Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Somebody Else's Kid

This was originally posted on September 12, 2005. On a whim, I printed it out and gave it to Peter's teacher and shared it with a few other parents. I was surprised and deeply moved by the chord it seemed to strike with these people, and it made it more than worth the anguish of writing it. Not all endings are happy. I think that's OK sometimes.

It's always somebody else's kid, the one who looks almost right but isn't quite, who cries a little too much or doesn't make enough eye contact, who asks the same question one too many times, even for a three-year old. Somebody else is in the grocery store with a screaming child, protecting her body from his frantically kicking feet while she tries to hold him, all the while looking at other shoppers with a slightly desperate air as she prays that they'll just leave her alone, please don't stare, he'll be all right in a minute. Somebody else leaves the playground with her struggling toddler in a practiced full-body lock, praying that nobody will call Child Protective Services.

I am somebody else, and he is my son.

And when you see that mother, consider this -- yes, he's loud. Yes, he asked that eight times already. Yes, he cried at the top of his lungs over something incomprehensible from the produce section clear to the canned foods. And when you get in your car, it will be quiet. When she gets in her car, he's still there.

Don't get me wrong, I love my son. I love him with the fierce passion that only mothers and poets can understand, and even the poets I'm not so sure about. He has my blood, he lived in my body, and I love him in a way that I can't explain, even to myself. This isn't really so much about love, though. It's about frustration and exhaustion and foreign languages without translators.

Last week, Peter wandered around the house crying pitifully, "I want to go home! I want to go home!" We heard the words and gave the best answers we could. A typical conversation would sound like this:

"I want to go home!"
You are home, Buddy. This is home.
"I want to go home!"
This is our home! This is where we live. Yup, this is home.
"I want to go home!"
We live here! This is our house. It's a nice house!
"I want to go home!"
This is Peter's house. He lives here. Mama lives here. It's a good house!
"I want to go home!"

We finally realized that he meant he wanted to ride in the car. Whenever we left his grandmother's house, we would say, "Peter, it's time to go home!" and we'd get in the car and go for a ride. Same words. Completely different definition.

We're on Rounds Two and Three of this linguistic battle this week. He looks out the window in broad daylight when it's 55 degrees outside, and says, "It's hot outside! It's dark outside!" And the conversational loop begins again, the same inconclusiveness, the same frustration. What does he want when he says it's hot? Ice cream? The wading pool? Sidewalk chalk? His sandals? What does it mean that it's dark? He's tired? He wants to have his teeth brushed? He needs his blanket? Maybe the earth's rotation is making him dizzy?

I don't know. Nobody knows. I hope that some time this week we will have the translator's breakthrough that gives the key to yet another set of concepts. He speaks English, but it is not the English I speak, and there is no dictionary, no vocabulary list to work from.

In the meantime, I will go in his bedroom tomorrow and wake him up. I will dress him in long pants and a flannel shirt against the chill, and I will open the shades to let the golden light of morning spill into his room. He will say, "It's hot ouside! It's dark outside!"

It's dark in here too, little buddy. It's dark in here too.


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