We Should Have Had More Kids, Right?

by Jo on October 10, 2014

The panic washes over me suddenly while I’m in the shower.

We should have had more kids, I think to myself.

“WE SHOULD HAVE HAD MORE KIDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I scream to my husband, the words piercing through the hot steam, penetrating my heart, echoing through me until they settle in my soul.

There is silence on the other side of the door.

He must sense my biological clock is not behind this.

He must sense he should tread carefully.

“Why?” he finally asks.

A simple question spoken with hesitation, knowing the answer is likely complicated.

“We should have had more kids. For Ian.”

My voice rises a few octaves as visions of my little sister and I engaged in sibling banter flash across my mind. “He’ll never have a sibling to truly confide in. To count on.”

The truth slips out before I can contain it. I turn the shower knob to HOT.

“Shut up,” he says to me. “Don’t say that.”

I wish I hadn’t.

I try to turn the shower knob again, but it won’t go any higher.

I picture my sister. Our hundreds of fights, thousands of hugs, almost daily phone calls laced with laughter and unsolicited advice.

“WE SHOULD HAVE PLANNED BETTER!” I yell out. “HE WON’T HAVE ANYONE TO HELP HIM WITH ANDREW.”

“He’ll have us,” he responds gently, and I picture grey hair and portable potties and assigned caregivers bumping in crowded hallways as they scurry on their way to assist someone somewhere demanding something.

“We did the right thing by not having more,” he says, refraining from outright reminding me about the statistics and the finances and the fears that occupied every conversation we ever had on the matter.

He’s right.

But I don’t tell him so.

Dammit, I wish the water weren’t so cold.

***

We are piled into the car, all four of us, Andrew strapped into the largest car seat we’ve ever laid eyes on.

Mikey calls it The Recliner.

I can’t see shit to the right of me because of it, crossing my fingers every time I have to change lanes.

But it keeps Andrew safe, keeps him comfortable, keeps him from trying to get out of the car while we’re hurtling down the road at 60 mph.

The ride is quiet, my mind still embroiled in a mental tug 0f war about our grave mistake in not having more children. I feel guilty. For all of it. The thoughts, the decisions, the regrets, the what ifs.

Suddenly, Andrew lets out a wild giggle from The Recliner. Ian soon joins him and the quiet car becomes filled with their laughter; loud, ridiculous heaps of hysteria.

I think of my sister; the many years we spent in the backseat of our parents’ car, laughing uncontrollably at something we knew they’d never understand. The kind of conspiring that can only exist between siblings.

I look in my rearview mirror
and all I see is Love. Companionship. Brotherhood. I see a life spent lifting each other up in the ways they know how, even if one is much stronger than the other. I see a relationship I have no right to define by the constricting parameters of my own anxieties and expectations. I see a bond that is unbreakable, one that will only grow stronger with time.

I look in my rearview mirror

and what I see are two boys navigating a relationship that makes sense to them.

Two futures intertwined with one another, in a world that may not get it. And that’s okay.

What I see are two brothers,

and in this very moment,

with their heads thrown back in euphoric joy in the backseat of my station wagon Volvo,

I know that that’s

more than

enough.

 

 

 

 

{ 4 comments }

The Night Before

by Jo on September 9, 2014

It’s the night before Andrew’s first day of school.

For many years this night held a mixture of excitement and anxiety for me, and after his new outfit and shoes were laid out, and his lunch box was packed, and his backpack was filled with shiny new school supplies, I would lay wide away in bed, endless questions pummeling my already exhausted mind:

“Will he be scared?”

“Will he miss me and feel like I abandoned him?”

“Will they understand his attempts at communication?”

“Will they change his pull-ups or make him sit in a soiled diaper for hours?”

“Will he learn something?”

“Will he have fun?”

Will he be safe?”

My desire to have my son kept safe while at school was certainly not unique; I’ve yet to meet a parent who wistfully dreams of their child being mistreated at the hands of school personnel.

