“The Guilt Is Endless”
I accept what the experts do not — that every part of a child cannot be toned or pruned or redirected.
The guilt is endless.
At every moment there is something I am not doing.
He is having vision therapy, and I don’t make him do his exercises. I am supposed to put Vaseline into his nostrils each night so his nasal passages don’t dry out, and I don’t do it. I am supposed to buy resistance bands to build his arm muscles in case the clumsiness in his hands is actually a physical weakness caused by poor muscle tone. Maybe then he will be able to pour water from the pitcher without spilling it. What I do instead is not complain when the water spills. Every time I visit the mall I forget to buy the bands.
I forget. Morning and night there is always something that I forget. Did I remind him to brush his teeth after breakfast and use the special fluoride rinse the dentist recommended for him? Did I remind him to wear his glasses? Did I remember to tell him I love him? To tell him to have a good day before closing the door behind him and embracing with relief the few hours that stretch before me?
What I do instead of these constant exercises to strengthen his eyes, his hands, and his teeth, is that I learn to be silent. I strengthen my own capacity for patience, to get through the days without yelling.
Sometimes I sit with him discussing possibilities to help him make the healthier choice about what to eat, explaining the connection between nutrition and disease, and sometimes I cave into the pressure for foods that don’t need chewing – white flour and white sugar and white empty plates and endless trips to the dentist.
I spend two hours for each appointment at the private dentist, who specializes in children with anxiety, to fill one cavity, holding his hand like a labor coach and helping him breathe through the uncomfortable noises and sensations of the drill. I take him to specialist appointments all week long. It seems like every part of him needs fixing, strengthening, or toning, and every part of me needs to be patient, to surrender, and to let go—to let go even as I hold on. Yet sometimes my hands slip. When I let go, I simply let go.
He is already 12 years old. Will I be holding his hand at the dentist when he is 15? When he is 30? It seems to me that he misses the desire for independence more than muscle tone, the desire to grow past the age of constant caretaking. So sometimes things slide. I come home and burrow into a book. I cook chicken soup and avert my eyes when his bowl is untouched and let him have dessert anyway.
Anyway. In any case. This is our story. And sometimes I think, “At any other time but now” or “Anywhere but here.” But I don’t say these things. I remain silent.
How much of parenthood is silence? How much is an endless singsong of did you, have you, will you? How much is patience and how much is pushing and how much is surrendering to the force of nature that is my son?
He is a tree that will grow, despite anything that I will say or do, a tree that needs rain and not watering, a tree that needs ground — depth and space to burrow its roots into the earth — a tree that doesn’t need, and won’t respond to, pressure to flower.
Are these excuses or wisdom? Am I letting go or letting him be? Is it that I accept what the experts do not — that every part of a child cannot be toned or pruned or redirected? Part of parenting is simply living together, eating together, even though the foods he eats are always different than what the rest of the family is eating? Part of parenting is sliding over to make space for him on the couch when he wants to sit quietly beside me?
I am reading, but I am aware of the in and out of his breathing. I don’t know how much protein or candy he ate today, but I know that he likes being home, that he is comfortable at home, that for him home is a refuge from experts and expectations. I know that he gets up at 7 a.m. and he is tired, simply tired, like me, by 5 p.m.
If he comes home and gives me a kiss rather than slamming the door, it is enough. But is it enough?
The guilt is endless.