November 29, 2012

Today, Graham is eight.  He is the age I was when my youngest brother was born.  It’s been three years since I first wrote about my first and oh so special child.  At that time, I felt just the slightest bit bewildered by him.  Crazy overflowing amounts of love with just the stirrings of fear about what the future might bring.  By the time I wrote my second post, a subtle impatience was starting to take up residence in my psyche.  I have written other posts to celebrate his successes and some to celebrate his birthdays.  You see him often in my Slice of Life posts.  But I haven’t written much lately about how is doing and how I am doing with him.  This is a hard post to write, as all of them have been.  How do you talk about your child?  How do you begin to explain someone who you think is so incredibly wonderful but who can be a never-ending source of frustration?

I had a complete breakdown moment soon after we arrived in France in June, for our month long vacation.  Randy and I had just made the difficult decision to move to the Bay Area after years in Seattle.  I had gone through all the pros and cons in my mind ad nauseum.  In spite of leaving family, an incredible network of friends, my career, and a wonderful elementary school, we decided our family was ready for a new adventure.  The breakdown came when I circled back to thinking about Graham.  All of our wonderful friends who have children around his age have known him since he was a baby.  Graham is just Graham.  His quirks are just a small part of who he is.  Children who have always known him can appreciate that he is a sincere and loving child who wants nothing more than to play and laugh and eat snacks.  He is a little different and that fact does not seem to phase those who have always known him.  What about a completely new network of people?  How do I explain my child to families?  Should I have to?

Graham is in second grade.  He has an undefined developmental delay.  He is not on the autism spectrum.  He has an IEP (individualized education plan) which allows him to get help in the areas where he needs it, but he is in a regular classroom.  His delay affects his speech and cognition and because those two things are integral in interacting socially, he is delayed in that area too.   He is shockingly good at math and puzzles and things requiring spatial awareness.  His short term memory is terrible, his long term memory is scary good.  (He won’t remember where he put his pencil, but will remember an event that happened years ago just from a glance down a street.  I operate this way too.)

Graham continues to be a very even keel child.  He almost never gets upset and almost always goes with the flow.  This is surprising considering he doesn’t always understand exactly what is going on.  He is very well behaved in his classroom and at home.  He loves people and will strike up a conversation with just about anybody.  Adults and older children are utterly charmed by him but kids his age – not so much.

I used to wonder at what age kids would start to notice that there was something different about Graham and it turns out that second grade is the age.  He has been teased.  The kids nudge each other and ask, “What did he say?”  Some of them have hidden his lunch box from him and, according to Graham, they make fun of his clothes and his skin.  (He dresses well because I still pick out his clothes for him and he has dark skin.  I wasn’t aware that those were things that were tease-able offenses.)  I have talked to many friends about what is going on and most of them are horrified.  Most schools have a strict no-bullying policy and I’m sure ours is no different.  I know that kids are cruel.  I see most of the girls in his class completely ignoring him while they are catty behind each others’ backs and I thank the universe, for the umpteenth time, that Graham is not a girl.  (Disclaimer:  we know some amazing empathetic and kind girls who are absolutely lovely with Graham.)

And where am I in all of this?  I am heartbroken for him.  The fact that anyone would make fun of such a sweet soul makes me want to scream.  I am grateful that he still doesn’t know that anything is different about him and that he misses most of the eye rolling and nudging.  I am thankful that (still!) every time a new adult helper comes into his orbit, the first thing they tell me is how delightful he is.  Graham handled a huge transition – a move to a new state, new house, and new school – with a smile on his face and adventure in his heart.

Our next steps are to involve the principal and his teacher as much as possible.  Our hope is that getting some awareness about kids who are a little different at this still young age might nip some of the teasing in the bud.  We also plan to enroll Graham in some social therapy.  The idea is that there is truly a social language that most children learn naturally.  I see this with Spencer.  The way he interacts with his peers is not something I or Randy have taught him – he just picked it up.  Graham tries, he is so motivated to make friends, but his language delay sometimes makes it difficult.  So we will get him in a supervised play group where he will learn about how to be a good friend, how to appropriately interact with kids, and how to walk away from people who are being unkind.  That is the hope at least.

Whenever I write these posts about Graham, I get the most amazing and kindest comments and emails back.  Many of them applaud me for being a good mother.  Most days I feel like I am.  Some days I know I am not.  Graham tests my patience at some point everyday and sometimes all day.  I know we all get inpatient with our children and some of us yell.  When I get angry at Spencer, I rarely feel bad afterward.  He has done something he is not supposed to, he knows it, he does it anyway, and I get mad.  We talk about it afterward and we move on.  With Graham, the things that drive me to distraction about him are usually things he cannot help.  He doesn’t deliberately forget to bring home his jacket or the name of someone he has known since he was born – there is a section in his IEP about his memory.  It is truly impaired.  He doesn’t intentionally not listen to me, he only catches about three-quarters of what I say, if that.  He can’t help it if he just can’t grasp the concept of days getting darker, or geography, or many of the other things children his age just seem to get.

