Mother’s Day 2014, wifey and I are fortunate enough to take some R&R at the Evergreen Lodge in Yosemite. When on vacay, we always choose places with pools, because Dar loves him some swimming. Since he can’t ever tell us what he wants, it makes us feel great to see him get in the pool with a smile as wide as his water-wings apparatus.
On this given Sunday, there weren’t too many people there, and Dar was switching between the cool pool and the hot hot tub, probably trying to find a good temperature somewhere in the middle. Just about the only other person was this one Mom, think Leslie Mann meets Connie Britton with a Southern twang. At one point she joked that she was from “L.A. – Lower Alabama.” Very nice lady, with all the kindliness and chattiness of my Texan relatives. This is meant as a compliment.
At some point L.A. says to Dar: “What’s your name, sweetie?”
He says nothing.
I say, “He’s not real into talking.”
She says to me, “Oh, that’s ok.” A moment or two passes. I’m trying to watch our second child so that wifey won’t have anything to do for at least one or two minutes of Mother’s Day.
Dar is looking at his feet in the hot tub. L.A. says, “How old are you?”
I say, “Uh, yeah, he can’t tell you.”
She looks at me like I said he has two heads.
I go, “Well, he has a diagnosis.”
She says, “Oh, what does he have?”
I think about it for a second. “…Autism. And cerebral palsy.”
She says, “Oh, but he’ll grow out of that, right?”
Part of me wants to flip out, another part of me hates that first part of me. I say, “Well, no. Probably not.”
“But have you seen speech therapists?”
Calm down, Smith-Rowsey, I say to myself. She means well. “Yeah.”
She says, “And doctors…” and sort of trails off. Perhaps she was caught between wanting to say that doctors don’t know everything and wanting to say that doctors might find a cure. Personally I think of the last doctor we took him to, a couple of months ago, who told us We know that a child who doesn’t speak by five years old will probably never use speech as their primary form of communication. How about sprinkling that phrase on your morning cereal for a while? Lot of fun.
“He’s been this way for a while,” I say. All his life, I think. Still taking care of numero dos at the same time. Wifey is in the changing room or something. Which is good. I want her to rest. God knows she does everything for us every other day (uh, including that day).
L.A. says, “Wow. That’s tough.”
“Has to happen to someone,” I answer.
She says, “That’s a nice thing to say, but that’s still very difficult.”
Knowing Dar is safely sitting on the hot tub steps, I keep my focus on #2 while I try to say wistfully, “Wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
L.A. says, “My cousin’s girl was a Downs baby.” Right. Here it comes. Everyone knows someone. And sure, I’d probably be saying the same thing in their situation. But I’m in my situation, and theirs isn’t helping mine.
“How’s she doing?” I try to say politely.
“A lot better. She’s 17 now and can do a lot of things. But it’s not easy. It’s never been easy.”
Reminds me of my favorite exchange from Lost, a show which wifey is currently watching for the first time. Locke: “Why is it so difficult for you to believe…?” Jack: “Why is it so easy for you?” Locke: “It’s never been easy!”
“Are you a mom?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says. “Sitter is watching them for Mom’s Day while I relax here.”
“How old are they?”
“Five and three.”
L.A. is a good person, and a perceptive one. She can tell that I don’t really get much out of things like this, that I’m forcing my politeness and that I’d just as soon not talk about it. Me and wifey’s other little boy, just turning two years old, can already say a hundred words, name every letter, cite the alphabet in order, and count to ten. And she sees that as well, but unlike some people she’s nice enough not to force a comparison that I haven’t invited. I like L.A. But I’m too busy with both boys to really give her the proper time of day, and she gets that.
She kinda-sorta gets back to her book. But she says, almost to herself, “I just think, with all the scientific advances these days, you never know…”
“It’s true.” I agree. “You never know.”
The truth is that this is one of the good stories. Worse ones have happened (perhaps I will share at some point), and the future holds ones worse than those. At least Dar is small now and not much is expected of him. I shudder to think what happens when he’s bigger and we can’t control him, can’t really apologize for him, can’t take him anywhere without worrying about something that his therapist calls “a behavior.”
It’s all of the downside of parenting with none of the unexpected moments, none of the runs to hug you, none of the caring if you’re in the room, none of the “mommy?”s.
With all due credit to Lewis Carroll, that was a little part of our Happy Unmother’s Day.