I will never forget when I laid eyes on my baby boy for the first time. My first thought wasn't anywhere near what I think it was supposed to be. I think it was supposed to be, oh my baby, he's perfect, I love him. His eyes! His nose! He's perfect! Then I think I was supposed to count his toes or something. But for me I was instantly struck by his hair. For nine months I tried to picture my baby and what he would look like. I hoped that he would inherit his daddy's full lips, as mine are a bit thin and boring. I was secretly hoping he would have my eye color and nose. My nose is a family nose. It's the nose of my grandpa and I wanted him to have it. I dreamt of chubby babies, big babies, little babies, straight hair, curly hair, fair skin or peachy complected babies. Freckles, dimples, eye shapes and toe length (poor thing got my long gangley carny toes). I never once pictured a baby with blonde hair. Not once. I just assumed it would be brown. So when they lifted him up to me, I zeroed in on his hair. It was the most beautiful blonde I'd ever seen. And I stared at it for hours. I knew instantly that I'd be letting it grow. Convention be damned! His hair was friggin GLORIOUS. It needed to grow and grow and grow. People needed to see it. I also know that at some point it will probably darken a bit and that makes me sad. So we let it grow. Much to the dismay of some people who I will not name. You know who you are. I can not tell you all the times I heard, "When are you gonna cut his hair? He looks like a girl!" or they'd lean down to Mr. Pants and say in a cutesy voice, "Tell mommy and daddy to cut.your.hair. Tell them you don't want to look like a girl!" and they giggle like they are the funniest thing on the planet and the first person to ever indirectly say rude things to me through my child. They are not and I'm sure they aren't the last either. I think it's pretty amazing that any one would feel it was their place to insult a baby's hair. That's just something I have never thought to do to a baby. Insult their hair. And it's a good thing I practice patience and restraint because oooooh, I have wanted to smack some people. But I don't. Because that is assault and I am a peaceful Unitarian Universalist tree hugging hippie. So instead I offer this....
The Pants family needs a captain and after no one else applied for the job, I threw my hat in the ring. I've been hired! So after nine years on the job, it's time to say goodbye. I am so excited to be home full time with my babies. I am also very sad to leave this place. Packing up my office, I keep finding the pieces parts of my life. When I began my career I was at the beginning of a divorce. All at once I had a new career and a new life path. From my first day to my last, my life has changed dramatically. The time I spent there took me from a place of uncertainty and fear through to a life full of possability and love. With some muck in in the middle of coarse. While there, I learned how to be on my own. How to care for myself. I have learned that I am stronger than I had once believed.
My job at the domestic violence shelter has been to help families who have fled a violent home, gather tools and support to stand on their own. Violence free. To support mamas in their role as parent and to help the kids work through their journey in a physically and emotionally safe environment. I gave advice and hands on help with discipline problems and ideas for everyday challanges that kids throw our way. I attended custody hearings. I was there when one mama gave up, feeling like she couldn't turn her life around and gave her children over to the state believing they were better for it. That was heartbreaking. I've held hands and carried babies at the emergency rooms and at police departments. I've taken families to the airport to flee the danger in their life. I've hosted countless birthday parties, played Santa and the Easter Bunny and baked a bajillion cookies. I've encouraged mamas as they left our shelter on their own that they COULD do it and they were not alone. That they were strong enough and that they had what it takes to live the life they dreamed of. I have spoken to thousands of middle and high school students about staying safe inside relationships. I have listened to the stories of children and helped them to work through fear and sadness over the violence they had witnessed and suffered. I helped them create safety plans and we made art to express their feelings. Some of that art proudly displayed on the walls of my office. I have met so many amazing women. Women that made me laugh, cry, get pissed off and jittery with excitement. Strong women. I have hugged hundreds of children and even cried with a few (sometimes it happens, even when you know you aren't supposed to). I have also hugged and cried with a few moms. In my time here I have seen seven babies be born and three kids become adults.
I have heard some of the best one liners out there too. After a mama told me that she left the abuse in her home because he'd started in on the kids, she said to me "You'd rather jack off a tiger with a fist full of tacks, then mess with one of my babies". I totally believed her too. Another time, while standing on the back deck, there was an awkward silence one afternoon and a client piped up, "Well, that's about as awkward as a three legged prostitute in front of a pants factory on a Sunday". Brilliant. But my favorite of all time came at the end of a crisis. After an incident that had the potential to blow up, once again I found myself outside with a client. After about five minutes of nervous silence as she chiefed her smoke, she turned to me and said, "Colleen, someone once said, 'I give to the needy and not the greedy'". I paused. Looked her straight in the eye and said "You mean the poet En Vogue?" and we both laughed. Tension broken. Crisis averted.
