My youngest child will (hopefully) be graduating this semester. I never thought I would have a child whose high school diploma was in question, but that is the reality of our situation. I have always wondered what it would be like to have one of those kids who flounder in mediocrity and under achievement, now I know. I realize that sounds like I am full of disappoint in him, but I’m not!
Josh pushed his way into this world earlier than expected after a placental abruption put both his and my life in jeopardy. My tiny yellow baby was jaundiced, sleepy and absolutely beautiful! Some newborns look like small aliens or large slugs, not my boy. He was gorgeous from the word “Go”. When his liver finally started working properly, he caught a cold. Infants don’t just catch colds though, they get very, very sick. RSV was not an illness I had heard of until that time, but I became familiar with it quite quickly.
Because my children have a relative who is completely deaf, the state tested their hearing at regular intervals before each of them turned 3. The three big kids never had an issue, Josh did. “Flat tymps” the doctor said caused by fluid behind the tympanic membrane. Tubes were the usual recommendation, but they wanted to wait to see if the issue cleared up on its own. When the ears were finally clear to run the test that involves looking at the auditory hair cells within the inner ear, some hearing loss was detected in his right ear. Not enough to necessitate hearing aids, he just missed the cut. The eardrum rupturing when he was four didn’t help, and I think played a part in his inability to carry a tune later in life.
When he was 10 months old, his older siblings decided to take him swimming while I cleaned up puke in the upstairs bathroom. With four kids under 6, there was always something spewing from one of them. When I came downstairs and asked my husband where the baby was, he moved faster than I had ever seen him move. Our oldest had asked if she could take the baby swimming and took him to the tiny wading pool in the back yard. When we made it out there, Josh was floating like a lifeless doll just beneath the surface of the water. No pulse, no breath, no life could be seen in our beautiful little guy. My husband started the CPR while I called 911. I was able to hold it together for about 30 seconds while talking to the lady at the call center. The moments before he started breathing again were the longest in my life.
Even after he started to breathe again, I knew that we weren’t out of the woods. His tiny hands opened and closed with some weird reflex that happens after trauma, his bright blue eyes opened briefly only to roll back into is head, and his tiny body fought to live. His premature birth had put him in the 0-5% category for height and weight, seeing him blue and limp on the table before the paramedics got there made me even more aware of just how tiny my son was. Even the infant sized face mask that the EMTs put on his face swallowed him. They rushed him to Children’s hospital with me in the passenger seat of the ambulance.
He made it through that ordeal alive while I learned that all 911 calls are recorded and gloriously replayed on the evening news. The more distraught and hysterical the caller, the more they like to replay the calls. My high-pitched squeals made the news for four nights in a row after that. I’ll gladly pass on my five minutes of fame.
The DHS investigated my family for neglect but didn’t take the kids. Two months later, they were back after my skinny little guy wiggled his way out of his high chair seat belt and fell to the floor knocking himself unconscious. Another ambulance ride, another visit to children’s hospital. Any thoughts of incredible parenting were whisked away by another preventable accident.
I’m glad to say that the next year was relatively uneventful for my son until his two-year well child check-up. He wasn’t talking. He barely made noises. The normal, age appropriate verbal responses weren’t just delayed in his case, they were nonexistent. More tests, not just hearing; but cognitive, physical, and developmental. Fear of brain damage from the near-drowning or the fall kept running through my head. If only I was a better, less overwhelmed mom, he would be excelling at this moment. Now he was floundering, and he wasn’t even out of diapers.
There is a great program in my state called Sooner Start that specifically serves children under three to help bring them up to par with their peers. The criteria to qualify for this program is 25% lag in two categories or 50% lag in one. He had at least 20% lag in all categories and a 48% lag in one. Once again, he just missed the cut. The therapist that administrated the test could see how upset I was that he wasn’t going to get the help he clearly needed because of a few percentage points. She changed his verbal score two points, he was in!
A sweet young lady would come to our house twice a week and work on his speech and language issues and teach us sign language, so we could communicate with our son. Because of the services he received from the state at age two, he qualified to enroll in the developmentally delayed preschool in our city when he turned three. Speech therapy five days a week really helped him catch up with his peers. The fact that he rode the short bus to school every day really upset his siblings, they thought it was very unfair they had to walk, and he got to ride. Luckily, they were too young to understand the implications of riding in the little school bus.
During this time, he would fall asleep in odd places and he was so small that we couldn’t find him. His hearing loss meant he couldn’t hear us when we were yelling for him, so the older kid’s favorite game became “find the baby”. We found him under desks, in closets, and various other places after panicked searched to find this silent son of mine. At four, he fell out of a tree and broke his arm. At six, he fell off the trampoline and knocked out four teeth. And at night, I would say a prayer that both he and I would survive his childhood.
