have my own issues!” I shrieked. “Clearly,” she agreed.) But I digress…
John’s own history with water is full of hits and misses. We first attempted the splash pad the summer he was four. We suited up, sunscreen was applied, we drove across the NE side of Cedar Rapids to a quieter, less busy splash pad. As I got him out of the car, the wind shifted, and the spray from the splash pad lightly misted his face. “I am done,” he told me, climbing back into the car. It could have gone better.
The summer he turned five, we tried again. We went the hottest day of the year. It was so hot, in fact, we had the Twin Pines splash pad to ourselves. John got near the water, running around the perimeter of the splash pad, but he did not actually get wet. After awhile, a little boy around the same age arrived, and they struck up a playground friendship. They crafted an elaborate tale in which they were superheroes. “Quick! To the water!” John shouted. While the other boy ran into the spray, John did an elaborate jog in place so it seemed he was participating. Clever.
Last summer, John actually got wet at the splash pad: he squeezed his eyes shut, turned his head away from the geyser, and stuck in his arm. It was beautiful. I texted a picture to my husband (and posted it to Facebook, naturally) to prove it happened.
Our experience with actual swimming pools has gone swimmingly. (See what I did there?) We stayed at the Comfort Inn in Fort Madison, Iowa for my husband’s family reunion two summers ago. Serendipitously, the Comfort Inn in Fort Madison has an AMAZING kiddie pool. Zero entry, one and a half feet at its deepest point, with three gentle fountains ushering John into its warmish depths. It was perfect. John army crawled through the pool to escape from Daddy, the shark. He relaxed in the calming waves. He wore his goggles constantly, despite never putting his head under water. (I had to pry them from his little hands after he fell asleep; I worried they were a strangulation hazard.) It was an outstanding experience.
On an early out Friday this past winter, we surprised John by taking him to the Honey Creek Resort’s Buccaneer Bay Indoor Water Park at Lake Rathbun, Iowa. He felt like he won life. We went down to the pool area upon arrival and had the place to ourselves. John was fearless, whooshing down the kiddie slide over and over. He even took a shower when we got back to our room, which involved getting his face wet. We went to the water park again the following morning, but it was far, far busier. The resort sells day passes to area families looking for entertainment, and we could hardly find a place to set our towels. Despite the noise and the crowd, John did surprisingly well; we enjoyed floating down the lazy river, and he stood in line nicely, waiting for his turn to go down the kiddie slide. I positioned myself at the top of the faux pirate ship to monitor the line, able to see John come up the stairs and go down the slide. Marty stood in the pool below to “catch” John and whisk him out of the way before the next child came down the slide.
There is always, always a hiccup. In this case, it was two little punks - a brother and sister - who ran up the steps, pushed their way through five or six others waiting patiently in line, and sailed down the slide in a squeal of giggles before elbowing their way back to the front of the line - over and over again. None of the other children said anything to them, so I didn’t either…until things got personal. John was walking up the stairs after a successful trip down the slide. He walked slowly and carefully, holding the railing. Brother and Sister had just gone down the slide and were racing back to the top. Brother went around John. Sister decided to go through John, basically pushing him to the ground and walking over top of him.
I’m sure you will find this shocking since I hide it so well, but I am a bit protective when it comes to John. (Sit down…it’s true.) Faster than you can say crazed Mommy I was on the little bitch. “Did you just touch him? Did you just touch him?" She looked at me, eyes like saucers. I am typically a mild mannered, upstanding citizen. I volunteer for a children’s theatre group. I NEVER leave the house in pajama pants. But you mess with my boy? My boy who began life at two pounds five ounces and almost didn’t survive infancy? I morph into every caricature of every Italian mafioso you’ve ever seen. Going full Brando on her, I breathed "You DO NOT touch him. You walk, not run. You wait your turn like everyone else. You are a rude, rude little girl. If you touch him again…" my voice trailed off, shaking. I did not need to end up jailed in Appanoose County, Iowa. I backed away, glaring. She knew what was up. Head down, she continued up the steps and slid down the slide. I helped John up from where he’d face-planted following her shove and hissed "We’re going back to our room." I looked at the other children waiting in line. They nodded at me, as if saying "Solidarity, Mama." My work here was done. We walked back down and motioned for Marty. "We need to leave now," I told him.
When we saw my parents for the first time after our weekend jaunt, my mom asked John if he had fun at the resort. “Oh yeah!” he told her. “Mommy yelled at the mean little girl at the pool.” #Winning
Which brings us back to John’s summer swimming lessons…I thought private lessons would be best for the little boy who has never (purposely) put his face in the water. The Vinton pool offers private swimming lessons at a reasonable cost. I investigated beforehand. I spoke to other mommies. I sent my beloved husband to the Recreation Center the day they opened summer registration to sign up John. I requested a specific instructor…a recent high school graduate with curly blonde hair - John tends to respond well to blondes.
I have talked up swimming lessons like a used car salesman talks up a Honda Civic. His instructor called this afternoon. We start lessons Tuesday. John practiced the dog paddle in the bathtub tonight. As Shakespeare said “The readiness is all.” Let’s do this.