Opening the Floodgates

The summer before Kid E turned two years old I started to worry.  He did not talk very much at all.  And with all of the very vocal people already in this house he seemed to get lost in the shuffle.  Often his siblings would just answer for him or bring him toys until they brought what he wanted.  When I looked into it some more I realized that he was way behind in his speech development, so as each day passed I began to fret more and more that there was something wrong with him.  Speech was definitely not his go-to form of communication.  He would much rather point and grunt at the things he wanted.  He also did this sing-songy gibberish thing with lots of inflection.  It was kind of cool and sounded pretty, but I still knew that something about my baby was way off.

Fortunately, my sisters told me that Georgia has a program called “Babies Can’t Wait,” which facilitates testing and early intervention for children under age three who are exhibiting developmental delays.  I contacted the Fulton County coordinator for Babies Can’t Wait and was able to get Kid E scheduled for testing shortly after his second birthday.  The test results confirmed that his expressive communication skills (how he interacted with others) were horribly low (4th percentile), but his auditory comprehension skills (what he understood) were above average.  The therapist classified him with a severe expressive language disorder, but she also said in her report that he showed favorable chances for improved communicative functioning through speech therapy two times a week.  His file was submitted for processing.  So we waited.

By mid-October I hadn’t heard back from anyone, so I called again.  I was told we were on a list.  Apparently the babies CAN and WILL wait.  Fortunately for Kid E, we had the means to take him to private speech therapy, so I set about the task of applying for a spot in several local, highly recommended therapy programs.  You would think I was applying for a conceal and carry permit with the amount of paperwork that was involved in signing a kid up for speech therapy.  And they asked me all kinds of crazy questions too.

Have any shocks or unusual stress during pregnancy?  Um, yes.  I was shocked that I was pregnant.  AGAIN.
What was the child’s birth weight?  Did I mention he was my 5th baby?  I do not remember what he weighed.  I would check his baby book, but I never got around to doing one.  I’ll guess about 7-ish pounds.
Apgar scores?  1 minute _____  5 minutes _____  You’re kidding, right?  I don’t even remember how much the kid weighed.
Age when child: Began babbling _____ First word spoken (what was it?) _____ Using two-word phrases (age they started) _____ Feeds self with fingers _____ Feeds self with spoon _____ Feeds self with fork _____ Drinks from open cup _____ Rolled over _____ Sat without assistance _____ Crawled _____ Walked _____ Jumped with two feet _____ Toilet trained _____ Ride a tricycle/ bicycle _____  OK, So now we have successfully established that I am a horrible mother who did not keep track of most or any of these milestones and my son will probably grow up hating me and needing more therapy because of it.  Thanks.
What typically calms/ soothes your child?  Thumb sucking.  And even though you didn’t ask, what soothes me after a long day of not being able to communicate effectively with this child is a big bottle of wine.  Please allow him to come to your facility for speech therapy.  Pretty please.  I am begging.

So we were accepted and soon we started going in for therapy twice a week.  I would sit in the waiting room and the therapist would take Kid E back to some magical place where they performed voodoo rituals or some other magical wizardry of the speech therapy variety, because Kid E began to talk almost immediately.  And talk and talk and talk.  It was like the floodgates had been opened.  His therapist was so good at what she did and he responded so well to her treatments that they kicked us out after the New Year.  Fast forward to present day and the kid does not ever shut up.  And I am incredibly grateful, forevermore.

Floodgates at the Lake Sinclair Dam in Milledgeville, Georgia

I definitely pay more attention to his developmental milestones now.  I even paid attention when I had a parent/ teacher conference for his preschool at the mid-year mark.  When it was over I reported to Sheepdog what we discussed.  I read to him from the evaluation.

Kid E “is sweet and agreeable and able to grasp new concepts, especially mathematical ones.  He shows less confidence outside on the playground, but he also shows a determination to master new skills, like climbing.  He is positive and willing to try new things.  At this time he seems more comfortable speaking to adults than his peers.”

I told Sheepdog that I had laughed out loud during the conference about that last comment because I thought it was a good thing.  What?  Most little kids are annoying when you talk to them.  I also mentioned that the teacher said in passing that Kid E still has trouble saying words that start with an “s,” followed by a consonant.  It is apparently fairly common for four-year-olds, but given his history of previous speech issues, I have decided to keep a close eye (ear) on him in this regard.

I have started playing a little game in the car while we drive to and from school.  It is a guessing game.  One person thinks of a word and gives some clues about it and the other person has to guess that word.  Kid E loves playing games in the car so he was all for it.  But I fear that he has already figured out that this game is a form of speech therapy, as I always use “s”-followed-by-a-consonant words when it is my turn.