During my first week on the job in 2002, I was reintroduced to Bo. He had recently retired from the Postal Service and was looking to give back. He had survived lung cancer but it cost him his labor heavy job. We became great friends. I watched as he changed lives and hugged kids for years. Showing kids that most men are not scary, but instead they are kind and loving. Bo's cancer returned in early 2009 and he died in the spring of 2010. Breaking all of our hearts. My heart ached and I sought comfort within the walls of the shelter. I remembered him best there. Laughing there. He is still there. It's hard to leave a place when it holds within it's walls the best memories you have of your friend.
In my second year I watched as my aunt battled cancer. Needing round the clock care, twice a week I stayed overnight with her when she came home and knew the end was near. I would stay up all night talking with her about her life and caring for her then head to work in the morning. Tired. Sad. The kids at the shelter waiting to play. I happily obliged, grateful that I worked in a place that allowed life to happen and not in a cubical somewhere making phone calls.
When I faced cervical cancer in 2006 while living on my own, I learned that it was ok to open up my heart and live. Something that I encouraged and supported women in doing for years but had yet to do myself. I remember taking solace in my job. Letting myself forget while I was there about all of the scary possabilities and focus instead on the shelter families and what they were struggling with. Something that I could affect. Something I could try and change. It was such a gift.
Year four I spent downtime at work excitedly talking to my coworkers about this new dude I had met. They coached me on how to be safe when meeting a strange man from the internet and they all anxiously awaited the details of our first date. Giggling and laughing and blushing became the day to day around the shelter as I fell deeply in love with my man. I remember Bo, sitting in my office and grilling me on how this new guy was treating me. Just like a dad would. He wanted to know how he treated his mother. Bo believed a lot could be discovered about a man by watching him interact with his mom. Cleaning up my computer documents, I found the wedding vows I made to that guy. I typed and retyped and deleted and typed again over many lunch breaks. Working on them over my Subway sub until they were just perfect. It felt strange to delete that file but I guess the next advocate doesn't need it.
Then in the spring on 2009 I became a mother. Suddenly my job was harder in a way I hadn't expected. My heart was tugged easier. Even wounded at times. The experiences of the families I served were suddenly more difficult to hear. It was harder to seperate. Harder to remain within my work boundary. I now had insight into the feelings these mamas were having. It made me better at hearing their stories and better at exploring options with them. But there was a price. And I was beginning to burn out. I have always believed that social workers should bow out when we become less effective. For me, it's the right thing to do. The people we serve deserve our best and if we can not give them that, then it's time to pack it in. And here I was, burning out. There was this other job that I desperately wanted. I wanted to be at home with my baby. And now I need to be home with both of my babies. So I'm saying goodbye.
But I need to say thank you to my job. Thank you for introducing me to myself. Thank you for bringing me friends that I will have for a lifetime. Thank you for being a safe haven to women and children seeking freedom from domestic violence. Thank you for offering a hand and a shoulder to them. The walls are filled with their stories and their hopes. The work being done there is changing lives and restoring souls. It's making the world a better place. I am so lucky and honored to have been a part of that. When I was in high school, the local newspaper did a write up on one student a month. In that article I was asked what I wanted to do with my life. My reply was that I wanted to help children who had been abused or to see my name in lights on Broadway. I am pretty damn lucky to have fullfilled the first part of my dream. Maybe when the kids get bigger I can work on that second part.
Every wonder what sensory seeking kids do on the playground when everyone else is playing an organized tee ball game? Mr. Pants just hangs out and adds to his stash of vestibular input.
If you know me in real life, then you know I have a two irrational fears. One that must not be named and bees. Way back when I was kid I remember watching my Aunt lose her mind when a bee came around. And I mean, seriously LOSE it. She would run and scream and cry. Everytime. I remember thinking to myself, "stop swatting at it, you're making it mad and it will sting ME". So now I do it a little different than her. I dash quickly. I don't scream, or cry but I MOVE. You might be chatting with me one second and the next, see my back halfway through the door to inside. I'm quick. I don't not like bees, they make my heart pound fast. Very very fast. I have never been so confronted with my fear as I was last week.
