All of a sudden, my son grew big hairy man feet. He’s got big hairy legs, too, and whiskers on his chin, and hands the size of dinner plates, and a certain eau de manly-man-stink if he misses a shower. And I just want to know – when did this happen?
It seems like just last month he was an adorable blond toddler, with soft duck-fuzz hair, beautiful blue eyes, and a curiosity that demolished furniture, plumbing, all breakables left within reach, and a few of our friendships. He gave hugs that melted your heart, then as soon as your back was turned, he’d take apart the toilet to see how it worked or climb to the top of the bookcase to see what was up there. I couldn’t keep ahead of him. We were lucky to survive, what with him running through parking lots and his fascination with swimming pools. But he was so sweet. Was it really that long ago?
Wasn’t it a few weeks ago he was a three feet tall, holy-terror-tornado, rampaging his way through pre-school and kindergarten? He was bounced from two preschools before we found special education. It was a life-saver. They welcomed my little ball of fire with open arms and helped him learn to slow down – a bit. He still screamed if it was noisy, and he couldn’t make it through circle time without falling apart, but he learned to write his name and say his numbers and read. And his hugs were just as sweet.
The primary grades were challenging. There were tantrums, yelling and tears, and an awful lot of homework – hours of homework. We had parent-teacher conferences weekly and sometimes daily. We struggled. The teachers tried so hard and so did we. But there were precious times, too – ones I’ll never forget. Halloween parties – hordes of little goblins running through the dark with glow-sticks and flashlights. Cutting out mounds of paper snowflakes together and leaving drifts of white triangles all over the floor. Smearing gobs of frosting on graham crackers, raining down candy and declaring it a gingerbread house. Throwing Easter eggs into dye cups to see how high you can splash. Watching fireworks at Legoland, then sleeping all the way home. They were hard years, but some days I miss them.
I’m not sure how we made it through upper elementary school. We had less tears but more yelling. Pre-algebra wasn’t easy, especially when he was convinced the text-book authors were idiots. There were medication changes, and more medication changes, and yet more changes. Essays were hard to write, assignments got lost, books weren’t brought home from school. His classmates were still very kind, but party invitations quit coming. At recess the boys and girls stood around in groups and talked, while he still wanted to play in the sandbox. But he liked school, and he used to smile and wave when I dropped him off. When I picked him up to take him home, he’d run into my arms and squeeze me tight, big enough and tall enough that I’d have to tell him not to squash me.
By junior high, things were changing. He’d been out of special ed for years and was now in honors classes. The work itself wasn’t the hard part – it was sitting still in class and not blurting out the answers, and not telling the teacher she was doing it wrong. Changes to assignments drove him through the roof and suddenly girl classmates seemed very different than before. But homework was easier and he could do it himself. I got fewer telephone calls from the school and while I was glad he was doing well, suddenly I knew I was starting to lose my window into his life. I began making sure I got my hug each night when he went to bed because I knew then that hugging time doesn’t last forever.
He’s been in high school a few years now. Grades come easy to him and homework always gets turned in – I never even see it. His teachers stop me when they see me, to say that though he still has some rough spots, he’s really doing great. He’s got a few friends who call him to come over – for Halloween parties and camping and to hang out in the swimming pool. I drive him over and drop him off, then go on my way, no longer having to hover just to keep him alive.
When I look back at where we came from, I am amazed. To tell you the truth, there were times I didn’t know if we’d make it. It wasn’t easy – those hours spent at the homework table, pouring out more patience than I knew I had, trying to come up with one more way to explain whatever my son was struggling to understand. Those times at school when I had a sobbing child in my arms and a teacher nicely requesting an immediate conference. And yet those aren’t what comes first to my mind when I remember those years. It’s my son sitting in my lap, handing me “Green Eggs and Ham” to read for the tenth time that day. And house paint dripping from his fingers after he’d gone into the bucket up to his elbows. And the sweet little face filled with curiosity when my boy brought his latest treasure to share with me.
I look at the great, hairy, soon-to-be-a-man in my house and I can’t even tell you how he got here. He’s more capable than I ever thought he’d be. From where we are now I can see a future where he’s more secure and happy than I ever imagined. From holy little terror, to a mellow young man – how did it happen?
I don’t know. But I feel blessed to have been here while it did.