Explaining Brooks by Dewi L. Faulkner

Mothers get to watch a lot of sunrises. One of nature's biggest practical jokes is that babies and toddlers most often have needs that are in no way conducive to nighttime sleep. My nine-month-old daughter is cutting two enormous front teeth, and so has taken to living a cranky-baby swing shift: bed at four a.m. up at nine or ten, with a nice big nap around two in the afternoon. My four-year-old son woke up this very morning at five (nighttime in my book), and without any physical malady or discomfort to fall back on, opened his eyes wide in the darkness, searching for my face, and said only, "I sad."
After the quick climb into what Brooks has dubbed "the mommydaddy bed," he quickly went back into a peaceful sleep, cuddled between and intertwined with his father and I. Gabrielle rolled around in her big pen on the floor (the only place she'll deign to sleep as of late) moaning and whining and cooing and periodically waking herself up by tugging at the strawberry-colored tuft of hair at the top of her head.
This scene just about sums up the difference between my two children. From day one Brooks has been soft, kind, gentle, and accommodating almost to a fault. Gabrielle has a pleasant disposition as well, but can also be demanding, screechy, cranky, and impatient. She also has a high sense of drama and a great love of the taste of carpet fibers. In other words, and as I was told by my son's speech and occupational therapist a couple months ago, Gabrielle is more "normal."
Normal. This is a word I have spent my life avoiding. I've found that what most of the world sees as "abnormal" I consider unique or beautiful, or funny, or art. I was raised to appreciate the shades of gray in the world, and I prefer to talk of differences rather than rights and wrongs. I'm not a fan of charts, averages, guidelines, or statistics. I don't care for things whose only purpose seems to be letting me know I'm not quite measuring up. I'm a banner carrying bleeding heart liberal. As of late, this seems to be something many folks are afraid to admit. Not me! I've made the mistake of straying from the left before, and I have to say, it wasn't pretty. My parents were embroidered-jean-wearing, folk-song-singing, seeds-and-sprout-eating hippies. As a child nothing was pounded into my head harder than the notion that one must thoughtfully consider all the angles and really question the rules before she decides something is truly "wrong" with a person.
But I've come to find out this isn't exactly the dogma of mainstream medicine. When I became pregnant with my son, I took on the characteristics of the typical nervous mother-to-be. Instead of trusting my upbringing, the strong matriarchal circle I was fortunate enough to be connected to, and my own blossoming maternal instincts, I decided I was going to make every effort to do things the "right" way. I went a little crazy. I read all the books, had all the tests, hungrily lapped up every morsel of advice handed down by the crew of obstetricians overseeing my pregnancy (there were seven at my obstetrics practice, I rarely saw the same one twice). With each procedure, with each seemingly innocuous medical "recommendation" I ventured further and further away from my strong leftist upbringing. Perhaps there is some hormone combination intrinsic to the state of pregnancy that makes women feel they have to reinvent the wheel - if my mom did X, well then by God I'm going to do Z! In my need to create a pregnancy and birthing experience separate from Mom's, I fell square into the "better safe than sorry" trap that constitutes much of modern medicine today.
Brilliant and curmudgeonly comic George Carlin once said, "The reason the mainstream is referred to as a stream is because of its shallowness." I have watched this unfold time and time again first in my dealings with obstetricians and hospital staff and currently in my dealings with pediatricians and pediatric specialists. I will probably never be able to smile at the irony that when I first became pregnant I turned to modern Western medicine because I figured it would be the safer choice for my baby.
In the hospital delivering my son I was given too much medication through my epidural, and wasn't able to feel anything from the waist down until about three and a half hours after I delivered my son. Yes, I pushed him out completely numb, with the doctor telling me to just do what I would do if I could feel the lower half of my body. When I asked if the extra epidural could have caused any damage to my baby, the OB noddingly reassured me that there was no possibility that my child suffered any harm during the delivery. "You have a healthy, beautiful new son! Enjoy this time instead of worrying!" Despite the less than perfect labor, I still trusted this doctor at this point, still figured his opinions were the safest, so I did what I was told. At the age of eighteen months my son was accidentally given two polio vaccines, one live virus and one synthetic. When the "nurse" came in and administered two injections, I had no idea that wasn't what was supposed to happen. At the next appointment the pediatrician argued at length with me that there was no way my son was given two vaccinations. When he saw the flush of anger creep up my face and my fists clench, I think he finally started to recognize that it was his staff that had made a mistake, not me. He was obviously not used to, or at least not used to having to admit to, being wrong. His narrow, pale face started to glisten under the office's halogen lights. A few pathetic assurances were bumbled out and then he tried to comfort me by letting me know that the technician who had injected my son was a temporary worker and would never work there again. In the reliable, levelheaded, safe world of mainstream medicine temps are given the responsibility of vaccinating infants.
At the age of almost four years old I am told that my son has -well, that my son has something. None of the circus of medical specialists who have examined and analyzed and tested him seems to know what to call it. The pediatrician simply says he is "behind" in speech, cognition, and physical coordination. The speech therapist the pediatrician hastily referred us to says it is either something called "sensory integration disorder" - or maybe it's just his hearing, but she doesn't think it's that, not enough to test his hearing anyway, but then again she can't be too sure. There are lots of names and terms and charts and things that are "supposed" to be happening in my son's development that are not, but no matter how much I beg for it, there is precious little explanation.
