Advice Parenting

White Shirt, Red Pants

October 27, 2016

Moms today have so much information at their fingertips- books outlining what to expect at every milestone, advice from family, friends and of course, the almighty Google. Yet there comes a time when ALL that information pales in comparison to a gut feeling, a sense, to mother’s intuition.

My first son was born in 2004. Two weeks overdue, he came into this world round and delicious and happy. A champion sleeper. A champion eater, once I gave up breast feeding (Motherlucker story here…) He turned one on April 3rd, 2005 and welcomed his baby brother the very next day. (Yup. Another Motherlucker moment) He hit every milestone.

At two I noticed that certain sounds really annoyed him. The whir of lawn mowers made him cover his ears. Planes flying overhead made him run inside the house.  You can guess my worry. I had read and seen too much to not wonder if these sensitivities were an indicator of Autism. I called my pediatrician. She didn’t tell me I was silly. She went through a checklist. Was he talking? Was he able to look people in the eye? Was he social? Yes. Yes. YES! She assured me that he was fine. All was right in my world.

The summer Sebastian was five, we went out to Long Island. We swam. Made s’mores. My boys started summer camp. Camp had a uniform: T-shirt and shorts. Easy, right? Nope. Sebastian would not wear shorts. The very idea of not wearing pants seemed absurd to him. I tried every brand, every fabric. Nothing worked. No matter the weather, Sebastian wore sweatpants. I decided if he was ok with Bikram-like levels of sweat at day camp, so was I.

The minute he would get home from camp he’d change into comfy clothes. Very specific comfy cloths.  A mushy white henley tee paired with soft red karate pants that fell just above his ankle. He looked adorable in his loungewear. He was comfortable. Heck, I wanted those karate pants. All was right with his world.

Until it wasn’t.

One day I heard Sebastian screaming in a way I never had before. When I found him I was certain he was hurt. He wasn’t (Phew). He was hysterical. He couldn’t find the red pants. I ran downstairs. They were in the laundry. I gave him lmerkel_whiteshirtredpants2the pants and he calmed down immediately. Crisis averted. More like crisis introduced. If the red pants/white shirt weren’t available, Sebastian was inconsolable. No other shirt and no other pants would do. I was dumbfounded. He would meltdown. Tantrum. Rage. Even now I can recall how utterly helpless I felt. Well-meaning friends and parents suggested he was just stubborn. Willful. Bratty, even. My gut told me there was something else. Something we all weren’t getting. Something my beautiful boy was desperately trying to tell me. My gut was right.

It’s been a long seven years since the red pants and white shirt. I know more now. Sebastian is a child with needs that are special. He has ADHD, an anxiety disorder, and OCD. He is brilliant and beautiful and kind. He is also rigid and intractable. He has rage episodes that scare me, and for which he is later desperately apologetic. He has been described by doctors as “spectrum-y”. “Aspergers-ish”. (We’ll leave those maddening descriptions for yet another Motherlucker day) He has no spectrum diagnosis because he is wildly, wonderfully connected . He will engage in conversation. Look you in the eye. Captivate an audience and be captivated himself.

As I write this I am crying. I would like to tell you that I had him tested immediately after the ‘red-pants-white-shirt’ flag was waived… I didn’t. I sat with my gut feeling. I pushed my intuition aside. I waited. The worst part? The gut-wrenching part? Sebastian had to wait. He was forced to wait through a difficult year in Kindergarten and through another rough summer. He waited through exasperated teachers. He waited through adults telling me I was lucky he was good looking. He waited through stares and judgment.  I hate that I didn’t leap on the signs my little boy was giving me. I hate that I let my head and all that well-meaning advice quiet my intuition.

My advice? Don’t listen to me. Listen to YOU. To your huge heart. To the truth that whispers to you. To the signs that scream at you. You are the very best advocate for your child. All the books and the doctors and the friends you have are amazing resources. But I truly believe the truest, most valuable guide is the feeling you get when you know something is right or wrong with or for your child. My sons teach me. Every day. If I am quiet long enough, the lessons they have for me become clear. If I am quiet, the astounding gift of my intuition tells me how to take care of these miraculous little souls.

To my five year old Sebastian? I have no words… I am so sorry.

A postscript, of sorts. I asked Sebastian to read this piece as it is as much his story as it is mine thus his approval was necessary. His response after reading it? “I love it. And you.”

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  • Reply Alicia Laman Cooke October 27, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    Beautifully written. You are right. That is all 🙂

  • Reply Birgit Putteman October 28, 2016 at 2:50 am

    I’m crying with you cause your article goes straight to the heart. My love dont be so hard on yourself you’ve done what you thought was right. It’s always easier at the end to see what you should have done…in sure you filled his life with love and that’s the most important! Thank you for sharing and reminding us that we know our children best and that nobody else should tell us otherwise.
    You rock!
    Xoxo, b

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