A bout the time when I was graduating from college, a man spoke to me about career choices, his own, and those of his grown children—almost all successes with lively families enjoying their work and the accolades that came with their prestigious positions in law and medicine. There was one, a daughter, who troubled him. Unemployed, unmarried, no direction.
“And she’s a slob, too,” he said.
We sat for a while, watching her across the yard as she played Wiffle ball with a dog and three loose-canon cousins. On any other day, I might have added, “With bad posture,” but on this afternoon, a day of lemonade and frankfurters, I felt obligated to give sunshine, telling him that she’d find her way in time. Then I directed the focus onto his other children, remarking on how well they’re doing, how happy—”You’ve obviously done a lot right.”
“You have ten fingers,” he said, “but it still hurts when you cut one.”
That conversation, had once upon a time ago, in passing really, at a backyard BBQ, has stayed with me through the years. And I think of it now as I read the write-up of the Peabody II Assessment from Kind Sir’s physical therapists. “Significant limitations.” It feels like someone just squeezed my chest, the entire cavity. My eyes keep scanning over the words “5th percentile for his age group,” “fine motor deficits.”
He’s 45 months old (3 years and 9 months as of the testing). He’s been going to physical therapy twice a week since May, 2010. His raw scores for gross and fine motor skills, on average, put him at the age equivalence of a 21-month-old. “That’s not even two years old,” I stop to think. He’s turning four this December.
The therapists stress that there were certain tasks Kind Sir came close to doing, mostly, or partly, but given how the grading works, it’s all or nothing.
All or nothing, I zip back to the eight weeks in the NICU being told all this preemie stuff was quite common, then to six months old, rushing in for emergency brain surgery, his hydrocephalus and shunt, spinal cyst, surgery consuts. Helmet kid. Some of that was all or nothing; this, lacking power to kick a ball, is pie—a cake walk when you put it into perspective. All kids learn to walk eventually, they learn to poop in the pot, how to write their names and make their armpit brootz. Focus on what matters today: the kid is happy.
I mean happy. His teachers at the J come to me and say what a pleasure he is, “so affectionate and loving, such a joy” that they can sit him with anyone over lunch. He loves everyone instantly; he’s your basic emotional slut. And he’s able to keep up with his friends on the playground, compensating one way or another for his lack of balance.
And that’s when my heart breaks a little. I think about this sweet, truly loving kid, standing on a playground with his friends, noticing that they can all get up on the swing. He can’t. I think of him at soccer, with all his agile peers weaving around cones, as he knocks them over. As he stands alone on the field as his friends pass him by, withdrawing a little, embarrassed that he can’t keep up.
Yoo hoo, over here. Yeah, hi, psycho. The kid is happy! Yes, he is. But I don’t want him to begin to withdraw or act out because he feels limited. Already, I’ve learned that he takes after me, defaulting to humor when there’s something he can’t do, or when there’s something that scares him. When I ask him to come play Arts & Crafts, to help me snip and cut paper, he’ll begin, but when he feels he can’t do it, he’ll either resort to baby talk and sing, “I’m a baby, goo goo gah gah,” or he’ll say something in a silly voice and laugh, hoping I’ll laugh too… and move on.
When you think about it, I’m guessing this is where procrastination and avoidance begin. Never mind bedtime stall techniques. Flirting is where it really all begins. But all the sweet smiles and “Mama, you’re my sunshine” talk won’t get him out of the 5th percentile for his age group. But neither will underestimating him.
Sometimes you just have to do everything you can do and everything they say you can’t.
“Never let anyone convince you that you need a cast for a cut.” Lick your wound and carry on.