I’m taking a break between training sessions at the ARC. You would be surprised how many people can’t communicate simple, straightforward compassion. Apparently it’s not just Bushie. I think the kindess and consideration we share in this blog community is not necessssarily the common denominator; we’re especially fortunate! So, I came home to check mail, etc. Guess what? I won! No, Hoss, not Publisher’s Clearinghouse. It’s not that good and there’s nothing in it for you.
Wouldn’t you know that the Blogging 4 Books entry that I was reluctant to post here won first place? So, here’s my note to Melanie Hauser, author of Confessions of Super Mom, to Joshilyn, author of Gods in Alabama for hosting the contest and to Mir , for her work in the first read through:
Thank you so very much! This one was tough to write, didn’t flow easily and I put it off until the very last evening. I was a bit shy about posting it at my own website (thank you, Anne Fitten , for being the hostess with the mostess!) because my son, despite his profession as a young performer, prefers to stay out of the limelight. But what I said is true- to me he is a hero of sorts. So- thank you, Melanie, for your time and kind words. This will be a second book signed by an author I admire! Thanks, Joshilyn and thanks to you, also, Mir. (You are pretty)
And congratulations to every one- I read every entry, checking out the competition, and I have no idea how Mir and Melanie were able to choose from such great, fun writing.
After discussing it with my hero, I’m going to go ahead and post my entry here but you should definitely go read the others at Joshilyn’s place and think about entering your own next time around. I, for one, would like to read it.
(I was lost in canning tomatoes for a few days before I came by AF’s
place to discover that Blogging for Books was back. Coincidentally, I
found it right at a moment when I was thinking, “he is truly heroic in
his accomplishments and in his life.” Here is my entry for this months
B4B with the topic “Super Heroes.” )
A HERO OF SORTS
I do have
another child besides the mermaid daughter. He was a darling angel of a
first born with a halo of curls and the worst colic since time began.
This child has provided the comic relief around here from the get go. I
have written before about the bright light this one casts- through his
music, his art, his humor and his kind heart.
But, for Daniel, a
large part of his life has been a dark and fearful place and only in
the past six months have I been able to let myself really think about
his experience of the world. For any number of reasons, I haven’t
previously been able to fully acknowledge Daniel’s experience of life.
and foremost, I was brought up, for better and worse, by parents who
didn’t consider emotional pain legitimate pain. Getting your leg run
over by a tractor was legitimate pain. You had it set, it healed and
life moved on. Some sort of compensation? I became a child therapist
adept at intuiting the inner struggles of patients in my office, but I
made a conscious decision to not fall into the quagmire of practicing
at home on my children. And guilt. Surely guilt over a failed marriage
made it hard for me to look directly at my children’s pain.
despite divorce, life was good. These children were well loved. They
were cared for, attended to, educated, entertained and afforded
wonderful experiences. They were happy and full of life and energy and
Daniel had very severe colic that plagued him
night and day for 8 months. We held him, rocked him, drove him around
in the car and cranked him up in the swing. I nursed him, sang to him,
soothed him, rubbed his tummy and paced grooves into the carpet. And
then he stood up, walked, laughed and that was the end of that. Life
At 7 years, on a routine physical, the pediatrician
detected a congenital heart defect. For three anxious months we waited
to see the pediatric cardiologist. He diagnosed and laid out a range of
prognoses and treatments. We left that appointment with hope and
answers and reassurance that Daniel was doing well and the knowledge
that if and when he didn’t there was a fix. We felt so lucky.
his early school years it became clear that Dan had some sort of
learning disability but, I confess, I didn’t pay very close attention
to it. I didn’t demand an evaluation or an IEP or special services
because whatever it was that caused him to stumble over words and
numbers didn’t impede his progress. He was a top student and all of his
teachers were more than satisfied, although a couple of the better ones
observed what I was seeing: while he saw and learned little, he heard
and learned everything.
When instrumental music was a mandatory
class in fifth grade he snagged himself one of the few saxophones and
that opened the door to his Heaven. And not surprisingly, for a child
who took in the world through his ears, he found his gift.
it ever occur to me that this son of mine, born with an immature
digestive system, a congenital heart defect and a peculiar learning
disability, had a problem? I am ashamed to say that it did not. Did I
see these vulnerabilities as small planets in the same solar system?