What makes me feel terrible about myself (at times) is that I believe that Graham tries his best at everything every day.  How many children can you say that about?  He is a first born, rule following, approval seeking, sweet-to-the-core kid.  Why do I feel embarrassed by him sometimes?  Why do I occasionally wish it was different in our house?  How can I hold him in my arms, almost unable to bear the sweetness, and then be driven to distraction by him not five minutes later?  Is it him that I wish was different, or myself?  I read something recently that said if we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we would grab ours back.  As much as I look to parents of typically developing children and envy them at times, I know that they have their own struggles, struggles I would not want.  And there are, of course, people who have it much worse than we do and those who have it unspeakably bad and when I think about those folks, I want to simultaneously squeeze Graham and hang my head in shame.

In all of this, I have to say a word about my amazing husband.  My Naval Academy educated, former Navy pilot, Harvard MBA, brilliant and athletically gifted husband.  If you had told me that we were going to have a child who had some undefined issues that would make school and team sports difficult for him, I might told you that Randy would would really struggle with that.  He takes great pride in his intelligence, his fearlessness, his drive, and his successes – as well he should.  I hope he also takes great pride in what a kind and loving father he is.  The man who tells you he has no patience is the one sitting with Graham helping him sound out his reading words over and over again.  He is the man taking him to Cub Scouts and soccer, helping him learn to ski, and is the first one to say that he doesn’t care if Graham goes to college at all as long as he is happy and healthy.  And out of the house by age 18.

This is a serious post.  So allow me to tell a funny story.  When Graham was in kindergarten, he was in the bathroom peeing and a mean boy pushed him.  This terrified Graham and ever since, he has sat down to pee.  (This is not the funny part.)  It’s not something we care about except when we are out and public toilets are sketchy, we are at a park and the restrooms are closed for the winter, or when we contemplate future camping trips with the Cub Scouts.  Randy and I have tried cajoling him, patiently sitting with him in the bathroom, bribing him, threatening him (I’m not proud), all to no avail.  Last week, Spencer wondered what would happen if we paid Graham a quarter each time he stood up and peed, with the promise of a toy when he reached eight times.  Wouldn’t you know it – he has stood up ever since.  Happy birthday my sweet eight year old boy.


  1. OMG Dana, I cried. You are such an incredible woman, such an incredible heart. I’ve only interacted with your boys once, but I adored them then and I adore them ever more with each time you share their stories. When you posted about the bullying, I had a terrible urge to kick that bunch of 2nd graders in the shins. You and Randy are such good people, and your boys are the sweetest. You just keep on kicking ass, my dear. I’ve got your back. I love you guys xo

    Comment by Jen Yu — November 29, 2012 @ 1:25 am

  2. What an honest, thoughtful post. As a 2nd grade teacher, I really feel for you and Graham. My heart breaks for him that he doesn’t get to feel safe and respected at school. Of course you don’t feel like a good mother all the time, that is impossible, but Graham is SO lucky that he has you and Randy advocating for him and responding to his needs. Thank you for being so honest about your struggles with him.

    Comment by Louise — November 29, 2012 @ 1:26 am

  3. Dana, Graham is a lucky boy to be in a family such as yours. We all know there will be challenges along the way, but if his role models are calm and proactive and positive that is who he will become as well. He has you advocating for him, and knowing that someone loves you that much will give him such a sense of security. He is going to be fine, and so are you. You are doing an amazing job my friend~

    Comment by kimberly — November 29, 2012 @ 1:53 am

  4. You are such a great mother and one of the best out of those whose children I babysat for in Seattle. I love you all so dearly. You are a good mother, Dana…you are, you are, you are.

    See you in 2013 in San Fran. I can feel it will happen. Tell Graham I said hello and happy birthday.

    Comment by Catherine — November 29, 2012 @ 3:21 am

  5. Dana – I just went back and read your other two posts about Graham and I am not only profoundly touched by your honesty but grateful for it. There is no question that you are an amazing mother and we all do the best we can, and with that, continue to F it up sometimes. The bullying makes me sick, kids can be so cruel. Hopefully the principal and teachers can intervene and Graham can have a safer learning environment soon. happy birthday little handsome man :)

    Comment by Alyssa (Everyday Maven) — November 29, 2012 @ 3:35 am

  6. Hi there, I am not a commenter here often, but I am an often reader. I love your funny story at the end, it rang true for my family too! My brother is delayed as well and one funny thing is that as the older sibling my Mom held true and never bribed me for grades, chores, anything. With my younger brother she has found that sometimes it is the the easiest path with the least amount of yelling possible. ha! She has used everything from money to dinners at his favorite restaurant to a trip through the drive though for a milkshake. :) Thanks for sharing your story so candidly. I hope you find a community soon here of parents, hopefully some of whom are going through things similar to you.

