Do you remember the episode of “Mad About You” (how badly did I just age myself with that 1990s television reference?) when Paul and Jamie make Mabel cry it out for the first time in her crib? They sit on the floor outside her bedroom door tortured by her sobs.
I remember those difficult nights with both of my boys, and I can still feel in my bones the heartache I endured and strength it took to make them cry it out at various times during their babyhood, Terrible Twos, Threenager Threes, and What The F**k Fours.
Five, though, was my sweet spot. At least it was with Dylan. With him, five was the year that occupational therapy peeled back layers upon layers of anxiety, fear, and discomfort to reveal a charismatic, funny, and bright boy with whom I enjoyed (almost) every moment. Five was the year he blossomed. It was the year we knew everything would be okay.
Five with Riley has been the opposite. Five has unraveled him. It wants to swallow him whole. My sweet, silly boy who once skipped (literally) through life now moves (figuratively) with a slow, aching limp. He dislikes school. He’s withdrawn from his friends. He’s rigid. He’s anxious. He’s fragile. If he were a grown man, I’d send him to a therapist and suggest a pill or two. But he’s five, so it’s complicated.
I would sell my soul in exchange for his happiness, but since I don’t anyone who does that sort of thing, I have to put my faith in a more conventional strategy. Given my journey down a similar path with Dylan a few years back, I’m prepared, ready and eager (but heartbroken nonetheless) to get to the root of it all.
I’ve spent the last several weeks having Riley examined, evaluated, studied, observed, poked, and prodded by an arsenal of doctors and therapists to figure out what the heck is going on. Slowly, we’re checking some boxes and (thankfully) un-checking others, finding answers, and getting to work, but in the meantime, there’s a hella lot of malaise to endure.
At the pediatric eye specialist’s office, where we spent nearly three hours ruling out convergence insufficiency (a condition that has plagued his brother and a box I was relieved to un-check), the doctor asked Riley what he liked to watch on television. She wanted to distract him with her iPad while she administered eye drops.
“Do you like Thomas?” she asked.
As Dylan would say, What the?! That ship sailed train left the station a long time ago. (Thank God.)
I waited for Riley to say, “I watch Stampy Minecraft videos on YouTube.”
I was close.
“I watch Stampy Terraria videos on YouTube,” he said.
“Who’s Stampy?” the doctor asked.
I tried to explain that Stampylongnose is a super annoying British bloke who makes videos of himself talking about and playing video games and whose high-pitched voice will haunt me in my grave, but the sound of my own voice was drowned out by the epiphany that Riley said Terraria instead of Minecraft. It suddenly occurred to me that Minecraft was no longer the “it game” of his boyhood and the bane of my parental existence. Just as his interest in “Thomas the Train” in time faded away, his obsession with Minecraft, I realized, had begun to run its course, too (except for the new mods Mike just downloaded) (don’t ask me what a mod is because I don’t know).
In that moment, my mind flooded with memories of the some of the most daunting phases of Riley’s early childhood that had come and gone with no warning, instructions, or guidance.
Like when he breastfed every one and a half hours for weeks months.
Like when he woke up every morning at approximately 4:15:37am with a scream for two three years.
Like when he began every sentence with “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy…”
Like when buckling him in his car seat was like stuffing an elephant in a shoebox.
Like when I had to sing You Are My Sunshine and Moon Moon Moon three (hundred) times at bedtime.
Like when it took no less than forty-five minutes to get from the parking lot into the front doors of preschool due to sticks, rocks, lizards, butterflies, and birds.
Like when he had to poop in every public bathroom he passed.
Like when he wanted to use the Rainbow Loom all by himself. Often.
Like when the only place he would sleep was in my bed.
Like when he was stage scared. (He still is.)
Like now when he chews his shirts to shreds.
Like now when he tells me that school is hard. That homework is hard. That school is no fun.
Like now when he won’t get out of the car at morning carpool.
Like now when he prefers to be alone in his room more than anywhere else, including birthday parties with bounce houses and cake.
Like now when he has meltdowns over every. little. thing.
During the phase when Riley habitually woke up before dawn, I eventually habitually awoke a few minutes ahead of him with a jolt of anxiety and dread. It’s the same anguish Paul and Jamie felt when they sat helpless on the floor outside of Mabel’s bedroom door, and it’s the agony I feel right now as five tries to take Riley and the rest of us down. But I won’t let it because I’m holding on for dear life to the four words that have gotten me through eight years so far on this wild ride:
This too shall pass.
That, and: Expect the unexpected. (Three words, I know.)
And: Trust your instinct. (Three words again. Sorry.)
And: You are your child’s best advocate. (Six words. Crap.)
And: If something feels wrong, it probably is. (Seven words. I can’t stop.)
Last one: The only expert on your child is you. (Eight words. Okay, done.)