But there’s something uniquely terrifying about sending a child who cannot talk, who cannot fend for himself, who would not think twice about running into oncoming traffic or jumping into a body of water, who has seizures and requires constant, vigilant, compassionate attention, into an environment I cannot control and into the arms of people I don’t really know.

(If this is the part where you think he shouldn’t be in school in the first place, I urge you to go $%^@ yourself immediately).

Still, the first day of school brought with it hope for progress; a tentative assurance that this would be the year friendships would be made, goals would be met, and functional language would develop. The heart of a parent raising a special needs child is never short on desires for opportunity and growth and tiny bursts of miracles that hold the promise of a better tomorrow for their son or daughter.  School seemed like the perfect place to unravel our lengthy wish list and let the professionals work their magic.

The first mornings would come, the obligatory photos would be taken, and soon the new school year would be underway. Frustrating IEP’s and staff changes, Andrew’s fluctuating health, and the reality of our country’s special education system would eventually grind potential progress to a halt, and in no time our wish list was put away and we were back to just surviving.

But each year we met the end of summer with the same sense of “This year will be the year GREAT things will happen!” and I would stay up late the night before school, coating crisp apples in homemade caramel sauce and handwriting notecards to new and returning staff, my heart holding on to that tentative assurance that I was right: good things were in store for our Andrew that year.

Until the year they weren’t.

Until the year we found out our worst nightmare had come true.

Until the year we were told about the countless acts of alleged abuse he had been forced to endure during his time at school.

Until the year we finally figured out why he had stopped toileting, why he tore his face apart, why he screamed when he saw the bus pull up to our driveway, why he refused to get onto his favorite mode of transportation, why he lost acquired language, and why our enthusiastic, happy, affectionate son was emotionally and physically unraveling.

It’s been nearly a year and half since we pulled him out of that class, out of that school, out of the hands of the people we trusted to care for and nurture our son. He spent nine months at home with me while I attempted to repair the damage that was done, and though we’ve made tremendous progress, PTSD is alive and well in our house to this very day.

When he finally went back to school late last year - far, far away from the school we left behind - the night before his first day felt suffocating and lonely, and instead of lying in bed trying to sleep through the relentless thoughts, I curled up on the couch and sobbed until the sun came up.

Trust, once it’s shattered, lies at your feet, keeping you from moving forward, forcing you into a life of stagnation, each tiny, splintered piece a reminder of what you once had, what was brutally taken from you. Repairing it seems insurmountable, walking around it feels impossible, and so you’re left to stare at the remnants of a world you will never look at the same way again.

It’s been a rough ride, to say the very least, but I’m holding on. For my family’s sake (and mine).

So here we are, once again, the night before his first day of school.

I feel apprehensive and anxious, and a bit exhausted. But the terror that’s consumed me for so many months has taken a back seat to a flicker of that old excitement and a smidge of hope, though both are a bit battered and bruised.

Healing has invited herself in, and in the most surprising and unexpected ways.

I do not forgive.

And I will never forget.

But I’m looking at something I didn’t think I’d be able to see from where I’ve been standing since last March: A future for Andrew that’s not shrouded in pain and fear. A future for me that’s not consumed by mistrust and resentment. A future for our family that’s not focused on and driven by the horrendous past.

I’m not entirely there yet. I’m just beginning to see the outlines and fuzzy shapes of this future. But it’s there. I just know it.

So while the journey continues towards something better than I’ve imagined in a very long time, I’m committed to taking baby steps to help us all get there.

Which is why tonight, the night before school starts for Andrew again, I find myself in the kitchen, stirring brownie batter and cutting out custom gift tags, the house filling up with the smell of a few simple ingredients fusing together to create something spectacular.

I find myself looking forward to seeing the familiar and kind faces of the van crew that picks Andrew up each day. I find myself daring to hope there is more good than evil, and that my son will be placed in kind, competent hands.

I find myself hoping Andrew’s new shoes won’t give him any blisters.

I find myself living in a new reality, where salvaged parts of my old life quietly take their place among the complicated characteristics of my new one.

I find myself feeling almost normal,

for the first time,

in a long time.

 

 

 

 

{ 1 comment }

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