Erik Quinn: The Heart of a Family: Playground

Monday, January 22, 2007

Playground



Erik and I were on our own today. Since he refused to nap and it is quite impossible for me to work with a toddler downstairs trashing the house like Tommy Lee on tour, I packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a bottle of bubbles, and my camera, and we headed for the park. He laughed as I sprung him from his crib and put his coat on.

Our park is new and usually crowded, but the temperature in the 40s froze a lot of people out. It was wonderful outside, though, with bright sunshine that actually made it comfortable. We made our way to the section of the park designated for the younger set.

Erik made some genuine progress today. With my coaxing, he got down on his hands and knees to crawl up the steps on the playground equipment. We practiced a few times walking up and down, but I found it difficult to force him to practice things resembling therapy at a playground, of all places. For the very first time, he seemed to almost like the slide at the park, although I had to help him figure out how to sit down and prepare for takeoff. He pushed off on his own, and I was proud. We tried the bigger swings (his leg braces won't fit through the holes in the baby swings anymore, and he's too big now, anyway) shaped like easy chairs with plenty of straps to withstand maximum pediatric G-forces, and he liked them. I repeatedly told children they could go around us as we clogged up various equipment practicing playing on it. I hugged him tight when a car alarm blared, and I whispered in his ear. He shook violently, but he did not cry. I was proud.

This is where I had a little moment of temporary badness.

After our turn on the swing, I walked Erik to the concrete, where he slowed his pace and then suddenly stopped. I pried my fingers from his vise-like grip, walked over to a park bench, and sat down. I began trying to coax him over to me. Instead of walking towards me, his head drooped down slowly like a wilting flower. He rocked back and forth a few times on stiff legs and then was perfectly still. I called his name over and over, but I got absoutely no response. I fought a surge of panic until I saw what the problem was. I looked down at his toes and spotted a groove in the concrete. He would not swing his foot over it. I suspected he couldn't tell whether it was the edge of a step, a branch, or a curb. He couldn't see that it was just a line. He couldn't see it because his brain was likely playing tricks on him.

I watched this child of mine, looking so small and vulnerable on this expanse of concrete in the bright sunshine, frozen in place and looking uselessly at his feet. To my horror, I remained where I sat and dared myself to see how long he would do this. One minute. Two minutes. Three minutes. I kept calling his name. Children ran back and forth behind him, and he stood like an elfin statue. I felt a tear pool in my sunglasses and felt like a complete idiot for torturing myself. I walked to where he was and knelt down in front of him. His head came up slowly, and he smiled. I hugged him tightly and began to fight off the badness.

As a baby girl went happily cruising by in some sort of fancy cart pushed by her mother, I could clearly see everything I was missing out on. It's not a new feeling to me anymore. I see it every single day in the faces and bodies of babies -- the smiles, the chubby fingers skillfully pointing at objects, the bubbling laughter, and the animated babyness I never saw in my son. I see bodies and minds working beautifully together like they were meant to. It never seems to get easier, but it's definitely not new to me. I am reminded every day of what could have been. I have learned to smile and laugh when inside I feel a knife penetrating my core. I truly feel like we're in a different plane of existance or on the surface of another planet, especially when I'm on a playground. When Erik greets other families and they walk by without responding, I sometimes wonder if they can see us at all. But that's not new to me.

The thought I had next was definitely new. As it passed through my brain on a stray electrical impulse, blistering rage and profound grief mixed in my chest like gasoline and fire.

A large portion of your son's childhood has been ripped away from him.

I grasped his hand, and we walked away from the screaming, laughing children to a bench by the senior center to eat our sandwich in peace. Ironically, he tottered along like an elderly man. Other children passed us by, and they seemed to have wings. Erik smiled at them as we made our away down the sidewalk but was happiest when they were nearly out of sight. We quietly shared our sandwich in the sun. Erik knelt down to tentatively run his fingers through the grass before he stood up and continued chewing a mouthful of sandwich.

I could write volumes on having a child with special needs and how in the midst of all of the progress and happiness there are moments like these that hit you like a Mack truck and bring you to your knees, but I will keep my thoughts to myself here. Rest assured that most of my days are filled with joy, and I know how lucky I am. I suspect there will always be moments like this. Entire days like this. Like I said, it's nothing new, and I'll be fine.

I just believe that no mother should ever have to teach her child how to play.

8 Comments:

Blogger Kati said...

You made me cry again with this story.... I don't like playground just because Szabi doesn't really enjoys it, but I'm planning to buy a slide to the garden to practice...and maybe sometime Szabi will enjoy the playground...
My heart breaks when I realize that you are right with the part of their childhood which ripped away!
I don't know what to say more...
love and hope tomorrow will be better for you!!!
Kati

5:08 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Thanks for sharing your day with us. It has been quite a while since my kids were at the playround age. I was able to relive this with your words

6:33 AM  
Blogger PASLAY'S FROM IDAHO said...

WE LOVE THE NEW PHOTOS OF ERIK! BRAYDEN CAN'T GET OVER THAT ERIK LIKES TO SWING! BRAYDEN STILL WILL NOT SWING... NO MATTER HOW MANY COOKIES I WILL BRIBE HIM WITH! AND THE CRACK IN THE PAVEMENT, IT ABOUT BROKE MY HEART! I WOULD OF DONE THE SAME THING... TRIED TO HANG IN THERE AND SEE IF HE WOULD CROSS IT AND IF NOT, SCOOP HIM UP AND LOVE ON HIM BIGTIME! WHEN WE COME IN APRIL THE BOYS WANT TO PLAY WITH ERIK AT THE PLAYGROUND. BRAYDEN SAYS HE "MIGHT" SWING FOR ERIK! :)

7:04 AM  
Anonymous Camille said...

Wow, Nancy. Very powerful writing. I think all of us parents can sympathize and understand the heartbreak you are feeling. What else can I say...at least we have each other.

9:21 AM  
Blogger PASLAY'S FROM IDAHO said...

BY THE WAY... WE LOOOOOOOVE AND SO ENJOY THE GREETINGS FROM ERIK! MY SISTER KELLIE WAS HERE FOR SEVERAL DAYS THIS PAST WEEK VISITING AND SHE CHECKED OUT YOUR BLOGSITE WITH ME. SHE THINKS YOU ARE A WONDERFUL WRITER AND ONE HECK OF A MOMMY! SHE ALSO THINKS ERIK LOOKS LIKE BRIAN AND BROGAN. :)

11:36 AM  
Blogger Aspen said...

Once again my eyes are full with tears. Picturing him standing there frozen, breaks my heart. I am sure there will be many more days like this ahead. I love you dearly and cherish your stories.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your day!

11:59 AM  
Blogger Kerry said...

My heart broke, too, with the thought of him standing there not knowing what to do. I often wonder what differences I have in front of me with a child who won't be where his peers are. The thought of not having friends at school is one I shy away from a lot, as his brother is Mr. South Elementary.

Your pics are adorable though - and his new recording is so cute ;)

2:23 PM  
Blogger uncle_dom said...

omg he is so CUTE I LOVE HIM!do you have instant messenger

8:38 AM  

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