    Comment by Errin — November 29, 2012 @ 3:38 am

  7. I sure adore your boy. Just like you say, I’ve always thought of him as sweet to the core. I really miss seeing his precious smiles. Whenever I see our plastic golf clubs, I think of him.

    Anyways, thank you for sharing the truth of your experience. Your honesty is so beautiful. I hope he’s not the only one getting the support he needs & you feel supported, too.

    Cheering you all on while you’re on this journey. Wishing I could put a bubble around him with those teasing kids. Glad you two are fighting so hard for him.

    Comment by Kathleen — November 29, 2012 @ 3:44 am

  8. Aw… He is just perfect! I am reminded of an NPR interview I heard this week. The author wrote “far from the tree” I believe. I was planning on getting it for myself.

    Comment by Jill — November 29, 2012 @ 5:28 am

  9. Love the pics of the birthday boy and his favorite brother eating some of the best ice cream in Berkeley (you all need to go check out Sketch on 4th Street too).

    Reading this post reminded me of our conversation over lunch — you write just like you speak, Dana. I so admire your honesty, calm, kindness, compassion, and fierce mama love for this gorgeous little boy.

    And the younger brother’s brilliant idea to bribe his older sibling into standing: priceless.

    Comment by sarah henry — November 29, 2012 @ 6:52 am

  10. Oh Dana, as someone who has met and adores Graham, I can honestly say that he is one of the sweetest boys I have ever met. And I feel your pain about the school situation. It seems like you’re doing all that can be done by getting him some social therapy and I really think and hope they will start to pay off soon!

    Comment by Joanne — November 29, 2012 @ 11:55 am

  11. Thanks for always speaking the truth so eloquently. You are a wonderful mother. I have to go re-do my makeup now after reading your post!

    Comment by linda — November 29, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

  12. Your story caught my eye, we are long time friends of the VW family. I have an 8th grade boy who years ago in first grade befriended a boy with similar qualities to your son. We all became friends and have remained since.

    They went through testing, only to find tendencies, but nothing solid. An IEP over the years, the forgetfulness, social issues, etc. They have done what you plan to do with social class help and extra patience- which she has often felt guilty about her lapses. He too is the oldest of two boys with the younger not needing extra help.

    As I read your post, I remember all the conversations and concerns she has had for her boy- particularly how he would be excepted by his peers. There have been ups and downs for their family- but as he has grown with the support of his family and outside support- her concerns have lessened and her concerns are more like any mom of a teenage boy.

    The keys to their success have been family, outside support and finding good friends… and alot of patience :)

    Comment by Colleen — November 29, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

  13. Happy Birthday, Graham! Scott and I still talk about how amazing he was to hang out with the day we met you in Seattle. He is an excellent kid! And you are giving him everything he needs to grow and thrive; you’re a wonderful mom.

    Comment by Nicole — November 29, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

  14. Dana, I cried reading this. We went through similar struggles with our sweet boy last year, when he was in kindergarden and luckily we were able to get a “diagnosis” which pointed us in the direction of therapies that would be beneficial and have been beneficial to him. And his teachers (last year and this year) have been wonderful in helping the other children understand his differences and why he has things like his chewy at school which has helped with the teasing/bullying. And his school has been proactive and set up the classes with the children’s interactions in mind to bring out the best in everyone. But everytime we start a new activity or meet new people I always wonder, how much do I explain? Do I ever go down that road and possibly influence them to think badly of my boy from the start and just let him be his own funny self and if they have questions, they can ask. Your situation has meant this has come up for you much more frequently than it would otherwise. I hope you can work with teachers and the school to find what works for Graham.

    Your lad has accomplished so much and he seems so sweet from pictures and stories you tell of him. I laughed at the Spencer suggestion. (Bribery is the only thing that works with our kid as well.) Happy Birthday to your 8 year old.

    Comment by Charlotte — November 29, 2012 @ 8:23 pm

  15. I just wanted you to know that you are the perfect mother for your son. Human. Loving. Never giving up. Wanting the best for your boy. He has the best. You.

    Comment by jlmor — November 29, 2012 @ 8:30 pm

  16. I want you to know that this was an amazing post; you are so incredible and such a wonderful mother. Your boys are beautiful and you have done such an amazing job with them. I am sending you HUGE hugs from NYC as I miss you dearly and I truly hope you have a great holiday season.
    Love you lots; thank you for this amazing post and for being so strong- you are an inspiration.