No. He was just my shining star.
One late night, when I was done
in from a day of work and single mothering, I was reading myself to
sleep while Dan continued to practice in his room. After I found myself
re-reading the same sentence over and over, I had a slowly dawning
awareness of something amiss, something disturbed. Over the next half
hour I lay in bed and tried to put my finger on what it was that was
out of order. I came to realize that there was a peculiar
repetitiveness, a disjointed starting and stopping to Dan’s scales. I
went to his room, opened the door and there he stood, eyes closed,
hairline damp with sweat, tears running down his cheeks, playing and
replaying and replaying the same dozen notes, a hundred times over.
fourteen Dan was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. No
amount of reading, looking at my own professional experience, talking
with colleagues or watching Daniel allowed me to easily accept what I
knew, what I know. This OCD, this disease, was another piece of
Daniel’s solar system. This was not the result of a divorce or
misguided parenting or weak character. This was a biochemical nightmare
for my child.
Once I accepted this fact I couldn’t get Dan to
believe it. He believed it was his weak character, that it was because
he moved between two households and that it was something he should be
able to fix by himself. Although Dan was coerced into therapy by both
his misery and his mother, he was reluctant to take medication. When
the OCD symptoms became too overwhelming he tried, several times, but
each trial left him feeling tired and more significantly, fogged in his
creativity and he would discontinue the medication.
Daniel was being systemically plagued by the demands of OCD, he was
becoming a stunningly accomplished young saxophonist. At 16, Daniel
toured throughout Europe and played at the North Sea Jazz Festival. At
17, he was routinely playing four and five concerts and gigs each week,
competing in music festivals and recording jazz.
At 18, Dan was
the first student ever admitted to U of M’s School of Music who could
not read music. His repertoire of jazz classics, including 20 minute
long selections by Coltrane, Monk and Parker, far exceeded the
accomplishments of most and he knew them because he heard them. (Today
Dan reads, writes and composes music with ease and teaches these skills
to other young musicians.)
Daniel has suffered his obsessive
disorder quietly. Because he has also been such a joyful and
good-hearted person and because he didn’t want to be pressured into
taking medication he has lived this disease largely on his own.
past year Dan has begun to outgrow his OCD to a certain degree- a not
uncommon pattern for youngsters who first get it at adolescence. He has
discovered that regulating his schedule, his sleep, his diet and
exercising helps and so he’s begun running in earnest. Typically, he
didn’t really talk about the fact that he was running up to 17 miles a
day and swimming and biking as well. It was only the other day when he
was looking at his hole riddled shoes and thinking out loud that he
might need some new ones before October that we discovered he is
running the Detroit Free Press Marathon, his first.
always been funny and kind and lovable and moody and emotional. He has
always been modest and humble. Although he will talk openly and
articulately about how he feels he has always conquered his own fears
and fought his own demons. And because he takes these challenges on as
his own and because I want so much for his world to be right it is too
easy for me to not fully appreciate the heroic efforts he makes on a
day to day basis.
Dan is applying for graduate school here at
the University. The application includes those generic essay questions,
including the one “Describe a setback, how you have handled it and what
you have learned from your experience” in 500 words or less. Last week
Dan asked me to read his essay and see if I thought it was okay. In
describing his “setback” he writes: “I knew what it was like to not be
able to decide which way to walk around a light post or what it was
like to carry a Hacky Sack and an empty Sprite can around for ten days
straight, to sleep with them, to make sure something terrible didn’t
happen to someone I loved.” And later he writes, “about depression and
OCD: I can tell you that if those are two side effects of being a
sensitive, intuitive, wildly imaginative artist, I wouldn’t trade them
off for the entire world.”
I don’t pretend to understand the
confluence of genes, biology and experience that combine to make my
son. I do know that he is not alone and that many young adults struggle
with depression and obsessive compulsive disorders with greater or
lesser success. The ones who work to move ahead in the face of their
struggle are heroic.
Because this child is my child, he is my hero.