Yet within a week, we were back at our HMO to talk about Walker's lethargy, his lack of crying, his sleepiness. The doctor listened to the baby's heart and sent us home, saying, "Let sleeping dogs lie."
Remember, I told myself. This is a boy. Boys develop more slowly. This is not Elizabeth.
For the next week or two I determined to give Walker the peace he seemed to need. I put his baby carrier in the corner while I cleaned, held him as much as I could. He was quiet, rarely cried, and seemed to sleep constantly.
And so we fell into a pattern, the baby and I. Sometimes, if I was standing, I picked him up and gingerly moved him back and forth. While I made phone calls, or tried to work or clean with one hand, he lay in my arms heavily. He no longer seemed airy but seemed to be falling into me, somehow weighted.
Still, streaks of worry, the odd sharp or stinging sensation that disappeared as quickly as it came, seeped and intruded into our moments together. He seemed immeasurably ill at ease. I had the sense that he didn't fit in his own body, or that he was fighting back pain. But what kind of pain did this baby have? His face was pinched and crinkled, his posture awkward. He lay down as if he were on top of a ball, his back curled oddly sideways. Looking at him made me feel uncomfortable, and then guilty and even ashamed of the discomfort.
I began to judge myself as a mother. What was the root of these queer feelings? I knew that a mother's affection, if it was pushy, cloying, could be destructive. (I had friends who seemed permanently damaged because their mothers were too insistent that they become what they simply couldn't bring themselves to become.) I was trying to be honest with myself about who I wanted this boy to be. I remembered an essay my friend Roberta had written when we were in college, satirizing parents who try to produce geniuses of their children before they are even out of diapers. In her piece, someone injects a small violin bow into a mother's womb so a fetus can begin practicing Suzuki violin. Was I going to be one of those parents who were pushing, ever pushing, their children forward? Was I becoming one? Had I been too smugly proud of Elizabeth's precocity? I remembered feeling foolish to have intentionally listened to more classical music than I was accustomed to during Walker's gestation just because I thought it might help his brain develop.
Yet still I felt myself wishing time would push ahead so that Walker's scrunched-up face might be ironed out, filled by maturity.
Daily I waited for the eyes to come into focus. There was no way to talk about it. I wasn't even sure I wanted to.
One day I looked at Walker, and guessing he was sad or depressed, I thought he might be ready for some excitement. We had a tape of mostly Motown hits we'd made before Elizabeth was born. We played it often in the early weeks and months of her life: Otis Redding, The Supremes, and Aretha Franklin, who never failed to elicit joy in Elizabeth as a baby. I slid the tape into the stereo, turned it to play softly, . . . and started humming along . . .
. . . And what you need, baby you got it
All I'm asking, is for a little respect
I picked him up and tried to dance, just a little bit. His body shook. I checked his face; it seemed to be almost vibrating with discomfort. His eyes stared intensely into the distance. He was concentrating. Was he going to throw up? His head quivered and fell against my shoulder. I put him down quickly on a blanket (had I hurt his neck? I had heard babies could even die from too much motion). His hands flailed in space the way babies' limbs do when they think they are beginning to fall. He looked so frightened that it was as if he were going off a cliff. I quickly placed him back in the baby seat. He remained stunned.
From The Boy Who Loved Windows: Opening the Heart and Mind of a Child Threatened With Autism by Patricia Stacey. Copyright Patricia Stacey 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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