Erik Quinn: The Heart of a Family: Slosh

Friday, June 19, 2009


Those who do not know how to weep with their whole heart don't know how to laugh either. -- Golda Meir

Tonight I sit here with tears streaming down my face. It has been a rewarding day, but it didn't end well, and I'm just too raw to keep my emotions inside. A child in the WS community died this week, which always throws me off balance for an undetermined amount of time, Erik is having his awful stomach problems while I am trying to toilet train him, and I am not adjusting to the lull of summer very gracefully. I feel like I live a perfectly happy and successful life but that I am required to do it with an ruthless, ongoing intensity that places my emotions just beneath the surface. That's where the numbness I have mentioned keeps things in check. I have learned to keep this hidden and even fool myself into thinking the lake of sloppy emotion isn't threatening to spill at any time, but it sometimes sloshes and takes me by complete surprise.

Today I took Erik to pick up lunch at Subway. As we waited for his sandwich to be made, the overhead speakers began to thump with the 1986 OMD song "If You Leave." One of my favorites. I grabbed Erik's hands and danced with him in line, swaying back and forth with the music. The women preparing Erik's food were charmed by his smiling face underneath the brim of his baseball cap, and we danced our way to the front of the line, where we accepted a small plastic bag containing Erik's meal. We then made our way out into the blinding sunlight.

We arrived at our local playground just as the school district began serving free lunches to children in need. I gripped the steering wheel, squinted at the melee, and sighed. This meant the park was clogged with children. Lines of parents stretched out in front of two stainless steel refrigerators on wheels at the edge of the playground. In the past, I would have turned around, but I had previously made a promise to Erik about going to this particular park. I have nearly forgotten the days of cruising parks in town to find ones without children playing in them because of Erik's sensitive hearing. Those days are gone. Miraculously, a parking space opened up before us, and I had our things unloaded in no time.

In our community, the senior center abuts a large playground full of children. This is brilliant, if you ask me, as different generations can mingle together. Erik and I walked away from the chaos and chose a quiet, shaded picnic table toward the senior center. A gray-haired man rudely and enthusiastically revved the engine of a brand new Ford Mustang with racing stripes in the parking lot, and the people walking out of the building laughed. Erik looked up at the shelter we sat under to shade us from the sun in amazement. He said, "Oh wow. This is a nice house."

We were soon joined by another elderly couple at the next table. She opened a pack and spread out a red and white checked tablecloth. On it she placed fancy wine goblets, fat sandwiches encased in plastic wrap, and a miniature bottle of wine.

A pair of frail-looking women tottered down the sidewalk towards our area. They seemed to be holding onto each other for dear life. They chose another nearby table and opened another pack containing food, including half cans of A&W root beer and goldfish crackers. Erik grinned at them all, muttering the nonsense phrases he considers charming but that nobody else can come close to understanding. Sometimes I wonder if he slurs these made-up things just enough that people find themselves leaning closer to him. It wouldn't surprise me.

One of the women was very chatty. We consumed our meals, and I enjoyed her questions and comments, some of which made me laugh ("What's the deal with that vitamin water they are selling, anyway?"). When we were finished, I helped Erik dismount the awkward bench of the heavy picnic table, and I asked him to say goodbye to our companions, which he did. I threw our garbage in a tall, round can nearby, and Erik stood on his toes to try to spot where it all went. I had to pry him from it in order to begin our trip back up the sidewalk to where a sea of kids churned all over the play equipment.

Erik asked to try the slide for babies. The playground is divided into three areas appropriate for different age groups. We started with the area for young children and worked our way up successfully for the first time with no protests from Erik. He climbed over each structure completely independently while I sat soaking up sun through a layer of SPF 45 moisturizer nearby.

This is a major accomplishment for us both.

At the final play area featuring a maze of bridges, elevated walkways, and one steep slide, a group of seemingly gigantic, obnoxious boys camped underneath Erik's favorite rock climbing wall and screeched, playing some made-up game, hurling insults at each other, and occasionally accidentally kicking each other in the face, much to my delight. I could not even begin to accurately guess their ages. A large boy rode a skateboard down the slide, making the massive structure shake. Two small children glided by on scooters. Erik began to lurch for the wheels, and I said, "Erik! Not yours!" He looked at me with complete understanding and acceptance in his eyes and moved on to an elevated walkway over the soft playground surface. He gripped onto the railing with both hands and gingerly took step after sideways step, slowly making it all the way across the unfamiliar surface, simultaneously greeting the children who passed by. He then ascended a flight of stairs and found the top of the slide, sitting on his bottom and sliding back down to me.

My heart swelled with pride.

