Thursday, July 03, 2008

ripples underfoot

I opened the door to our apartment today, and paused to check for floor under my feet. Yep, still there. And yet, today I found myself feeling uncertain, and looking at my world and seeing it unexpectedly altered.

I took the Eldest to his camp this morning, and watched him trot off. 'Bye, hon, I said, and he grinned at me before vanishing. See you later, I said to the grand duchess. You know how to reach me if something happens. She looked up, briefly startled. I smiled. But nothing will, I said, and vanished myself.

Walking out with me, another mother - a friend - sighed. You're so brave, she said. How can you be so calm? I blinked. Was I missing something? Was there a reason not to be calm? A bit worried, I walked to my car, rummaging through my various views of the camp and personnel, trying to find something to worry about.

I drove off, papers and photos in hand, ready to do my Eldest 101 presentation to the next summer program that we'd chosen, a local organic farm. I'd had a wonderful talk and emails with the director, and happily anticipated that the Eldest would spend hours there digging and learning, and come home caked with filth. Perfection. All we had to do was to sort out the various safety measures: educating the staff, setting up the various medical whatnots, and working out a plan of action, in case of emergency.

I drove up, admired the plants for sale, and found the director. Okay, folks, he called. It's time for The Meeting! He gathered up a sheaf of paper and waved me to a conference room. Having caught the capital letters, I was turning them over in my head. That's odd, I thought, and watched the stiff body language of the people coming into the room. Oh, dear.

I pulled out photos of the Eldest, trying to break the ice by showing them the child behind the diagnoses, but I just can't look at those, said the director, thumbing through the Eldest's medical documents. Realizing that the diagnoses were looming larger than the child himself, I tidied the photos away, and settled into my chair. Okay, I said. What shall we talk about?

I spent the next couple of hours listening to their concerns, noting the legal language that silently admitted to the depth of their anxieties, and trying to look as sensible and calm as possible. Kids get scraped up here, they told me earnestly. They get poison ivy and ticks and cut themselves, they begged. I nodded calmly and waited for the punch line. Finally, I'm just not sure he'll be safe, the director told me. If he were my kid, I wouldn't send him here, he said, tapping the Eldest's IHP (Individual Health Plan). Ah.

I'd heard that line before, from the Eldest's preschool when I asked about the possibility of enrolling the Toddles. I believed it then, but this was different. I started talking. I explained about prophylaxis, and how it provides a preventative cushion. I explained that boys being boys, and how we couldn't and wouldn't stop the Eldest from being normal. Instead, I said, we work within a framework of safety: acceptable risks plus medical backup, plus emergency plans (rarely used). And I promised them, over and over, that scrapes would be just fine. Every kid gets scraped up, even mine.

The director looked thoughtful, and the assistant director looked pragmatic. Okay, she said, so the allergies aren't so different from any other child with allergies. There's more of them, but it's the same procedure. And the bleeding means that we carry an icepack for him and call you if he gets hurt. Essentially, she had it. I passed her a handout describing minor, moderate and major bleeds, and showed her the different responses for each. She nodded, and we all looked at the brooding camp director. I can sign a waiver, if you like, I offered. Saying that if you follow normal safety protocols plus follow the IHP, I won't hold you liable. I watched his shoulders relax. Okay, he said slowly. C'mon. I'll take you on a tour of the farm. And off we went.

Over the course of the walk, I was shown exposed sticks and unsanded plywood, and promised that I was untroubled by them. he could scrape himself, I was warned. And so he might! But it won't hurt him - a scratch isn't going to do much damage, I laughed. And if it does, he'll tell you. The director looked over at me, thinking hard. I grinned. I know, I admitted, the kid is six and I'm telling you to trust him. But he knows his body better than we do...and so the walk went. All in all, the farm was beautiful: lush green stuff growing in tidy strips, a pond rich with water lilies, laughing field crews and well cared-for machinery. I liked what I saw, and I found myself liking the director. His fears were, I thought, pretty healthy. All we had to do now was see if he could settle down.

I worked to balance smiles with pragmatism and honesty during that walk, and finally looked the director in the eye. I wouldn't choose to send my child into something that I thought was too dangerous for him, I said. The director thought this over. I can see that you want him to be normal, he said. I respect that. And I think I believe you.

So. I drove home, feeling like I'd seen my life from a different angle, suddenly presented from a perspective about three feet from where I sit. Is the ground under my feet? I think so. But then again, I suppose that I'm never wholly settled. Tonight, in the tub, the Eldest complained when I washed his hair. My head hurts, he said, pointing to the spot where he'd whacked his skull. Oh, I said, and felt a ripple under my toes.


Julia said...

You know, when I first met you, I didn't think what you were doing was brave, for the same reason I don't think we are particularly brave-- the other choice doesn't look very appealing, does it? I figured you wouldn't want to put your kid in a bubble, or into a penalty corner, and so you had to do what you had to do. But I did think that the constant vigilance required to manage it must be exhausting.

mama o' the matrices said...

That's precisely it. What's the alternative? Being scared all the time? Or refusing to be a parent because it's too scary?

The first came up when the Eldest was born. The second we wrestled with when thinking about having the Toddles.

Some people say that you lose a necessary naivete when you have a child like mine, or an experience like yours. I agree, but I don't think the naivete is necessary to go forwards...

Just makes it easier, is all.

Rixblix said...

It gets tiring continually reassuring people, that's for sure. But he's getting to the age where he can start doing some of the reassuring too.

I'm jealous, I wish we had a program like that near us! Can't wait to hear how it goes.

Anonymous said...

Mama, keep doing what you're doing...

Hope eldest has a blast at the farm! That sounds like so much fun!

Speedbump Kitchen said...

Okay, your blog has the most hilarious title ever....I showed it to my hubby and he said, "whew, at least we're not the only ones. " Good work!