What’s the old adage? “You’re only as happy as your unhappiest child?”
Any parent knows that to be true, so it’s hardly going to come as a revelation when I say that worrying about your kids — really, substantially worrying — makes it difficult to concentrate on much else. I’m not the first person to sit at a desk in a total fog, experiencing the embarrassment and frustration of diminishing mental acuity while every neuron in my brain screams at me that I’m a Mommy, Damn It, and I Need To Go Be Doing Mommy Things.
The clock is inching along, and I’m here waiting, because this afternoon L. has a doctor’s appointment and I’m a bundle of anxiety.
I have perspective on this. I know that I’m lucky today because our appointment is not for something potentially dire and life-threatening. L.’s physical health — despite some seasonal allergies — appears to be quite good. He’s had a growth spurt recently. He’s eating and sleeping and playing and learning. No concerns there, really. So I’m grateful and happy and sitting here secure in the knowledge that unlike some parents, I don’t have to be concerned in any real way about the tangible health and well-being of my child.
It’s the intangibles, the ifs, the “is-thats” and the “should-Is” and the “doesn’t-hes” that plague me today. L.’s not developing evenly. I won’t say that there’s something wrong, because I don’t know that for certain — that’s what today’s appointment is for. I will say that if you experience L. for any length of time, you’ll notice a few things (and I can be objective in saying this, because it’s coming partly from documentation provided to me by his teachers and school staff):
1) L. is perfectly adorable in the physical sense and irresistibly huggable.
2) L. is perfectly adorable in the emotional sense — he is attuned and empathetic, observes his own feelings and others’ with a good deal of clarity, and is affectionate and well-mannered beyond what most 4-year-old boys can muster on their best day.
3) L. has a positively amazing memory (reminiscent of my whiz kid sister, D., who’s legendary in this respect) and is keenly observant. He remembers almost everything you tell him. He also notices fine details — like if I’m wearing new earrings, or if there’s a freckle on my cheek he hasn’t seen before.
4) L. has a great imagination and is creative and expressive and joyful.
5) L. can’t at the moment pedal a bike, swing a swing, hold a pencil well, copy a shape, cut with scissors, catch a ball, put together a puzzle (though mentally he can talk through the task).
6) L. almost never tantrums — it’s not his style. When he does go off, it’s either because he’s sick or tired, or because something in the environment has scared him. Like a vacuum. A power drill. An unexpected noise. Being tipped backward to have his hair washed. And when these things happen, he is almost literally too scared to function.
So I’m concerned. His gifts are many and significant, but for how long do you let a child develop along two paths: one, ahead of the curve for his age level in many skills; and two, well behind his classmates in others? I’m not saying something’s wrong. I’m just saying I have to ask.
Of course I’m a geek, as we all know by now, and as a geek I’ve read and researched and informed myself to the point of madness. And now we’re here on the day of the first appointment, the first information-gathering, answer-seeking, face-to-face with a professional who can help me answer the Big Burning Question, and I’m so well-informed that I can’t concentrate on anything else but the nasty thoughts that are crowding into my brain. Though I can amuse myself, at least, by imagining the Monty Python scene with the Killer Bunny, whose legendary nasty, sharp, pointy teeth are the nemesis of King Arthur’s men. It looks all cute and fuzzy and innocent on the surface, but don’t get too close — it’ll gnaw your head off.
Of course I can’t actually spend the day like this, or I’ll be totally dysfunctional and drive myself bonkers. So I have to focus on other things. And what better to distract me, in this Red, Round, or Green kind of world, than to think about food? I can sort of understand now that old grandmotherly mentality of just FEEDING kids when something seems wrong. As misguided as it might be, there’s something really appealing about the idea of being able to control one thing, just one, in the grand scope of your child’s life. I can’t fix L.’s problems or cure his ills (nor P.’s, when they occur, taking whatever shape they will; every kid is in some kind of crisis at some point). I can’t control what happens when he leaves the house. I can’t control how fast he grows or how much he learns or how he interacts with his friends or if he’s tall or short or needs braces or doesn’t or if he’ll have a date to the prom when he’s sixteen, but I can feed him well.
So I’m distracting myself. Because I’m not saying there’s something wrong. I’m just saying I have to ask. And until I can ask and until I can have an answer, or some sort of direction, I’m staving off the Killer Bunny by making a random and disorganized and completely stream of consciousness kind of mental to-do list:
1) I think I’ll make homemade chicken stock tonight.
2) Maybe I’ll put carrots in the meatballs for the soup tomorrow. Or maybe not.
3) I wonder if marrow squash would be good in chicken stock.
4) We still have lots of bread lying around. I shouldn’t bake any more. Or maybe I could, and I could freeze it.
5) There’s a half loaf of crusty French bread on the counter. I should make bread pudding.
6) If I make bread pudding, maybe it’ll be pumpkin.
7) Or maybe L. would rather miniature pumpkin pies.
8 ) Maybe I’ll put nuts in them. Or maybe I shouldn’t, because then the boys can’t take them to school.
9) I wonder if P. would even like pumpkin pie. I wonder if I should give it to him. If he does eat it, I should put nuts in the crust, because he needs extra protein. Nuts are good for that.
10) I think I accidentally used up the red pepper that was supposed to go in the pasta for tonight.
You get the idea. This is what’s happening in my brain today as I wait. Because I have to think about something. Because I’m not saying there’s something wrong. I’m just saying I have to ask.