My sons happen to have multiple (a.k.a. “an alphabet soup of”) diagnoses – educational, developmental, psychological, and otherwise. Like many mothers, I feel as if I fail at the parenting thing on an almost daily basis, and, as a mother of differently-wired boys, the more common markers of success that might reassure me, like grades, physical health, and friendships, simply don’t exist. My boys can’t participate in the ordinary activities of other children in the neighborhood, like organized sports, clubs, camps or even day care, but I have found that this need not be altogether a bad thing. For they have time, and exploring the outdoors, getting muddy, splashing in the water, building worlds out of sticks and leaves, handling toads and snakes and crayfish, is something that they can do. In fact, they are at their best in the wilderness, “down at the river.”
While they can’t fly through math problems or books, they can identify birds, engineer a dam, and read animal tracks. One son can’t concentrate enough to write more than a single sentence at a time, but he’ll spend hours fashioning imaginary machines and stories to go along with them. My other son will growl and snap at me at home, but when he sees a bird he knows I like as we walk through the woods, he grins broadly and practically jumps up and down in excitement to let me know. I savor these moments. Honestly. I mentally become as sappy and starry-eyed as a heroine in an old-fashioned book for girls. I feel hope for my boys, that they’ll be able to find their place, that they’ll remember their small, beautiful discoveries and be able to carry them with them, like talismans, as they face the prejudice, criticism and ignorance of the wider adult world.
Together, over their spring break, we cleaned up after what had clearly been a drunken bonfire party on the river’s “island.” I didn’t have enough room in my garbage bag for the number of Bud Light cans the revelers had left behind. My boys, while they admired the evidence of the fire, were disgusted by the rest of the scene. And, just for a moment, I thought that maybe I wasn’t doing such a bad job with them after all.