Me:  “I have a word.  It is one of your favorite dinners.  It has long, stringy noodles and it is covered in tomato sauce and sometimes you eat it with meatballs.”

Kid E:  He sighs at me.  “Pasghetti.”

Me:  “That’s right, but you said it backwards.  Repeat after me.  First say ‘spaghetti,’  then say, ‘sssss.’  ‘Paghetti.’  ‘Sssss.’  ‘Paghetti.’  ‘Spaghetti!’  That’s right!  Excellent!”

Me:  “OK, I am thinking of another word.  It means ‘to knock over or to topple, especially something liquid or slippery… like a drink or the beans.'”

Kid E:  Nothing.  He has already caught on to my speech therapy trick, and he wants nothing to do with it.

Me:  “Let’s forget about the beans.  What is it called when you tip over your drink at dinnertime and it goes all over the table?  That is a big…”

Kid E:  Deliberately, he looks at me in the rear-view mirror and answers with all of the clarity and articulation he can muster, “Flood.”

Game over.  That kid is wicked smart.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

What’s Up? Nothing Much… Got Leukemia.

Last summer Kid A began dating a boy she had become friends with at school.  She told me all of these nice things about him first (too good to be true?) and then she broke the news to me that he was going to be a senior and was almost 18-years old (she was 15 and starting her sophomore year at the time).  Immediately I had a flashback to my high school days and being asked out by older boys while wearing my catholic school girl uniform (it was mandatory; I wasn’t just being all slutty) and the warning sirens went off in my head.  But knowing very well what happens when you tell a teenage girl that she can not do something, I decided to take a different tack.  I told Kid A that it was fine that they dated, as long as she brought him to our house so we could get to know him.  So she did.  A lot.

It turns out that Kid A was right about the boyfriend being a great kid.  He is smart, witty, a little bit sarcastic, a lot cynical, well-read, comfortable around adults, and he has street smarts too (he lived in Washington, D.C. with his dad for a while).  He was on the cross country team at school and he held a part-time job waiting tables at a restaurant.  Plus, he listens to good rock music and not that odd, hipster stuff by Lights or Meg & Dia.  He is just the right amount of scared of Sheepdog and he is always respectful of our family and our rules.  He plays with Kids B – E and he rarely seems to get sick of them (I don’t get it because I get sick of them all the time).  Most importantly, he is very respectful and sweet to our daughter.

So time has passed and they go out on dates and hang out here and talk and text and have continued to build their relationship.  They have had mostly ups, but they’ve experienced some downs too.  It is pretty amazing to watch both of them handling a high school relationship with such maturity.

Then last Thursday, the boyfriend (although technically he is now her manfriend, as he turned 18 last November) was admitted into the hospital for suspected epiglottitis (an inflammation of the epiglottis, which is the flap that covers the windpipe during swallowing).  While there, his doctors ran a bunch of tests.  By Friday he was in the ICU, where he was diagnosed with leukemia.  He was then transferred to the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit.  He shaved his head on Monday and started chemotherapy Tuesday afternoon.  It has been a whirlwind.  I really can’t believe it has only been a week since his diagnosis.

I am in shock.  Sad.  Scared.  Heartbroken.  Worried.  Angry.  Frustrated because I have no control.  Studying to learn more about the medicine.  Yearning to make it all better.

Stupid cancer.

Then I look at him.  I am in awe of his strength, even in his vulnerable moments.  My heavy heart gets a little bit lighter every time I hear him make a joke or laugh about his disease, because it takes a very strong person to laugh in the face of adversity.  Everyone knows it’s not really funny, but what else is supposed to take down the elephant in the room that makes its presence known every few seconds with a click-click as the poison gets pumped directly into his heart.  Kids should never have to contemplate their own mortality.  Sarcastic optimism really is the best medicine in my book.  That’s how you face down a monster.

News of Manfriend’s leukemia is now starting to reach people in the community.  He’s getting a ton of friend requests from people on Facebook.  He gets texts and phone calls and cards and visitors and cancer presents (DVDs, video games, hats, warm socks… all excellent gifts) every day.  People want to reach out and show their support and let him and his family know that they care and they want to help.

Some people know all too well what this disease can do to people’s lives.  But others have been lucky enough to never have been touched by the clammy hand of cancer themselves.  It is most interesting to see how people act around someone who is sick.  Some say or write just the right things.  Some are extra nice.  Some do the nervous talking thing.  Some are cautious.  Some are the same as they ever were.  Manfriend seems to be responding to everyone with a natural extension of his already sardonic teenage personality and I think it is going to serve him very well through the inevitable ups and downs of his recovery.