And through it all my mind regularly wanders back to the extra epidural and the double polio vaccine. I bring it up occasionally; ask if we can be sure that neither of these procedures affected my son's development. I'm always told with a serious nod that I have nothing to worry about, and that there is no need to look back and bother with all that anyway, because my son is going to be just fine. After a particularly heated discussion with my husband, the pediatrician even had the head of the CDC call and reassure us that if my son were going to have any adverse reaction to the vaccine it would have occurred within twenty-four hours. "If anything you should be happy!" she exclaimed. "He can pass on antibodies to others! He's super-immune!"
My husband was crimson livid about the vaccination mistake. And he agrees with me that the notion of a chicken pox vaccine, let alone a heavily commercialized, advertised chicken pox vaccine is absolutely ludicrous. But he thinks I overreact sometimes, thinks I over-worry; draw lines and conclusions that aren't necessarily there. He doesn't yet see the mainstream as a stagnant, shallow pool of water to be regarded with suspicion and sometimes even avoided. Maybe he never will. Maybe I am too radical. Battling these issues out with my husband has been one of the murkier aspects of childrearing for us so far.
And through it all there is Brooks. Precious, joyful Brooks. Brooks who I dutifully take to a speech and occupational therapist once a month because there is something "wrong" with him. Brooks who I want to do the right thing for. Brooks who I am, to this very moment, terrified of letting down. That's the only reason I don't tell all these people who want to cram my son into some arbitrarily-decided, homogenized little box to kiss my ass. Because what if this really will not straighten itself out on its own? What if he really needs this intervention, and I deny him that? Herein lies the true evil, horror-show of mothering: the endless stream of questions, second-guesses, and questioning of the questions that comes with wanting to do what's best for your child.
If I sound frazzled and unsure of myself, it's because I am. If it sounds like I argue vehemently for homeopathy and liberalism, but live well within the bounds of the mainstream, it's because I do. This is going on every day for me: another doctor, another opinion - another alternative, and despite my instincts I still have no idea what to do.
At Brooks' last speech appointment the therapist -- young, bouncy, eager, with the loudest, most nasally obnoxious voice I have ever heard, corrected Brooks when he said "woo-woo" train instead of "choo-choo" train. I'm sorry, but don't both of these phrases fall directly into the category of nonsense gibberish baby talk? When was the last time you heard of a forty year old business man rush out of a meeting calling over his shoulder, "Sorry! Gotta run! Can't miss the choo-choo!" But choo-choo is the one we all say, the silly baby-talk phrase we've all come to agree on as "correct." It's in children's books, toy commercials -- it's simply how you refer to a train if you're talking to a three year old. And I suppose this is all well and good except for one tiny problem: I don't want my son admonished because he is using the wrong made-up words. What will they get him on next? The rules of gibberish grammar?
And this is where I clash a lot with the therapists. I see a lot of what is different and "wrong" with my son as unique and wonderful - sometimes even a little bit magical. You can imagine the looks I get when I try to explain this, so I've pretty much stopped.
When Gabrielle was born I was fully, wholly prepared for that natural "normal" sibling jealousy, that subconscious hatred thing that happens when a new baby comes into the home. I was ready to be extra-forgiving and understanding of any anger or confusion Brooks had toward his new sister. I vowed to make sure they were never left alone in a room together, not even for a second, lest Brooks find himself overcome with emotions he didn't know how to handle. Everyone warned me of this phenomenon, and I was fully prepared. But the thing is, it never happened, not once, not even a little bit. And I have never seen anything like the torrent of unadulterated love that flows out of that little boy whenever he is near his sister. On more than one morning my husband and I have peeked into the kids' room to see Brooks lying in Gabrielle's crib, patting her head and singing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" to soothe her back to sleep. How I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high, like a dinosaur in the sky.
When Brooks has an upset stomach he calls it a "bread tummy." He came up with this phrase all on his own, and if you think about it, doesn't it perfectly describe the feeling of nausea? Sort of a bloated, doughy, spongy kind of ailment. I love this phrase, and the whole family uses it now. According to the therapist, we're not supposed to encourage Brooks' "silly talk." But I think this one works; I think all of America should adopt it.
When he can't get his arms through the sleeves of his shirt he says, "My hands can't see!" When he's locked out of the bathroom he shouts, "I can't get over the door!" He refers to any living room as the part of the house that is "home." For example one might hear him shout from the bathroom: "All done bath! I want go home!"
I know I run the risk of sounding like a loving, but incredibly desperate parent. A mother who, in an attempt to see her child in the brightest light possible, is skewing the facts and realities of what is going on in the mind and body of her son. I know Brooks is different. I've watched him struggle with simple directions, answer yes or no to either/or questions, listened to him trail off the at the end of a babbled sentence because he has forgotten what he was trying to communicate. I know the reasons for all the concerns. I've been with him just about every single day, all day, since he was born.
But despite this, I can't help feeling that the further I remove Brooks from therapies, measurements, tests, and percentages the better off he'll be later in life. Brooks has a certain kind of inexplicable grace and light I don't feel should be messed with. Yes, I'm his mother. Yes, I love him with abandon. But I love both my children, and while Gabrielle is amazing in her own right, there is something in Brooks I have never before seen in anyone else, not even my own precious baby daughter. Brooks has a shine and a peace I don't want damaged with "better safe than sorry" intervention. Above all else, I feel my job is to preserve that glow. And if I can't convey this to Westernized pediatric therapy, well, we'll have to part ways.
Right or wrong, I know I won't ever be convinced that there is something deficient or lacking in my son. Can't they see that every morning, when I look into his face, I see the sun rise?