Fine, then. We'll test him.
firm, parental nods all 'round. Then, a pause.
What kind of testing are we supposed to do?
Um. I dunno. Maybe the pediatrician knows? The school?
And then, there I was. Holding a list of bullet points that the Toddle's teacher had given me, the pediatrician on speed dial, and the local public school's phone number written carefully, clearly in my calendar. And I couldn't dial the bloody phone.
Three days later, I still couldn't dial the bloody phone.
It had been one hell of a year - and more - since the Toddles' preschool disaster. With QG to keep us sane, he'd been happy at home, loving his playdates, and generally growing into a snuggly, independent little terror. He missed his classmates, sure, but found joys aplenty in the world we were creating with him. And, after visiting preschool after preschool, I had finally found two that felt they were up to the Toddles' challenge: an anaphylactic wheat allergy, plus rye, barley, spelt, egg and more! Enough to warrant a raid on the art supplies, enough to require some very, very careful thought about snack time, school events, and oh yes, coexistence with a parent who thinks she's an advocate. All things that the Toddles' first preschool didn't seem to want.
One offered us a spot on their waiting list. The other asked me to drop by and talk. And then there I was, talking, and the boss lady telling the preschool director, oh, yes. You can do this. And then there I was again, talking, and the teachers were nodding. Sure, we can do that. One of them, delighted, clapping, Oh! I'm going to get to have the giggle boy in my class! And she did.
Thank you for bringing our boy, they said. And hugged me.
I spent months staring, wandering around and trying to grasp this. The school provides all snacks for the children, and with the arrival of the Toddles and a few other allergic kidlets, decided to avoid all of the relevant allergens. They checked their art supplies. They were polite about my first efforts at lighter, sweeter faux-challah, and offered generous quantities of honey to the dubious children. When I set the fire alarm off while baking for the Toddles' birthday celebration, they told me their own embarrassing mom-stories, and took photos of the kids with the fire truck. And wrote it up in the newsletter, as part of the birthday fun. And hung a big sign on the doors: WARNING! ALLERGIC CHILDREN. DO NOT BRING FOOD INTO THIS AREA. Atmosphere wasn't a problem here: one of the teachers made the sign with collage. Lovely, creative, and very, very clear.
It was unreal, wonderful, humbling. There was so much oxygen, I was gasping. But the Toddles saw none of this. When am I leaving preschool? he asked, but didn't believe the answer. He pulled in, curling tight and then tighter inside himself, avoiding eye contact, sound, touch, as if he could create a perfect, protective carapace. Huddle inside. His balancing touch-and-suck had become a place to vanish, and its gravitational pull was immense. Time to get dressed? He'd have to pull himself out of the carapace twice: once to take his jammies off, and once to put the day's clothes on. Going somewhere? He'd need to pull himself out to get his jacket one, again to get into the car, and yet again, agonizingly, to get out of the car.
It's like you are inside of a box, and can't hear me, I told him. He nodded. This did not trouble him - the carapace was good. I need that, sometimes, he explained. I nodded. But sometimes, love, you get stuck in there. He thought this over.
I think we need some balance in this one.
But balance had been trumped by a need. Snuggled into his carapace, the Toddles didn't mind that he was alone, riding 'round and 'round on the playground. He was untroubled, if a bit wistful, by his lack of friends. Friends vanish, he knew. This was safer. And, in his safety, he pulled in the tendrils of connection, avoiding eye contact, hiding from hands, hugs, hesitating once, twice, fifteen times before trusting the adults around him. He was safe.
Except, of course, he wasn't. Humming quietly, wrapped in his carapace, he couldn't hear me tell him not to run into the street - with a car coming. I heard your sounds, but not the words, he said. Or just stared, bemused and puzzled by my gasping horror. He grabbed at knife blades, broken glass, rolled on challah-crumbed floors, and from deep in the carapace, he stared, bewildered, when I gritted my teeth and explained. Why. That. Was. Not. Good.
But this was a parenting problem, and not a developmental one. I was sure. I had experience with this dance between parenting, the kid and the yardstick of the normal. I knew. I was also a mess. And holding a phone.
Maybe it's wiring. Neurology.
Maybe it isn't.
Maybe, I admitted to the other parental pair of worried eyes, maybe it's me.
We watched the Toddles lining up number flashcards in some mysterious order. And again. And again.
Maybe it's not.
And I made the call.