On November 28th, Graham turned six. Six?? It seems that just in the last six months or so, he has shot up and started looking like a bona fide boy. His build is exactly like that of my brothers who are 6’4″ and 6’1″ and slim. He looks less like the baby he was and more like the boy he will become. I’m not sure I’m ready for that. (See his right ear? How it sticks out just a bit? My brother Michael has been saying, since he was a baby, that girls will go crazy over that ear.)
Life with Graham has felt different in the time that he has become a big boy. He is more defiant – something he has never ever been. He is still incredibly compliant and eager to please, but we are getting more attitude. Considering he is still just about the happiest person I have met, that he still has never had a melt-down that lasted longer than 10 seconds, and that in the past 10 days he has lived through stomach flu, an ear infection severe enough to puncture an eardrum (without ever telling us his ear hurt), and a pneumonia diagnosis with a smile on his face all the while, I think we are due a little attitude.
We have so much to be thankful for and so much to be proud of. Graham is thriving in kindergarten. Randy and I could not have dared hope for the success he is having. Because he often struggles with things that other kids seem to grasp effortlessly, we kind of thought that school – the reading, writing, math – would be hard for him. In fact, according to his teacher, his resource room teacher, and his report card (!), he is right on track, even for the typical kids in the class. And he is excelling in some areas. True to his nature, those areas are “works well on a team” and “respectful and kind to others”. He is starting to read and to do addition and subtraction. It is incredible to see him do so well. And perhaps most importantly, he is loving school. He loves the kids, he loves going to the library and checking out books and he loves loves loves Mr. Roberts, the P.E. teacher.
To have him do so well in school and yet still be the child who can drive me to distraction by not understanding the difference between his birthday party day and his actual birthday day, or who cannot comprehend that is is not night time even though it is dark, is a continual source of frustration for me. I tend to hear the same question over and over again, or respond to a question only to have him say the exact opposite. Every conversation I have with him, every request I make of him, I can feel myself gathering my patience, steeling myself, because so much of what I say he doesn’t get. He hears me – his hearing is fine – he just doesn’t process what I say in the same way that a typically developing child would. Often I feel that he still needs so much from me and that sometimes makes me want to bang my head against the wall.
And there in, once again, lies the problem. Me. I feel like my patience is constantly at the breaking point and my tolerance for the noise level of these two oh-so-very-noisy boys is constantly low. Is this Graham’s problem? Of course not. He is doing the very best he can, just as he always has. It is not his fault that he doesn’t process language the way that, say, his brother does. If anything, he is trying extra hard, being a child who is so eager to please. I have spent so much time thinking about my reactions to him and even writing about them here on this blog, and I feel like I am doing worse with him rather than better. It is a terrible way to feel.
Of course, I know I am a good mother. I tell him regularly how wonderful he is. I tell him how proud I am at least ten times a day. I applaud his efforts in school and cheer him on when he tells a mean kid, “I don’t like that!”. I kiss and hug him and hold him and I read to him and feed him healthy snacks. I beam with pride when he tells the grocery check-out person to be careful with the eggs because they are fragile, and then praises her with a heartfelt, “Good job!” once they are in the bag. I feel so very fortunate to have such a nice and delightful child filled with kindness, someone who adults beam at as he yells hello to them and introduces himself as Graham Cracker. I take him places and I try very hard to bite my tongue when he loses yet another jacket or says something that makes absolutely no sense. But I get in bed each night and feel guilty about how I have not really stuck to my guns and tried to be patient. And I have yelled – a thing I promised myself, in my days before kids – that I would never do.
It’s not that I want a mother of the year award. I certainly don’t want a different child. I think what I really want is to raise a child who is kind, self-confident, and generous. A child who gives back to the world, forms bonds and friendships with all different people, and I can definitely see that Graham, already at age six, is that kind of person. This past spring, I attended an amazing birthday party where the birthday girl asked each of us to submit our favorite poem. Her sister’s choice is the one you will see below. I cry every time I read it. I want to be that mother. The one who inspires a poem as beautiful and moving as this one.
by Billy Collins
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly-
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a box
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift – not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.