By Kissy Dugan
pril produced a moment I'd been waiting for a long time and now I hope to celebrate annually for years to come. Yes, my older son turned eight, but the moment wasn't about a birthday.
Let me back up a little.
Leo's birth in 2007 didn't go as planned. There were no yoga squats or deep breaths; no skin-to-skin baby bonding. Instead, a team of surgeons rushed me down a hallway as my body convulsed,. They eventually performed an emergency c-section and transported my premature child to neonatal intensive care.
If an event can be both traumatic and joyous, that's what Leo's birth was like. It was also a baptism by fire into motherhood. When my baby was whisked away, my maternal instincts kicked in for the first time. I suddenly become aware of how little control I had over the tiny human who used to be holed up in my uterus. A useful but painful lesson all parents learn, but usually not on their first day of parenthood.
While the day had a happy ending — Leo made it — what happened left scars, psychological ones for me and neurological ones for him.
His birthday each spring always brought a mixed bag of emotional tricks. On the one hand I'd be full of gratitude and love. On the other I'd swell with rage and sadness that he wasn't born perfectly healthy. There was always an underlying layer of fear that begged questions no parent wants to ponder.
Our doctor referred to him as a "classic neurologically delayed preemie boy," and each passing year presented a unique set of challenges, which I've written about before.
Each birthday weighed on me. I became obsessed with trying to "fix" my son. I stopped working when we learned he'd need daily occupational and speech therapy. I stayed up at night reading medical texts on neurology. I studied the latest alternative therapies and tried several. The fear was the fuel that helped me fight for my son's future.
As a result, his birthday milestones were always bittersweet. He didn't talk like other three year olds. He didn't socialize like other four year olds. He didn't grasp a pencil like other five year olds. He didn't kick a ball like other six year olds. He didn't read like other seven year olds.
But this year, on the verge of turning eight, something happened.
Call it the perfect therapeutic storm, with an assist from his school. The right vision therapy was coupled with an amazing occupational therapist. A masterful group of educators working on his learning disabilities got support from outstanding cognitive behavioral therapy. Behind all this was a loving and supportive family.
Suddenly, he's started to bloom. He's being invited to friends' homes. He's performing well scholastically. He's behaving appropriately. Most of all, he seems happy.
At a party last week, I watched as he played a soccer match with his friends. During the game, one boy hugged him and said, Grande Leo! Abbiamo giocato benissimo oggi. ("Good job Leo, we played a great game today.") I wanted to burst in to tears of joy. It wasn't that they played well. My son was now just like any other kid on the campo.
This week, we received written confirmation of what we already knew: Leo is doing wonderfully. For the first time he scored "normal" or "average" on a battery of developmental tests he's been taking since age three. Normal. Average. Halleluiah!
To me, of course, he is anything but normal. He is extraordinary.
The fearful birthday run-up has melted away, replaced by enormous pride. And joy. And gratitude. I am proud for what he's endured and overcome, joyful for what his future holds, and grateful that for the therapists, doctors and teachers that helped him.
That's the momentous moment I'm referring to, hoping to celebrate its anniversary forever.
When mommy goes to London, two sons stay behind. Can dad manage? Read on.
Dealing daily with a seven-year-old whose brain resists the normal is a huge maternal challenge.
When no one can get your chronically bad hair right, a lifetime of paranoia takes over.
All things concerning Christmas have the potential to unleash anxiety attacks.
If kids are sponges, that's all the more reason to consider the consequences of blowing your tops.