My youngest son is not even 11 and has already had a rough life. I was divorced with 2 young children when I met his dad – let’s call him Sven – who had de facto custody of his young daughter. Looking back, I think he moved me in quickly to have someone to take care of his daughter, and I was attracted to him because he seemed like such a grown up – he owned his own house in the suburbs and wore a tie to work everyday.
I quickly got pregnant with Ian and when he was born, his parents, unfortunately, were not much more mature than he was. We had a perfectly textbook, dysfunctional, toxic relationship, which is not the calm, nurturing environment babies long to be born into. When Ian was 6 weeks old, I applied for a part-time job teaching computer classes in the evening at a local proprietary college, and instead of that job, I was offered a full-time position as chair of the department. Considering I was unemployed with 3 children and living in toxic soup, I jumped at the chance. Of course, I like to think that if I knew then what I know now, I would have pitched a tent under a bridge before I would have left my son at such a young age. He was with my dad while I worked, but babies need to be with their mothers.
Life in our household in those days was stressful, loud and chaotic to put it quite mildly. His dad didn’t actually hit anyone, but he would pick up a chair and throw it across the room, or punch a hole in the wall. He would say things like, “what kind of idiot would put the knives in the dishwasher pointing up?” – knowing damn good and well I was the only other idiot in the house who even knew where we kept the dishwasher. Once, my older son pulled the cat’s leg and Sven picked him up by his ankle to “show him what it felt like.” I might have told him that if he ever laid his hands on my son again, I would kill him in his sleep, but my memory is fuzzy.
In a particularly ugly incident involving the police (called by him, ironically) very shortly after I started that job, (I’ll have to explain in more detail some other day), the 4 of us moved out of his house, but got back together and split several more times until Ian was about 18 months old – although we never lived together again. The last straw for me was when I found out he was cheating on me with his baby mama. We broke up for good right around that time – when Ian was 18 months old – and that is the last time Sven has seen his son.
I only mention all that because every ninny knows how important the first two years of a child’s life are in their overall health and development. And his first 2 years really sucked. On top of all that (as if all that weren’t enough to last a lifetime), the poor little guy had surgery and was hospitalized more times in the first 5 years of his life than most people are their entire lives.
I would be the same kind of idiot who put knives in the dishwasher pointing up if I didn’t recognize his early years for what they were: traumatic. Diagnoses aside, my wicked funny, brilliant, kind and thoughtful son struggles with so much in life. He struggles with anxiety, a host of sensory issues and has a very hard time with interpersonal relating. The quality of his life has steadily declined over the past couple of years so much that it’s a chore to get him to willingly leave the house.
But for whatever reason, willingly leave the house is exactly what he did a couple of weeks ago. We met a friend of mine and her 7-year-old twins at the Omnimax to see the film, Humpback Whales. Given his sensory issues, I tried to prepare him for the sensory experience he was about to have without unduly frightening him. In retrospect, I have to wonder about the sudden onset of aphasia that plagued me that morning – but all I could come up with was, “It’s like 3D without the glasses” and “really, really big dome.” If you’ve been to the Omnimax, you know “really, really big” doesn’t quite do it justice.
As we sat down, I was seriously berating myself for even attempting a movie at the Omnimax – I was overwhelmed, for sobbing out loud – how was this kid with all of his senses misfiring going to get through it? Considering we were sitting in the middle of the row and there were some very large people to have to squeeze by in order to make a break for the exit, I looked him square in the eye, told him to hold my hand, keep both feet on the floor and promised him it would be ok. He looked at me like I had lobsters coming out of my ears, but he’s my son – he trusts me.
Our Omnimax has one of those crazy laser 3D rollercoaster like intros & I always have to close my eyes during that part. As I’m sitting there with my eyes squeezed shut trying not to vomit, my son turns to me laughing – with a look on his face of pure, unadulterated glee & excitement – and said, “is this what drugs are like?”
As I threw my head back and roared with laughter…letting the relief and gratitude wash over me…I realized we both had just healed a little.