Two years ago, the tears were on his face, giant tears that were the product of being told he was lacking in some manner, while his cousin who is only six months older and one of his best friends, was not. I held him on my hip, my heart saddened but understanding the circumstances in a way that he could not. I tried to tell him it was for safety reasons, that the man who said he wasn’t tall enough to go on the swings ride at the carnival wasn’t trying to be mean, but that he had to be big enough for the safety strap to hold him, and as little as he was, he could slip right out of it. He didn’t care. He just rubbed his snot on my shoulder and glared at the man, and at the ride as the swings rose higher and higher and flung round and round, his cousin gleefully enjoying the flinging, oblivious to Son’s jealousy and left-behind status. It was a bad night.
Still, I tried to turn the bad feelings we all felt over the situation into something positive. “Eat your food and you’ll be big and strong enough for the swings at the picnic next year!” It became a mantra. It seemed at first to be the magic bullet to get him to eat. Finally! Forkfuls went into a mouth once closed in tight determination to remain food free. Before, he wouldn’t try new things, sticking to mostly chicken nuggets and french fries, applesauce, carrots, and macaroni and cheese or spaghetti. His diet was almost all carbs, and I wondered if he was balanced enough. I fretted. I worried. He went from one season to the next without going up to the next size. I put jeans away from spring to winter knowing that they’d likely fit in fall the next year. Frowning, I carefully watched him, not caring as much if he had sugar or junk. Given the choice between watching him eat crap or not eat at all, I’d reason calories are calories, and if we can get over this hump, then I can worry about realigning his nutrition intake. If he asked for it, he pretty much got it, because it meant something was going in his belly. He wasn’t so starved that the doctor was worried, but I obsessively gave him vitamins and found that I couldn’t look at him without gauging his size. Proportionately, he was fine. Lean legs and arms, little boy belly, skinny but not emaciated. Still, I worried. It’s what mothers do. But the swings gave him a goal, and so he started to eat. One bite at a time, he ate.
Time passed. His palette has expanded. Last night, he tried toasted ravioli and loved it. He then tried a tortellini in sun dried tomato alfredo sauce and loved that too, except for the little bits of tomato in it. But he ate. He finished the bowl. It’s become normal to me to see him eat now, so much that in fact somewhere in there, I realized I’d quit scrutinizing him. I stopped hovering and obsessing about his eating habits. He was growing by the charts at the doctor’s office, though he’s still in the lowest percentiles.
That picnic returned over the weekend, and Friday night, he stood in line gleefully with his grandmother to buy his ride pass. He held out his scrawny wrist for the wristband that would gain him access to unlimited rides until he was barely able to stand, and the first place he wanted to go was the swings. Last year, he’d been denied access again, with just a half an inch in height to go. He took it much better but it still hurt. This year, there was hope in his face as he stood in line. The kids in front of him rushed to find their seats and he came up to the man running the ride. The gate swung close to his head. If he was as tall as or taller than the gate, he was home free. There were hairs that were thicker than the difference between him and the gate. He was still too short, but this time, it was close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades… and carnival swings.
“C’mon,” the Ride Man said gruffly, waving him in. Son bounced inside the fence surrounding the swings, his cousin hot on his heels. They were thrilled, him to have gained some form of acceptance he’d been missing for two years and get the chance to finally ride the swings, and his cousin to finally have a riding buddy, and not to feel guilty because he’s taller through no fault of his own.
They jumped up and strapped themselves in, and the Ride Man checked their safety belts, and then started up the ride. The smile on Son’s face nearly split his whole head in half. I’m sure he swallowed at least six bugs that first ride (and by the end of the night, he’d probably ingested enough protein in bug form to make up for having cotton candy for dinner – WIN!) and his smile was seriously so big that I wouldn’t be surprised if he had gotten a sparrow or three in there too. The moment was two years in the making, and I sat and watched with glee on my own face, tears standing in my eyes reflecting back the bright carnival lights. Two years ago, the tears were on his face. This time, they were on my face.
Crappy camera phone pictures
he’s too blurry to point out, but trust me, he was on there, lighting the world with his smile. While I stood by and tried not to bawl like a baby over his success. I can’t WAIT to see what kind of sap I’m going to be when he does more than manage to grow a couple inches. They don’t tell you just how much you wear your heart on the outside of your body when you have kids. Oy.