    Comment by The Healthy Apple — November 30, 2012 @ 12:03 am

  17. Dana,
    As a long time reader of your blog, I want to thank you for writing your personal thoughts on this site. So many blogs are personal, or food/craft based, but we are lucky to have you, which is a honest look at both.
    That said, I don’t know you or your family, but I want to reach out and hug each and every one of you! All of us, with boys (and girls) that may be just slightly (or more so) “different” from their peers, suffer from minutes, hours, days of worry, guilt, love, pride, and frequently a mixture of all of the above.
    You both are doing an exemplary job at parenting. I know this without ever having met either of you or your boys. I feel it in my heart reading your words. We have a son who just graduated from college and is doing well, living on his own right now. Lots of worries when he was younger, esp as he began high school..not quite the athlete, not very comfortable socially, and he was beginning to become a loner. We reached out to a marvelous teacher who got our son (with much convincing)involved in an after school drama group,(behind the scenes)which literally changed his life. He met friends who were the most NON judgmental kids ever (as most kids in drama are a little different too)and they welcomed him into the fold. He became confident, social, and by senior year was not only in charge of the sound system but the announcer at every event. Those good friends are still near and dear to his heart. Every time I see this teacher I want to run up and hug him! (I have written him to tell him what a difference he made. I don’t know if he could ever know how much we appreciate him though!)
    Sorry for the long windiness, but I want you to know that Graham will find peers that love and accept him, too. We just have to keep looking and finding them and that amazing teacher who made a difference.

    Comment by AnnieM — November 30, 2012 @ 4:12 pm

  18. this broke my heart! it kills me to think of any child being left out or ridiculed by other children. that is something i talk to my girls about A LOT– understanding that everyone is different and what a boring place the world would be if it wasn’t that way, sticking up for others even when their friends aren’t, being friends with EVERYONE. i am really proud of them so far and i can only hope that will stick with them for life. and what a lucky boy Graham is to have such loving parents. that will get him farther in life than anything!

    Comment by meredith — December 1, 2012 @ 6:38 am

  19. Dana,
    I’ve been reading your blog for about a year and always love your recipes and photographs. I’ve never commented, there is something about commenting on blogs that causes me great anxiety. I felt I had to comment today to thank you for your obvious love of your children and your honesty about the challenges of motherhood. Happy birthday to Graham, and thank you again for the food, the photos, and the honesty.

    Comment by Valerie — December 1, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

  20. Hi Dana,
    As I sit here with tears streaming down my face, I applaud you, your bravery and loyalty and honesty. Frankly, I was so afraid of your situation, I never had kids. I don’t regret that decision, but many people often think I should. I can’t begin to know what its like walking in your shoes or any parent with a child who is “different”, for whatever reason. All I can say is good for you. Graham is a lucky little boy to have a mother who cares so much and can honestly say it ain’t easy being a mom! Thanks from a loyal reader. PS You will love San Francisco, I lived there for 15 fabulous years…

    Comment by Peggy — December 1, 2012 @ 8:43 pm

  21. I am a longtime reader and a sporadic commenter, but this post was too touching not to say something. I teared up at the end at Spencer’s suggestion. Sounds like you have done an amazing job raising two sweet boys! And as a native Washingtonian turned Bay Area transplant, I wish you all the best in your new lives and know you will love it!

    Comment by Jessie — December 2, 2012 @ 1:32 pm

  22. I can’t believe he’s already eight years old! Happy Birthday to Graham. Hopefully his new classmates will come to know him better soon. And, good for him to have handled the big move so smoothly.

    Comment by lisaiscooking — December 3, 2012 @ 3:45 am

  23. I just came back from 3 wks away. You always touch me with your posts. You are such a nice person and are probably a great mom. Happy Birthday to your son and I wish him that his future will be better.

    Comment by Helene — December 3, 2012 @ 8:00 pm

  24. You know, I wish I could say something that would express how touching and amazing reading this post has been.

    I have no words, just pure, raw admiration.

    Comment by SallyBR — December 6, 2012 @ 1:16 pm

  25. Beautiful. Love this post. I can see in the photos you post of him (here and on IG) what a sweet and spirited child he is. For what it’s worth, my husband was teased as a young child (albeit for different reasons….a speech impediment and a patch over his eye) and he swears it was the best thing that ever happened to him. He actually has said he hopes our children are teased. I can’t say that I HOPE our children get teased, but I can appreciate his perspective. Lots of love to you and sweet Graham!

    Comment by Jora — December 11, 2012 @ 12:14 am

Leave a comment