When Mr. Pants was born I remember saying to Daddy that I needed to work on these fears. I had no intention of passing them on to my child. I would need to overcome them and be a grown up. For one of the fears I worked hard. I stopped having them killed and let them be. I haven't overcome it completely because I still can't type the word but I have made strides. BIG strides in my path to overcoming fear number one. Fear number two (bees), on the otherhand, I wasn't working on. I had no reason to. I hadn't been confronted by them recently and been enjoying a summer fairly bee-less. Until last week.
I was making a late dinner for ALL of my inlaws when I heard something hit the sliding glass door (I know now that it was daddy's fist as he dropped Mr. Pants at the door and ran back to what I know refer to as the Hell Hole to bring other kids to safety). I saw that Mr. Pants was screaming, crying. So I opened the door, scooped him up and brought him into the kitchen. When I set him down there was a moment. He was scratching and clawing at me to keep holding him, his face was actual terror but I had to set him down to try and figure out what was wrong. I knew something was bad and I felt a warmth come over me and a calm that I have never felt before. I needed to find the problem fast. Keep control. Had he fallen down? Broken bone? Was there a bad cut I needed to find? Then, The Moment. My eyes focused and I saw them. Bees. Covering his shirt, shorts and legs. That's when life went to slow motion. The next thing I remember is running my boy who was now naked to the bathroom and shutting the door. See, the bees had followed him in and they were all over the house. I was told later that I yelled for someone to protect Miss. Plum and that I had ripped Mr. Pants' clothes off in a matter of about 5 seconds. I don't remember that. I also don't remember how I got my phone. What I remember is standing in the tub with my naked and screaming baby, running cold water to soothe the ever swelling stings that were covering his body and in a moment of sheer panic, forcing him to take a dose of Benedryl. I have no idea how I got the Benedryl. Then I called my brother. Uncle Pants is a medic and I had no idea what to do next. He told me to "call the squad. Hang up and call 911". So I did.
I opened the bathroom door to inform the family that EMS was coming for Pants when I saw it. The circus. Again with the slow motion. Uncles and grandpas killing bees left and right between the hard covers of my son's board books. Aunts and grandmas covering nieces and nephews in blakets and soothing their fears and Daddy Pants was white as a ghost and falling to the couch. Sweat pouring from his face. His eyes, afraid. After killing as many bees as he could, he had just given himself his Epi Pen. Daddy Pants is allergic to bees. This is where I almost completely blank out. All I remember is the feeling. And the same thought running through my head that I won't even type out here. " What are you feeling, lay down, just keep talking to me". The feeling was that of being punched in the throat by an MMA fighter. Helpless.
When the squad came, so did my brother. His words were calm and sure. "They are both going to be ok. Take a deep breath honey. They will be fine. Breathe". Yeah, I think he probably took one look at me, read the complete crazy all over my face and knew I needed a calm and assured pull back from the edge. Cause I was teetering. Bad. But it worked. Seeing him there, relaxed and not seeing an ounce of panic on his face, brought me back. Made it possible for me to drive behind the ambulance carrying my husband and baby without losing it. And I knew he wouldn't leave my baby girl. He'd stay with her and care for her.
By the time we got to the ER, Mr. Pants was PISSED. He successfully (or so he thought) fought off the blood pressure cuff that the medic kept trying to use on him. But the ER wasn't going to be as easy. But by the time the doctor got to him it seemed clear that he was going to be just fine. How did I know? Well, he suantered, and I DO me sauntered, with his chin up and belly out in quiet observation, naked throughout the hospital room and investigated the space inch by inch before deciding that he would choose the cabinet under the sink to open and close and open and close and open and close. Classic Mr. Pants. We were sent home after awhile with a toddler dosed up on steroids. Which is essentially like giving a toddler cocaine. Seriously.
By the next morning, he was his normal self. Like nothing happened. The only evidence being the 22 stings on his legs, bottom an belly that itched. By day three, the stings were just little scabbed pin pricks. And today, a week later they are so faded, you have to really look for them. Daddy says this is because Mr. Pants is part vampire and has magic baby blood in him. I like that
idea. That he is self healing. That he is indestructable. That he can't be brought down by a swarm of bees. Me, I spent a good amount of day two hiding in my room to unleash the tears that just kept coming and the panic that came a day late. Just yesterday something pricked him on our floor and he panicked. It's gonna take some time for his physical memory to catch up to his actual memory. I will never forget it. But I hope he will.