The boys' screeching only intensified. Erik's hands suddenly flew to his ears, and he stopped in his tracks, but he never once looked back at me. The children sprinted by him at their frenzied pace, and he simply stood still in the sunshine, looking like a frail creature from another planet observing another culture steeped in an inhospitable atmosphere. I quickly climbed up the structure and stood behind him, placing my palm over his chest to assure him I was there, although he didn't really need it. If anything, I was the one who felt like an alien. I really wanted to touch him and feel anchored to the planet again. As I felt his heart beat under my hand, I winced at the familiar, brief stings of anger and despair before they faded deep under my ribs. The sudden, stabbing pain caused my eyes to water, but any tears dried before they could spill from behind the dark lenses of my glasses. And then things were fine again.

I said, "Wow, those kids are pretty darn loud."

Erik was in full agreement.

He then came out of his frozen stance and began to move again. Children approached him and asked him questions. When he didn't respond, they looked slightly confused but in the end didn't seem to care. I bridged the gap between them and asked Erik to attempt what they were doing on the play structure, making them feel important and easing Erik's anxiety in the process.

I'm no rookie anymore.

We ended the afternoon hand in hand walking back to the car. I asked questions about what we had seen, and Erik seemed satisfied. We agreed that we both had a great time.

Tonight I asked Erik if he wanted me to turn on his CD player to listen to music. For a couple of months now, he has been telling us no. I finally concluded that something wasn't right. I suggested some songs, and he finally agreed on a CD to play. I thought that it was odd a child, especially with WS, would not want music for this many days in a row. Erik adores music. He seems to feel it physically.

Erik's CD player is tired. I purchased it before he was born to put in his perfect nursery to play perfect lullabies to a perfect baby. It has never really worked very well, which, at this point, is no freaking surprise. I have to laugh about this. These days I have to do what my best friend calls "percussive maintenance" to get it to start. With a mere few taps using the soft side of my fist on one speaker, the music usually plays. I have done this many times.

I placed the CD in the thing and snapped the lid shut. The machine very quietly clicked and whirred, desperately trying to locate a track to play.


I began the rapping on it, listening for the sound of success. Instead, I heard a strange, frightened wail begin behind me. When I turned to look at Erik in his bed, his face was bright red, and tears were streaming down his cheeks. Where the skin on his scarlet face was creased, it was blanching pure white.

"No music, Mommy! Turn it off! I don't want it!"

He continued to beg me to make it stop, even though the music had begun and sounded fine. I felt like the worst mother in the world for ruining this thing that he formerly enjoyed so much in the safety of his room. How a child could survive an afternoon of the world's loudest, worst-behaved children at a playground and then shrink in terror at the sound of an electronic device whirring and my hand slapping against a piece of plastic was a mystery and caught me completely off guard. I frantically stabbed at the stop button before I ran to him and held him in my arms as he continued to cry. I promised I would throw the stupid CD player away and find him a new one as soon as I could. I told him that I was so very sorry. As I hugged him tight, the tears I had fought earlier finally spilled and streamed down my face. I hid them from Erik, but I could tell there would be many more, so I kissed him on the forehead and got up, tucking Stinky-Dog in his arms, which he was too upset to acknowledge. He seemed to be in a glassed-over, anxious trance. He was red faced, sweaty, and solemn when I shut his door for the night.

Life is good, but the intensity seems to follow me everywhere. And once in a while it turns me into a blubbering heap.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't buy a CD player soon...

6:10 PM  
Anonymous tara said...

I notice my emotions are always just 'right there' and I never know when they're going to explode. I'm so glad everything went well at the park. I'm so proud of how far Erik has come. He makes me proud!! I hope Erik is able to enjoy his next cd player....and not worry about if it will hurt his ears. :( Poor little guy!

7:36 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Now that I know what the problem is, I can likely introduce a new CD player without much of a problem. It just snuck up on me. A lot of times when he was small, he was unable to tell me what the trouble was...thank goodness for language.

7:57 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Michaela had the same issue with an older CD player....I'm always caught off guard by what noises are going to set her off. Sometimes it just comes out of the blue to noises that never bothered her before.
I'm glad the playground trip was such a success!!!!

3:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Getting a new and updated CD player may be a good thing. Maybe bring him to pick among a few. Growing kids like to have input! :)

10:12 PM  
Blogger Heidi said...

I actually cried reading this blog, I know exactly how you feel, when you said you had the perfect nursery, etc, that is exactly how I had "planned" it out. I spend hours in there, dreaming and making a beautiful, designer nursery. It's the little things like that that make me break down sometimes, the plans that didn't work out- although I'd never change who Summit is.

It is always those strange things you never think about that cause the most anxiety in him isn't it? Ben made Summit freak out like Erik did earlier tonight, his face was red and he was crying in terror- at Ben blowing bubbles with his GUM. It breaks my heart. I'm glad Erik is doing good!

8:39 PM  

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