Yesterday Dar and I went to the pediatrician for his annual visit. He recently turned 6. We arrive early, for once. Dar and I sit in the parking lot for a while, until he starts fiddling with his car door, slightly opening it. Oops, I forgot to do the child lock. One day, that’s going to cause something a lot worse than a slight inconvenience. So I think, okay, we better go in there. Despite what will happen.

pediatric office

While I’m waiting in line to check in with the lady at the front desk, Dar wanders into the back area. I scramble over to close a child door (it’s at half-height). I point out all the great toys that have been left out for kids. Dar ignores them. As I stand in line, he moves right to a lady who keeps a medieval-jailer-set of keys on her belt. Dar fondles them. I scramble over, apologize. She says “That’s okay.” Her tone isn’t thrilled, though, so I say, “uh, he’s special needs.” Despite the impression that any reader would get from regularly reading these columns on Waaaambulance Wednesday, I resist playing the “he’s special needs” card when we’re out and about shopping and in cafes and restaurants. In this case, I felt like she had a right to know.

Praise the Maker! Berkeley Pediatrics sends us to our room early. Wow, it’s not even the time of our scheduled appointment and the nurse is already asking for Dar’s height and weight check in. Awesome! And…then Dar decides to have a freak-out. He does not want to stand next to the wall-mounted ruler for his height check. I can’t say this is an utterly unmotivated freak-out, because we were asking something of him. He resists and screams, to the point where the nurse extends a long flat surface from his bobbing head to the wall ruler. 46 inches. Then we try to put him on the scale. Another freakout. I say to the nurse, can we set the bars on the scale early? She says well, how much does he weigh? I say, uh, maybe 50? I push him onto the scale and he weighs nowhere near 50. After trial and terror, we get to 43 pounds.

We only have to wait about 15 minutes for the doctor. Often, it’s 30 minutes, so this feels like a relief. There was a time when I considered our pediatrician an important contributor to #TeamDar, to fighting his autism. One time, when he was around 3, he was having intense freakouts much more often, and hitting his head, and we brought him to the pediatrician, and while we waited the usual 30 minutes and Dar began to freak out, a nurse smiled at us as though this was typical of every 3-year-old. After five more minutes of him screaming and bashing his head and hyperventilating as though he were in a burning room, she went to get another nurse. After another five minutes, neither of them were smiling, and one ran to get the doctor. There was a sort of a grim satisfaction buried under my misery: see, he’s really not like your other patients. We all eventually calmed him down, but now I know that, through no fault of her own, a pediatrician can’t do much other than refer us to specialists.

Anyway yesterday’s visit was calmer, though Dar began screaming every time the doctor touched him, or asked him to sit or lie down. No, he’s not the kind of autistic kid who refuses to be touched, but I think the anodyne nature of the doctor’s office made him suspicious. She asked about his physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, etc. She asked all the right questions. I asked her how we’ll ever know, when he gets hurt, where it hurts? We chatted about this for a while without much of a resolution.

Dar’s pediatrician was very impressed at his sleeping – I’d forgotten that a year ago, he had been sleeping so terribly. She had prescribed Benadryl then, and told us to give him more if he woke at 2 or 3. I told her the Benadryl is now mostly working, though I did mention his 5:00am rooster walks. She told me to try to get him to bed later than the current 7:00 or 7:30. He puts himself to bed then, so that will require us proactively walking him around the house or throwing water on him at the precise hour when all we want to do is relax. Greaaaaaaaaaaaaaat.

Dar’s other vitals are A-OK. Thank heaven for small favors. Everything is fine, except the one thing that matters most. Does everyone feel that way about everything? I remember seeing Andre Agassi play in the last few years of his career. Hair like a gorilla on every single patch of his body EXCEPT his chrome-bald head. When your kid can’t talk and can’t show he ever understands you, it’s a little bit like that. Everything’s great except for what we really care about.

Anyway the pediatrician visit ended, and now we’re back to our regular routines. Seeing his doctor made me think, not for the first time: are we settling for too little with Dar? Are we in a holding pattern, waiting for him to break out? Have we lost the urgency that we displayed back when he was hyperventilating?

Well, the plan is for me to spend less time teaching next semester (right now, I’m teaching six classes), and more time working on newer therapies with Dar. We still have big decisions looming about his programs, his public and private school choices. More greaaaaaaaaaaaat.