I Almost Lost My Son

Almost six years ago I became a father and it’s been a long six years of worrying! I still check on the boys when they are asleep just to make sure they are ok. I cut grapes and hotdogs into tiny bite size pieces because I’m afraid of them choking, which they did do (and still do), so I panic and lose it after every single bite.

We had a pool installed and now I‘m afraid of them drowning. I had a pool my entire life. Growing up my parents were diligent in ensuring we were safe. We were always supervised and even as a teenager, someone was always around just in case, but still now it’s my kids… so I worry. I worry about them in the tub, and riding their bikes. I worry about them jumping off the couch and not being buckled in their car seats tight and/or loose enough.

All of this leads me to the ten minutes (which felt like ten years) that I almost lost my son.

The place we visited was split into multiple sections, divided and roped off areas and metal fences to separate the older kids area from the younger. A wall to wall adventure course, arcade games, flashing lights and indoor playscape. Trampolines lined the floor and the place was packed with sweaty little children and parents on their cel phones. The kids were having a blast and we were all enjoying watching them smile from ear to ear. It was great to see our friends again.

Jax. The oldest and easily the fastest of the group was darting from area to area. It was an overload of excitement. As soon as he entered the darkness that is the indoor playscape, I knew I’d never see him again. It’s weird, they say parents have a sixth sense. I felt it. It didn’t feel right and about three minutes in with no sight of his return… I didn’t think… I KNEW something wasn’t right.

I hurriedly walked from corner to corner. I began to move children out of my way like I was Ryan Reynolds playing ice hockey in “Just Friends.” Then… as time went on with no sign of him, I began to panic. I tried to think clearly. Where could he be? But I couldn’t. My normally clear thinking in times like this, I had nothing.

It took me a little bit to realize that I was there with other people… Of course Stephanie. And amazing friends that we’ve known forever… they share the same level of anxiety as me when it comes to parenting, so they were amazing in attempting to find Jax.

I was resisting the urge to shut the place down, go over the loud speaker and curse everyone out for not helping me find my son. The tension was palpable… I was losing it… and no one seemed to understand what was going on. Things at this point are at a boiling point, everything is fuzzy, and I’m not running at full speed and not even sure what I’m doing or where I’m going.

I tried to slow down, take a deep breath and clear my head, just as our friend came running towards us with Jackson in tow. I didn’t know how to react. Should I be mad or cry. I thought about situations I’ve seen, movies, TV, the news. I scooped him up and held him so tightly I was sure he’d never escape (to the neon lit ball pit and obstacle course on the complete other side of the building, or anything like it) ever again again.

It could happen to anyone. It was horrific. Losing him and finding him again… this was the lowest of low and the highest of high moments as a parent… and I don’t want to experience either of them ever again.

PS: Not to make light of the situation, but this is an almost realistic depiction of me running through the playscape looking for Jax…

Wanted: Miracle Worker

For those of you who read regularly, or at least have some sort of personal connection to Jackson, then you know that we have been seeking/receiving services for him the past year or so (mostly for his speech delay/issues, which as an aside have improved immensely over the past year).

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten into detail about Jackson and his “talking,” but tomorrow is a huge step in his process of meeting age appropriate developmental milestones as far as communication. Tomorrow we meet with our towns speech and language program for a battery of assessments that will help us identify what might be a road block in his communication development and also narrow down the specific areas of weakness that need to be addressed.  

I’ve been an educator for close to 18 years both as a teacher and now as a principal. I’ve been part of more evaluations, progress monitoring check-ins and initial identification meetings than most people will in their life time. But this time I’m not doing the evaluations of hearing the results as a leader of an educational system… I’m the helpless parent who has to watch his son be assessed by people who know nothing about him other than his name. I have to sit back and let someone else’s educational and developmental knowledge do the diagnosis and listen to someone else tell me what is best for my child. 

I’m not OK with that, yes I know I have the ability and expertise to collaborate when determining the direction for his individualized education plan. But in all reality I can’t be there in this situation for him… I can’t help him tomorrow when he is being tested by someone he doesn’t know… and I definitely can’t control what the results say.  

I’m nervous and anxious and I don’t really know if I’m going to be ok. I’m not sure if this whole thing is ok. I’ve seen a lot of children with needs, both minor and significant needs receive the support they need through an amazing educator. I’ve seen public school teachers work miracles. I just hope one of those miracle workers comes across my son and works wonders for him too. 

What’s Wrong With My Son? Nothing, I Hope: The Truth Behind a Worried Dad.

