Everything's gonna be all right!
So, woman, no cry;
No - no, woman - woman, no cry.
Woman, little sister, don't shed no tears;
No, woman, no cry.
-- "No Woman No Cry" (Bob Marley)
I had a great day with Erik.
He has been feeling better now since a trip over the mountain to see my grandmother Saturday. When I went in to greet him this morning, he was so distracted by the ominous presence of Gracie-Cat just outside his door that forgot to refuse to let me take him into the bathroom and place him on the commode, which he then used as if he had been completely potty trained for years. Usually, his borderline violent protests make any sort of potty-related activity completely impossible. He asked for waffles and ate two of them before allowing me to work out on the treadmill and shower while he watched his favorite shows (Super Why and Sesame Street). After that, he asked if we could go to the playground. It was a perfect morning for that kind of thing, and I decided we had better get out while it was still a little cooler. The filthy house could wait.
We went across town to a park we don't usually visit. It's near the trendy shopping district and a group of expensive homes and condos perched on a rocky bluff overlooking the river. A couple mothers stood in the shade next to double strollers, bottles of sunscreen sprays, and an array of interesting snacks in clear plastic bags. They smiled at me, and I smiled back.
Erik wore his AFOs today. I have been pretty bad about employing them lately, but his rapid growth has made his Achilles so tight that I have been forcing myself to strap them on him, even in the heat. However, I regretted putting them on as soon as we got out of the Jeep at the park and he began moving as if he had segments of stovepipe over each leg. He didn't seem to mind, though. We passed the fence and entered the play area, which was only being used by a handful of children. Erik walked stiffly up the ramps to a surface riddled with small holes and then held onto the railing for dear life with both hands, shuffling his feet forward until he could adapt to his new surroundings and determine the stability of the surfaces he seemed to have trouble visualizing. I walked before him over a little bridge and stomped my feet to show him how to feel things out. I could feel the other mothers' eyes on me. I suddenly felt a little like a mother bird teaching her hatchling how to fly. He stomped along behind me, and we made our way to the top with only one little fall temporarily shaking his confidence. We stopped to watch the traffic glide by, and he greeted each vehicle with a hoarse, hearty, "Hello, motorcycle!" or "Hello, car!" He was most thrilled by the deafening equipment two men in orange vests operated nearby on the grass, including a weed trimmer, a riding lawn mower, and a leaf blower. I sat to let the sun bake my nearly bare feet and shins and enjoyed the look of the dark green tops of the pines in the distance against a postcard blue sky. The birds sang, the lawn maintenance equipment farted in the distance, and everything seemed to hum in unison, making air feel almost electric. After Erik was finished observing the world from our lofty perch, he sat down on his bottom and took the slide to the blond-colored wood chips below. He found a steep set of metal stairs and informed me he wanted to climb them. After my encouragement and a slightly shaky start, he mastered them. He even seemed to listen to me when I suggested holding on differently. We were completely in sync. He continued to explore everything, and, amazingly, I was able to sit close by, relax, and watch him play fairly independently for the very first time. Once the sun rose high in the sky, dark, linear shadows of metal railings cast themselves over the surface of the ramp we previously took. Erik froze in his tracks, seemingly unable to see where to step. I asked him if the shadows were freaking him out, and he answered that they were. I offered my hand to him, which he gripped tightly, and we stomped together back to the top through the shadows. We passed one of the put-together mothers, who was now holding a chubby, drooling infant wearing a frilly sun hat in her arms, and she said, "Boy, the ramps and things here seem to be really good for him."
I didn't really know what to say.
For once, I wasn't thinking about physical therapy, really. We were just in our normal, perfect little world, set apart from everything and everyone else. I prefer it that way at the playground, which is a difficult place for me to be. This woman's voice snapped me out of my trance, and everything around us seemed to crash into me. I can't remember if anything came out of my mouth in return or not. This was a first. I have never had a stranger comment on anything except perhaps about how cute Erik is. I felt defensive and slightly confused. She certainly didn't seem to mean anything negative, but I felt slightly off balance. I smiled, nodded, and continued up the ramp.
And then I saw her son running in front of us in the sunshine.
Hooked over each ear were bulky pieces of grayish plastic with wires snaking from them to spots on the back of his skull. They looked to me like they could be cochlear implants for deafness, but I couldn't be certain, as I know next to nothing about this kind of thing. Suddenly, Erik's plastic leg braces didn't seem so obvious or strange after all. I took a deep breath and exhaled the last of my defensiveness into the humming atmosphere, attempting to absorb the energy around us even more for the reservoir of strength that I need to dip into from time to time.
When we left the park, we were covered in a light sheen of perspiration. Erik's cheeks were covered in a happy, exhausted blush. I assigned him the job of holding my water jug while I drove, and he seemed delighted with this job. As we made our way back across town, we sang "No Woman No Cry" at the top of our lungs. I felt wonderful and didn't feel like going home quite yet. I decided to run through the drive through at Taco Time. We returned with our little paper bags and enjoyed our bean burritos together at the kitchen table. I even poured Erik some sparkling orange pop, which I something I rarely let him have.
It just seemed like a special occasion somehow.
Labels: playground, progress, public outings, Williams syndrome