And that's the crazy effed up story about how bees attacked my family. And how it seems my allergic husband is a superhero. Carrying kids to safety while being stung himself. And how I came to be not afraid of bees. For me. Now I'm just afraid of bees for them. And letting Mr. Pants play outside. Or at the playground. Or in the woods. Crap. I'm gonna have to work hard on that. I'll start after the first frost.
I could feel my jugular pulsing as my blood pumped faster. My heart picking up the pace everytime he said the word. A wave of fear hit me right between the eyes as he said it over and over again. "Autistic kids may do this", "Autistic kids may do that", "Autistic kids may have....". With every part of me, I fought back the tsunami of tears that was pushing hard against my determination not to lose it. What saved me was Mr. Pants. He was friggin BOOORED with all of this and began turning on and off the lights. So there I sat in a windowless room talking to the doctor about my boy while the room went from flourescent to pitch black for fifteen minutes. This was our visit to the developmental pediatrician.
I keep drawing lines in the sand. When one gets mussed, I draw another one. See, I am a firm believer that developmental milestones are different for each kid. That the range of "normal" is huge. Mr. Pants didn't really do all the rolling over that he was supposed to, he rolled over once and then must have realized that it was pretty boring to leave it at that so he just went straight to sitting up. I am not big on comparing the achievements of kiddos either. My niece is 6 weeks older than him and while she is talking up a storm, Mr. Pants is too. Just not in our native language. So because of this I didn't worry at all when by 18 months he wasn't repeating us, or imitating us or showing me where his nose was or saying "mama". Hell he wasn't even looking when you called him. Eye contact wasn't his forte. Especially if he was locked into doing something. I'm pretty sure a tree could have fallen in the living room and it still wouldn't get his attention.There were a few days when I started to think that maybe he couldn't hear. But one night while laying in bed, trying to get him to stop pushing his foot into my face and settle enough to to go to sleep, he finally began to drift off. Until a dog started to bark outside...."dog? dog? dog?". Yep, he could hear. Damn dog. So as the months went by and he still wasn't talking, I admit that I started to worry. And I started calling out for some help.
We've been on this journey for a few months now. Mr. Pants has been evaluated and started an early intervention pre-school. He's been screened and tested by therapists and doctors and specialists. I've gone in and out of fear, sadness, anger, stress and doubt and I've come to an understanding. My boy is awesome. See, I already knew this. But I had started to forget. I let myself be consumed with the what ifs and the oh my gods and stopped thinking about how he lights up my life like no one ever has. In a few weeks we will begin the testing to see if the little dude falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. And he might, but he also might not. So I'm done being sad about it. No matter what the outcome. Because he's already got the skills that I want him to have. As I watched him yesterday entertaining his baby sister by jumping naked through the room and smiling when she smiled, I KNEW he'd be ok. For me the scariest part of Autism is that some kids can not be social or comfortable with emotion. Mr. Pants gives emotion like he's rehearsing for his Tony Award. He is loving and happy. He is funny and yeah, a little bizzare, but so are his parents. There have been so many things that he has already figured out. He used to cry when his bare feet touched the grass. Two days ago he rolled naked on the grass in the back yard squealing and laughing. He REALLY did.not.like.sand. Last week, he was rubbing sand in his hair at the playground to the great dismay of Daddy Pants. He used to cry when he danced, as though it scared him. Well, dancing is pretty big in this house and he now dances like a pro. He used to be terrified of swinging. It was one of the big no no's. The baby swing gathered dust in the basement. But now, he's wild about them. He throws his head back and laughs and laughs. I could go on and on. He's figured all of these things out. And he will keep figuring it all out. I no longer have doubt about that.
So now I have a new line in the sand. That it's going to be ok. No matter what the tests show. It's just going to be ok. Pants is still the same whacky hysterical kid he was before we started all of this. We just might have the opportunity to understand him a little better. And no matter what happens, If the line gets mussed, I'm gonna re-draw it. The same one. everytime. He's going to be ok. And seriously, so far it looks like chill, level headed Ms. Plum is the odd ball in this family.