So I’ve been sort of cryptic with some of my blogs regarding Jax and some perceived “issues” going on. Not that there is some major catastrophe or illness or anything like that. But between him not talking yet and my background as an educator it has been a difficult ride the past few months.   
So let’s just put it on the table… Jax isn’t talking… No animal noises… Not much other than “Daddy!” Which he repeats constantly. You don’t have to have a masters degree or be a teacher to worry when your kid is two and still isn’t speaking. It’s scary. Crazy things run through your head. People can tell you that, “it’s ok, he’s such a happy little boy.” That means nothing when you are the parent and worrying.  

I was nervous to talk about it, you know, because when you say things outloud it makes them true. Saying that you are worried about something makes it a reality. Well I’m tired of it. “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself” -Hermione Granger.  

I We have been working with birth to three for about four months now. We set goals we do assessments and we progress monitor. Still no words. We had hearing tests, we did eyes tests, we did blood work. Still no words. We had speech pathologists come to work with him, we took him to a speech clinic for evaluation… Still no words. If I hear one more time that his receptive language is above average, but he is below standard in expressive language I’m going to tear up my CT Early Learning and Development Standards handbook.   

So that brings me to my education background. I’ve sat through a countless hours of meetings on student progress or lack there of. I’ve listened as teachers presenting findings and data to parents. I’ve wondered what it would feel like to be on the other end. I always had empathy for those parents. No one wants to sit on that side of the table for a PPT. NO ONE, because your hearing a specialist at tell you something is wrong with your child. I always took into consideration that sitting on “that side of the table” was never a good feeling. 

Then the day came where I was the one sitting on “that side of the table.” I listened as a special educator said, “yeah, he could be on the spectrum. Maybe he isn’t,” the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness on our end was heart breaking.  

I’m not sure where my mind went that day. I’m not sure if I agreed with her or thought she had no idea what she was talking about. There aren’t other signs that I see… No sensory issues, no tiptoe walking, and he shows various emotions is appropriate setting and situations. I’ve talked to people close to me, at my school and just done research and I am sure he is fine. I mean he literally is one of the smartest kids I’ve ever met. He knows basic colors and shapes and follows multi-step directions. (I know 5th graders who can’t follow multi step directions).  

The whole situation is a whirlwind of emotions. It’s my son so I’m worried and want to talk about it, but it’s my son so I don’t want to worry or talk about it. I don’t want family or friends to judge me or us or him. I don’t want people at his school to look at him differently. It’s scary… I cry, Steph cries… Then he does something amazing and we smile and we laugh.  

He’s happy. He’s a happy little boy… But that’s not enough. Let’s face it. When I sit at PPTs and hear educators tell parents not to worry because their child is such a “happy little child” it makes me cringe because now I understand why that isn’t enough. I used to think knowing was enough. The theory behind things and situations will help you only so much, but you’ll never truly understand where someone is coming from until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes as they say. 

 Through this whole process, we’ve tried a million different strategies. We’ve given choices for activities, required him to look us in the eyes before he gets something he wants, we’ve practiced making faces in the mirror and tried to “stimulate his tongue withstand a tooth brush.” Som etimes I get annoyed with trying to balance being a special education service provider and a dad.  

When do I say enough is enough and just enjoy my son. Play catch (he needs a lot of work, it looks like at this point he’ll be a left handed reliever), draw pictures and swing on the swings. Then, when I spend the day with him doing those things I feel like a neglectful parent for not spending time identifying animal sounds and working on his B3 goals. It’s a horrible, horrible feeling. 

It hurts in my chest to try to communicate with my son and struggle to do so. I think one of the worst feelings I’ve ever felt in my life is watching him get so frustrated when he is trying to tell us something and he can’t express it properly so we understand. At this point we know him well enough to get most of what he is trying to say, but not all the time… And it’s those times that make you feel like a failure. You begin to feel like you did something wrong or skipped a step in his development. What did I do to make him struggle so much to tell us what he wants? Will he ever get to a point where he is not so frustrated when he can’t get what he wants to say out? Will he ever even be able to communicate what he wants? It’s scary. It’s scary knowing that you are worry about not just these issues, but the ones that might possibly come up as he continues to grow.  

I don’t want to sit here and pretend that I’m not the happiest dad in the world because that would be an absolute lie. This kid brings me more joy than a Yankees and Packers championship win in the same season (ok maybe not in the same season, but you get the point). I love this kid more than life itself. There is not a thing that could ever change that. He makes me feel like the luckiest person to walk this earth… He’s taught me about life and not metaphorically, he’s taught me about what it truly means to bring life into this world and then realize that life is the reason you live.  

Although he makes me so happy every second of every day… The worrying is a helpless feeling. One that very few people will truly ever understand.