A friend came by the unit to see him the other day.  When he knocked and entered the room he saw his sick friend wearing a gown, lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to tubes and monitors and machines.  Seeming to gloss over the unmistakable, the friend simply asked, “What’s up?”

Ever the smart-aleck, Manfriend responded, “Nothing much… got leukemia.”

Yeah, I think he’s doing just fine.

Wish me luck for tomorrow (and please keep the manfriend and his family in your prayers)…

Vacation Shoes

From April 10 – 17, 1999, with Nanny and Pop Pop happily in charge of a three-year-old Kid A and a five-month-old Kid B, Sheepdog and I set off for a week of some fun, sun and “Bow Chicka Wow Wow” time in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica.  It was a fantastic vacation filled with good food and drink, exploration of fabulous beaches and restaurants and jungles in a rented jeep, hanging out with cool people and a bunch of wild monkeys watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, and – best of all – time alone with my husband at a 5-star beach resort.  I loved every single minute of that trip (except maybe for the lizards in the shower).

It’s a good thing too because it turns out Sheepdog and I would not have another no work/ no kids week away together for twelve more years.  Seriously.  That is a very long time to wait to go on a real vacation, but there was always something more important to spend money on, or a sick and needy kid, or I was pregnant (it happened A LOT) or there was a work conflict.  Plus it turns out that not many people are capable or up for the challenge of watching five kids for an entire week.  Fortunately for us this time around, Sheepdog’s parents agreed (I presume they were not really sure what they were saying yes to when we begged them almost a full year ago to commit – NO TAKE BACKS!) to come down and wrangle the entropy in our absence.

Knowing that it was such a long time since our most awesome Costa Rican vacation together and presuming that our next trip could potentially be that far off in the future, I set out to make this the best trip ever.  I organized, scheduled, planned, prepared and set up the kids and the house to the absolute best of my ability, so it would not be such a burden on their caretakers and so I would not worry so much about them.  With Grandma and Grandpa in charge I knew they would be cuddled, loved, protected and they would play tons of card and board games with them (which is torture for me).  As far as my own preparation, I did P90X and got my hair colored and a mani/ pedi and I waxed and shaved and did all of the things that you need to do to lay around for a week half-clothed/ half-naked by the pool in front of other people.  I picked out and packed some cute dresses and several cute bathing suits.  And then I packed my vacation shoes.

"Are we going to a strip club when we get to Mexico?" - My brother-in-law, Brandon, when he got on the plane and noticed my choice of footwear for the flight to Cabo

It really is true that Sheepdog is a very simple man.  He requires only regular doses of food, sex and biking, and not necessarily in that order.  Anything else is bonus material.  I figured the least I could do to set the tone for our awesome week in Mexico was to wear some sexy shoes on the airplane.  I wanted the week to be special, and that meant the opposite of Sheepdog coming home every day to find me frazzled, tired, unkempt and, more often than not, barefoot and in sweatpants.

In addition to wearing the leopard shoes, I downloaded and read a very dirty book during our vacation week.  And when I say “very dirty” I actually mean there’s not enough Orbitz gum in the world to wash that dirt out.  I am sure I was blushing the whole time I was reading it.  It is very poorly written with a bunch of really cheesy euphemisms and clichés.  The stuff I read was disturbing on so many levels that I could not even wrap my head around most of it.  Yet, if I am being honest I have to admit that I read the whole damn thing.  Not that I got into all of the pervy stuff in the book, but it most definitely set a mood for our trip.

So the preparation and planning and even the twelve-year wait were all definitely worth it.  We didn’t worry too much about the kids and we enjoyed each other and Sheepdog got to golf three times and take a four-hour mountain bike ride and I lounged in the sunshine by the swim-up bar (we have very different ideas of what to do while on vacation).  By the end of the week I felt refreshed and recharged and ready to get back to the kids and our regular non-vacation lives.  I felt like I could deal with the temper tantrums and wash the dishes with a smile, at least for a little while.

It’s a good thing, too.  We came back to little kids who were mad, mad, mad that we had gone away and teenagers who needed this and needed that and everything was URGENT and it is a very good thing that I refilled my patience bowl on that trip because I sure have needed it lately.  Having all of these kids and trying to raise them without causing irreparable damage and running a family and a home can be incredibly rewarding but it can also be hard on your body and soul.

So every once in a while I’m going to think back to our fabulous week in Cabo and I am going to take out my leopard print platforms and I am going to put them on while I make the beds or fold the laundry or do some other menial chore.  I’m hoping that will get me through until the next time Sheepdog and I go away together.  That, and the dirty book is actually the first in a series of three.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…