May 21, 2010
This past Friday afternoon I summoned the courage both to wake my youngest son early from his nap AND brave Route 34 at rush hour, and make my thrice-yearly pilgrimage to an appointment with my sons’ neurodevelopmental pediatrician. I have been making these runs to various specialists for six years now, and as I poured my growling, lethargic offspring into his carseat for the thirty minute trek I briefly recalled how these visits used to be emotional landmines for me. No matter how kind the practitioners were to us (and believe me, not all of them had any clear affinity for children), I usually concluded each visit with a take-home gift of a dozen sodden tissues, or I’d barely make it to the car until the waterworks commenced.
It wasn’t that they were nasty to me (most of the time), just that in the space of a few minutes and several pertinent questions put to my non-verbal boy that all of our progress could be whisked away, buried in what I termed his “litany of lacking”. With my second child however, one who in particular was doing so well, I just couldn’t manage to summon the appropriate dramatic reaction, was instead annoyed we’d miss the walk I’d planned to take to work off the extra Hershey’s kisses I’d had that morning.
I have my priorities after all.
As we rushed down the highway in my usual “ten minutes late” mode to every appointment, I decided to be mature, and instead of blasting Stevie on our journey I chose instead to “prep” Zachary for his encounter with our venerable pediatrician. I asked him what he’d say when he met her (I got “hi, I’m Zachy”), and queried him about his age (he’s three, and has the requisite fingers to prove it). I even got a bonus response regarding his gender, in case we weren’t certain. I wondered how much Dr. P would remember of Zach’s demeanor from our last visit six months ago, the one where he barely looked at her (although really, how compelling IS a pediatrician to a two-and-a-half-year-old), and only reluctantly and intermittently responded to her questions.
During that fall visit he had also failed at my favorite test of all, the time-honored tradition of “lay out three pictures and tell me which one is an animal, etc.” game, an endeavor in which many autistic children tend to suck. Zach was true to his peeps that day, and although he quietly identified most of the photos displayed for him, he could not for the life of him tell anyone what they did. This inability to perform did not concern my husband one bit, as he was so thrilled with Zach’s overall progress. I however personally plummeted into a shame spiral, depressed that after all our efforts he couldn’t even identify Lassie. I was pissed.
Today, however, I was hoping to knock our practitioner’s socks off. This is what now constitutes a thrill for me in my daily life.
As we unerringly made our way to her office (thanks to the witchcraft of my newly installed GPS, which I employ religiously despite the fact that I’ve been to this office literally a dozen times) we ran through the gamut of basic greetings, colors, shapes, nursery rhymes, etc., and eventually I decided to up the ante a little. Sometimes my son’s pre-school teacher gives him “homework”, and since I’m a former educator BY GOD I will support his instructor in any way possible. Zach’s latest assignment was to try to memorize his address, and since I’ve actually been blessed with a child who might not only get lost some day but could actually tell people where he resides, I was determined he would get the facts down cold.
We took this assignment very seriously, with mommy repeatedly pointing to the numbers on our home until they rolled off of his tiny tongue, and taking even more calorie-burning walks around the neighborhood to identify our street sign at every appropriate corner. We even made field trips to as many “welcome to town” signs as I could locate, and slowly Zach acquired the necessary information, eventually rattling off house number, street and village with ease. I was gratified to learn that he generalized this information to school, and was comfortable informing his teacher (and apparently anyone within earshot) of where he lived. I personally was excited not only that he’d conquered this task, but had retained the knowledge for more than a week.
One skill down, only five million more to go.
Eventually we reached our destination, and walked into the spartan offices of our neuro pediatrician. After fifteen minutes of watching Zachy show off his coloring acumen to the pretty pre-teen girls waiting for their sister to conclude her visit, we were finally called into the throne room, and the interview commenced.
He nailed it.
He responded to every question correctly, eliciting somewhat of an astonished response from our usually slightly dour physician. He replied to all of her commands with gusto, copied a circle with his broken orange crayon with ease, built a tower for her AND counted the blocks required, just to show off. If this had been the SAT’s, he’d have been destined for the Ivy League college his parents wouldn’t be able to afford to send him to.
After the weighing in and the requisite physical exam were conducted, complete with Zach’s request to look in Dr. P’s own nose with the cool flashlight, I was told he could descend from the exam table, and congratulated on his progress and my efforts on his behalf. I admit that I found this most amusing as I am certain the majority of Zach’s improvement is due to his innate ability to respond to therapy, not any magic on his mother’s part, but for once I’m in a good mood at a doctor’s office, and I take the compliment.
Of course, I can’t just let things lie. I have to push for the gold star, because God forbid a glowing report regarding my youngest son’s development should be enough for me. I am still an educator, after all.
After gathering Zachary’s twelve toys and persuading him to relinquish the blood pressure gauge for “next time”, I say goodbye to our positively beaming doctor, and go for it. I ask my youngest son to tell the nice lady where he lives, a question I’ve put to him dozens of times over the last few weeks, one in which he now always answers correctly and with great joy. He reacts by carefully handing me his sippy cup, and turns to look at the kindly older woman regarding him with amusement.
He pauses for dramatic effect, then responds enthusiastically “in a house”, and bolts for the waiting room and yet another set of adoring pre-teens.
Apparently, my son has his priorities too.