An interesting thing happens every time I fill out a medical history, behavioral questionnaire, or sensory checklist for my younger son, which coincidentally happens a lot these days. I think about my other son. I think about how I would answer the same questions for him. My firstborn son will always be patient zero.
It’s not that I don’t lose sleep over my younger son. Believe me, I do. I worry about him a lot. I wish I’d intervened sooner, I’m concerned about how his anxiety and sensory challenges are affecting him socially and academically, and I’m anxious about what future therapies he might need, but at the end of each day, I’m confident in our path and my ability to advocate on his behalf.
There’s an ease with which I’ve handled his diagnosis that I suppose comes naturally from having been through it once before. As soon as his symptoms erupted last fall, I knew what to do, where to go, who to talk to, and what to expect.
With my older son – with patient zero – it’s different. Ease and confidence aren’t words I would ever use to describe the experience I’ve had with him. Fear and doubt are much more accurate. His sensory history has been like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. As soon as we address one challenge, another one pops up, and each one must be faced with strong intuition and bold action, of which I have none. Not with him. With him, I never know if I’m doing the right thing.
I often have a recurring dream where I’m back in high school and I either have an exam for which I didn’t study or I don’t know how to find my classroom. I’m lost, unprepared, and bound to fall short. All my life – with school, jobs, dance, writing, family, and friends – I’ve been afraid to disappoint, and the stakes were never higher than when I became a mother, a journey that began long before I held a baby in my arms. I can’t think of more profound feeling of failure in my life than when my body proved incapable of making a baby. The eventual birth of my first son, after such a colossal loss and a difficult pregnancy to boot, was nothing short of miraculous. In exchange for the gift of his life, my offering in return was a promise to never fail him.
Motherhood is a daily practice that over time builds strength and self-assurance, but no matter how seasoned I’ve become, I’m always uncertain with him. He’s my patient zero and my ground zero. He’ll always have the honor of being the boy who made me a mommy and the burden of being the beneficiary of a pledge I’m terrified I can’t keep.
Today, he is the subject of paperwork I’m filling out in a waiting room, because there’s another mole to whack. As he disappears into a small room for a new evaluation, I’m keenly aware that I can’t catch my breath. It’s okay. I’m used to it now, because that’s the way it is with him.
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