Sunday, May 31, 2009


Anyway, the interesting thing about Robert's cough is that it has disappeared.  The cough plagued us all spring, seeming to indicate sinus infection over and over and over.  Antibiotics.  Antibiotics again. Different antibiotics. Feeding problems.  Disruption at school. People asking questions about why he was coughing.  Strangers staring at me with concern in various public places.  Gads.

I've been a guest in Disability Land for a long time.  I have my green card now.  What never ceases to impress me or impress itself on me as if with some kind of implicit, unspoken stylus is the unexpected ways in which disabled children do, in fact, continue to develop.  Over the last decade or more, our culture has sustained a popular attachment to the specifics of the stages of human development.  The skills, the windows, the progressions of various sorts have all been incorporated into parenting books and manuals.  

This is a bad thing.  For one, it's brought the blood sport of competitive parenting to the level of the human genome, over which none of us actually have control or effect.  I am sorry to tell you that, regardless of books, studies, and the publication needs of medical students and physicians, I really don't believe you when you assert that walking at 10 months is an indicator of future academic success.  It might help you get your kid into that fancy private nursery school with its phalanx of admissions personnel trained to sniff out the least little hint of 'delay' in the toddler set.  But it's your own ability to negotiate your child's admission into the fancy private nursery school that is a micro-harbinger of future academic success.

These sorts of mindsets, nurtured with parental venom, misplaced affection, and the thrill of victory, let sprout what become the thick hedges that block the view of the, well, human side of human development.  We place our kids on this developmental track, an artificial track that is often at odds with the inner map that each follows.  And we expect them to run fast in straight lines.  And stay inside their lanes.  So the metaphors are mixed? What of it? The tangled strands of genome, diet, relative poverty or wealth, illness and/or accident, personality, and opportunity are wound and knotted together in ways that no scientist or parent can unravel.  And one metaphor is inextricably bound to another.

This is just to say that Robert' cough was simply a form of explorative play and experimental communication.  And orneriness, as his babysitter might say.  But how many perspectives are there from which to analyze this cough?  How many variables? That is the necessary complexity of the non-verbal child and the danger of parental or exterior analysis.

Robert became upset after his bath a few days ago. And he didn't want a haircut, either.  But, appearances being what they must be sometimes, he really had to endure both.  He cried.  I held him.  And after a full weekend of watching him from time to time, looking for the swallow that would indicate he could handle his secretions, listening for the tenor and the tone of the cough, the quality of its sound and timbre that would provide clues to better interpret the severity of his reflux--after all of this, I watched, listened, and Robert swallowed, easily, several times in succession.  Because hysterical crying will really release a lot of, um, secretions.

Robert and I had a long talk.  Or, rather, I talked and he indicated he was paying attention.  I pointed out that if he kept up this coughing thing, no matter how fun it was (here he laughed and smiled), at some point, the matter would be released from my hands and doctors would insist on tests.  I reminded him that these sorts of tests are unpleasant and uncomfortable.  So if the coughing was something he might be, say, doing on purpose because he could, I would suggest that he stop.

He stopped.

And I was a little sorry.  Because he'd been having fun with it, evidently. And getting excused from a lot of classes.  And getting a lot of attention.  And how did I know that letting spit collect in the back of your throat because there was nothing better to do, letting it collect until it triggered a cough, didn't have some kind of practical entertainment value, after all?

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Oh, my God. We are truly in a Shakespearean world, aren't we? This is such a fabulous post, jeneva, and not because of the usual brilliant choice of words and essay form -- because of the humor implicit in it and the generosity to share it. It's an experience that could also have easily driven one insane but it appears that you've chosen to laugh. I love that.