His adorable nature naturally made him a favorite for grandparents and teachers. My grandmother thought he was the cutest boy she had ever laid eyes on, and she had two sons of her own. His kindergarten and first grade teachers both favored him. He had special rules. He has never been a sit-down kid. His fidgety nature made prolonged bouts of inactivity almost impossible. He was allowed to stand up and read or color or whatever, as long as he didn’t make noise.
He would develop a fixation on something he learned about in school and come home to study it in depth. Once it was catapults, he spent hours designing machines that would heave large items across the back yard. The child that couldn’t be still would sit for hours developing and planning machines, innately calculating payload and trajectory paths. Airplanes were his next big calling. His ceiling was adorned by small wooden models of The Spirit of ’76 and other famous bi-wing planes. All motorized or computerized toys were fair game. I remember finding one of his more expensive Christmas gifts stuffed in the bottom of his toy box, clumsily hidden there after he had taken it apart to see how it worked and been unable to put it back together.
Then second grade changed everything. He had an IEP that stemmed from his severely delayed speech issues. Every year, I would meet with his grade level teacher, speech teacher, and school counselor while we discussed his progress and teaching strategies for the upcoming year. In second grade, these meetings became more intense. His teacher didn’t believe that any child should be allowed to stand up to do work no matter how quiet they were when they were doing it. He went from being the teacher’s pet to serving detention during most of his recess times. He developed a facial tic and his verbal skills started to revert. Finally, that teacher ordered that he be tested to see if he needed to be moved to the special class. The tests results came back stating his IQ was 137, almost a genius. I asked that he be put in another teacher’s class after that. Amazingly, his tic went away, and he started to return to Josh-like normalcy.
This child of mine moved to a beat no one else heard. He excelled in wrestling as a small child even winning the sate championship at 64 pounds when he was 11. The one day in high school he decided he hated wrestling and gave it up. We never found out the reason for his decision, but he made it and it was done. He was a yes or no kind of guy. The only team sport he really enjoyed was lacrosse. He would throw himself into the heat of battle with kids twice his size and come away from the scrum with the ball. He took up the drums because he could hear the beat even when he couldn’t discern the tune. His determination earned him the triangle solo in the seventh-grade concert.
After he halted all wrestling activities, he began to pursue running as his main event. He completed his first marathon at 15 and started to use running as his way to unwind. He wanted to participate in every run near us. Whenever my phone chimed with a message form him, it was a sign up for another run. I had to explain to him that running is an expensive sport when you factor in hotel stays, travel expenses, and entry fees. My little introvert would have to make do with the trails around town most of the time.
One of the most amazing things about this kid is his ability to understand and work through complicated mathematical and scientific problems. He comes home excited about whatever new concept they are working on in calculus; he even earned the top score in his school in that class last year earning the Outstanding Achievement Award in Calculus. He initiates conversations about the fascinating things they are covering in his AP physics class. He now uses his drafting tools to design intricate modifications to airplanes and cars. And he uses his mad math skills to figure the best way to duplicate any piece of wooden furniture he sees. The child that could never sit still will carefully work for hours to create something in woodshop. From the basic design to the finished product, he makes each creation his own way. It’s amazing how his mind works, except when it doesn’t.
As a senior, the only class he has to pass to graduate is English. Because he was taking high school level math and science in middle school, he has enough credits to graduate, but the sate requires the completion of four full years of English. He failed his first semester of English and is now retaking it first hour. So now he gets to take first and second semester English IV first and sixth hour, he starts and ends his day with his least favorite class.
As he struggles with the virtues of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and other less interesting poets, he restlessly stares at the window, clearly plotting his escape via a medieval siege weapon. If only he could make a catapult or trebuchet large enough to launch him into space and away from here. He has mentioned more than once how binary code is a much more easily understood language.
His dreams of becoming an engineer might not materialize if he doesn’t buckle down and focus on the one subject he hates above all else. I pray for him, I talk to him, I even offer to help him; but nothing seems to be working. Of course, I have those ever so helpful friends that tell me that any grade under a B isn’t permitted in their house, and I should have the same expectation in mine. I place that advice in the “been there done that” file. It doesn’t work.
We have talked about his future and the importance of getting his grade up. I want to support him, strangle him, and smack him all at once. How do I get through to him? How can I make him understand? Maybe I don’t. Maybe I let him fall on his face so that he experiences a little hurt now rather than a big hurt later. Letting go and allowing him to fail is almost as hard as watching my husband fish his tiny blue body out of the pool. Just like then, I have no control over this situation or the outcome. I can only watch while I cry out to God in a less frantic way than I did to that 911 operator.
As his mom, I see the wonder in who he is as a person and all he has to offer; but I can’t live his life for him. God sees him in an even more spectacular way than I do. In three and half months, his class will walk across the stage at the convention center downtown. Over 400 kids will get called up on stage and be handed a diploma. By God’s grace, my son will be one of them.
I am a Christian, a wife, a mom, and a part-time basket case who wants to be a full time writer.