Clark and I were asked to sing in a wedding last weekend. It was hotter outside than I can ever remember. So hot, in fact, that a bridesmaid passed out right before the pastor said,”I now pronounce you husband and wife”. It was all very exciting, perhaps not for the bride or for the faint-ee, but it did get me out of singing a Band Perry tune that I had only heard for the first time earlier that afternoon. No offense to Kimberly Perry, but a “firefly catcher all dressed up in a tux and a bow tie” takes a backseat to locked knees and heat stroke. After all of the commotion had settled, we joined up with some old friends sitting at one of the reception tables. One of them told me that she missed reading my blog which I must admit, felt pretty good. To all of you that have commented toward that end, please know that I have missed you too. So, my bridesmaid-fainting-witness friend then proceeds to tell me how my posts, particularly the mommy stories, have reassured her that not everyone has it all together. To which I replied, “Thanks?” No really, I had to laugh because somewhere along the line, the bitter truth of maternal humanity became the lens through which I wrote of my journey here whether I meant for it to come out that way or not. Let she who stands take heed lest she faint in the blistering heat of marriage and motherhood.
And faint I have.
I explained to my friend that I never intended to permanently close up cyber shop but that I’ve been simply going thru something personal to which I can’t yet find the words to explain. And I still can’t, but at the urging of my mother who feels I could benefit from the support of an extended community, namely yourself, this is my story to tell. Perhaps its true that if I don’t capture the humor and the humanity in the hand we’ve been dealt, I may miss a golden opportunity to encourage other women who reach for both a post and a paper sack when the realization hits them between the eyes that they too don’t have it all together. Breathe. Breathe. Here goes….
It started about 3 months ago. I began spending time with a new friend who’s children are around the same age as my own. During one of our visits, she asked me if I ever considered taking Salem to see a speech therapist. She may as well have asked me if I ever considered flying to the moon. Um, no. She obviously hadn’t heard him recite the entire James Earl Jones narrative of Disney’s Earth or Bono’s ONE campaign speech from the 2005 Vertigo Tour: Live from Chicago. So, I was quick to dismiss the question. Why would he need speech therapy? Sure he mixes up a pronoun here and there, but I can interpret his needs perfectly well, thank you. Then she asked me if I ever noticed that he drums on everything upon which I began to ask myself where on Earth this line of questioning was going. Of course I’ve noticed he drums on everything. Clearly, she doesn’t know that we’re raising another little Boone Daughdrill here. I felt myself starting to grow anxious and defensive, and the minute she left I burst into tears and called Clark to hear him tell me that everything was ok and my son was just fine and there’s no need to be worried about his development or his speech or his rhythmic (albeit noisy) habits. Like a good husband should, he eased my motherly nerves and told me to bring up her concerns at Salem’s upcoming well-child appointment.
I am eternally indebted to my observant new friend.
A few weeks later, I was in the pediatrician’s office filling out a developmental questionnaire for Salem. As I began checking off the “Almost Never” box for most of the communication and fine motor skill questions, I got the same nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach that I felt when my new friend brought up her concerns about Salem’s development… like the pediatrician might have something to say other than Salem is a prime candidate for early admission to Juliard. That’s when I started getting nervous. She did recommend that we take him to a speech and occupational therapist for further evaluations. In the same breath she says, “Now, I don’t want you to panic because most parents panic and start thinking their kid has Autism”.
I wasn’t panicking, but I am now. Thanks, Doc.
And what does panic look like in this case? It looks like two months and two thousand dollars spent in a child development center in a whirlpool of consultations, testing, and discussions of possible diagnoses all of which sounded completely awful. Several times we would be sitting in the waiting room next to the little boy wearing a helmet or the pre-adolescent image to Cousin It who bobbed her way off the elevator bleating like a billy goat, and I could have sworn I was scarring my pre-schooler for life just for taking him there because OBVIOUSLY we do not belong. My kid can kick a ball and eat with a fork and count to 20 in English AND in Spanish, and I would be happy to prove it if it means we don’t ever have to come back to this terrible place.
And then one day I heard Salem playing in his room flapping his hands and counting to 20 forward and backward in English and in Spanish over and over and over again…”one…two…three…dieceseis… Diece-“ssippi”… Dieceocho…diecenueve…BEEF-TY!” I interrupted him with a simple question.
Mommy: “What is your name?”
Salem: “Como te llamas”.
Mommy: “No sweetheart. What is your name?”
Salem: “What is your name?”
Mommy: “How old are you?”
Salem: “How old are you?”
After realizing that he couldn’t answer my questions, it occurred to me that Salem and I have never had a conversation. The day before, a little boy ran up to us on the playground and said, “Hi! My name is Jacob and I’m three years old and my sister’s name is Ansley and she is having a birthday party, and”… On and on and on… And Salem is over by the swings, flapping his hands, and reciting the Judeo-Christian plan of eternal salvation utterly disinterested in anything this child had to say.
No sooner did the pieces all start coming together then we concluded all of our tortuous visits to the child development center. And as it turned out, we did belong there.
Salem has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Hence the two-month cyber-blackout, the unreturned voicemails, the elusiveness, and the vague response around the wedding reception table. And if I didn’t have 7% power remaining on this IPad, I would tell you how we are really doing. Perhaps those words will come eventually.
And so it seems now we have a new story to tell.