ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

georgia.

Last month, I wrote a piece about our family’s experience with PANDAS, not only because I felt a need to write it, but also because I thought others might need to read it.  But now there’s something else I need to write.

Toward the end of that piece, I said, “And now, after twenty-four hours on antibiotics, she’s acting like herself again. Just like that.”  But things weren’t exactly back to normal.  Not really.  There was the emotional aftermath, the emails to teachers and guidance counselors attempting to explain. The exhaustion and you’re really lucky; it could have been much worse. Then more throat swabs and confirmed cases of strep.  As the pediatrician wrote another prescription for amoxicillin, the third for our house that week, I joked with her about the little blonde in the paper dress on the examination table before us:  should I expect this one to act crazy, too?  The doctor smiled but didn’t laugh, and said only, What your other daughter has is incredibly rare.  

What she has.  Not what she had.

self-portrait.And even now, more than six weeks later, I still feel like it’s what she has.  Because, really, things are a little bit different now.  For Georgia, strep is not a sore throat, it’s “a disease that makes you think bad thoughts.”  And there are new rules for Georgia and sore throats.  Because something like this can happen again, the next time she gets sick.

There are nights, still, when she says something out of the ordinary, something that echoes that one Thursday night, and I shoot my husband a look that says, See?

All this week, she’s been complaining that her stomach is bothering her, and that she keeps burping.  Always at night, just before bed.  It frustrates her.  It makes her cry. And last night, she became urgent, yelling through her tears at me that her stomach hurt, that she couldn’t stop burping.  I thought she was going to throw up, so I directed her toward the bathroom, and she stood over the toilet, clutching her tummy and burping.

tree-hugger.

That’s when I realized she was panicking.  She was gulping air, swallowing it, burping it back up again.  And she couldn’t stop.  Again.

I put her into bed, covered her up, and rubbed her back.  With closed eyes, she said, “It’s okay.  I’m okay now, Mommy.”  She burped a few more times, and then she went to sleep.

Before, I might have thought it was something physical.  Like indigestion.  But now, my first  response was that this was just another episode.  This is just what happens now.  Because now, everything is changed.

And I wonder if I have changed more than she has.

I watch her tug at the waist of her soccer shorts and tuck in her shirt, over and over during the game, and I wonder if this will turn into some kind of attack.  I read a sentence she writes for her spelling homework (I like it when my work is finished, because then I don’t have to worry) and I wonder where this anxiety comes from.  I overreact, I ask if we’ve pressured her (my husband says no), I don’t understand her innate desire to be perfect.  And so I blame the strep.

soccer girl.The thing is, I’ll never know.  I’ll never know if this is just how she’s wired, how she’s always been wired, or if it has something to do with having strep in January.  What I do know is that this is who she is now. This is who we are.

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whataya want from me?

turtle.It’s Sunday again, and so we march into church.  All of us.  Teddy melts down onto the kneeler before we’re even seated in the pew.  His shrieks fill all the empty space up to the ceiling, and I wish the opening song would start.  My free hand searches blindly through my purse for that bag of vanilla wafers, and when I find it, he’s quiet.  For a moment.

But then he starts again.

I heave him onto my hip a little too hard and he bumps his head against mine as we walk back down the aisle.  He’s big for his age, and so I’m sure all of those eyes that are watching as I head for the door think I have a child who misbehaves, instead of a normal, active, just over one-and-a-half year-old boy who is too young to understand why he must be contained in a pew.

And I wonder what I’m even doing here.  Again.  What is the point of going to church every week when I have to leave before I sit down?

Outside, we walk.  He waves to passing cars and I lift him up when he gets tired.  The eyelashes.  leaves of a low-hanging palm branch touch the top of his head and he giggles because it’s just so darn funny.  He sits down in a pile of dried pine needles beside the chain-link fence in the parking lot, and his chubby hands pick up little piles of leaves and acorns and dirt.  He pushes them through the fence’s openings, over and over. The sunlight touches his eyelashes, and for the first time I notice their length and color:  lighter than one sister’s but darker than the other’s.  And just as long as both.

He sits on the curb with me and munches another vanilla wafer.  And he leans into me, not for support, because he doesn’t need it. But just because I’m there.

And I realize that maybe this is what I’m doing here.  Maybe this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.

hello me.

Sometimes, I think we ask too much of them.  They’re busy trying to figure out the world around them, and we’re busy telling them the way it is.  Instead of letting them find order, we order it for them.  Don’t meltdown in the pew.  Don’t tantrum.  Don’t shriek.  Don’t make noise (at all). Don’t be a toddler. Don’t be you.  And find a way to understand why I’m asking this of you.

Maybe, the line between high expectations and control is sometimes too fine.  I don’t want robots.  I want kids who make good choices because of who they are.

Later, when I somehow find myself sitting successfully inside the pew, I watch as Georgia holds a hymnal in her lap, flipping through the pages for the closing song.  Jane whispers, “Mommy, you didn’t bring me water.”  So I tell her that we don’t need to drink water in church.  She motions to Father Ramon, who is standing at the altar, holding his chalice of leftover consecrated wine . “But he’s drinking water,” she says.

I don’t tell her what he’s drinking because that would be entirely too confusing.  Instead, I say that we’ll get some water when church is over.

“One more song?”  she whispers.

Yes, one more song. DSC_0071