We were walking up to school, juggling coats, backpacks and lunch boxes and as casually as someone would ask for the time, Shep looks up at me and says, “What does drown mean?” I was struck dumb. My mouth opened but nothing came out. I tried to form an answer a second time…. but images, instead of words clouded my head.
For the first time with Shepherd, I dodged the question.
Instead, I looked back towards Charlotte, feigned a new interest in helping her walk faster, and I changed the subject. How could I tell my son what it meant to drown, when he’d done it? How do you explain a lack of oxygen, not being able to take in a breath, only water, to a child who’s gone through that experience, but just doesn’t seem to remember? It makes me want to scream just typing the words down. Memories of Shep’s accident have resurfaced. The baby-faced ambulance driver, the initial conversation with the doctor. He laid out our most likely outcome with thoughtful but direct sentences. Words that hit my brain like a hammer, shattering my world and caused my body to double over the coffee table in the waiting room.
Maybe it was Shep’s loaded question, his neurology appointment, or maybe it’s the decision Erron, his teachers and I recently made to hold Shep back from Kindergarten… the triggers can be illusive, but I can feel my anxiety ramping up, and I’ve spent a lot more time on my phone before bed than I used to, dulling my senses before closing my eyes.
I want, more than anything, to believe my son is fully restored, and that his brain and emotions were untouched and protected from the horrible experience he endured. And no, I honestly don’t think he remembers falling in the pool. But it happened, and I remember enough for the both of us.
We go through cycles with Sheppy, like all parents do with their kids, but as my mom describes it, Shep’s cycles can feel amplified. Shep has seemed worried in the last few months, a little anxious himself, and he’s picked up a new tic to replace the old one that had faded away. Fortunately, at school he seems to keep it together just fine-he’s a normal 5 year-old boy who loves to play and hates to write. But at home, it feels like tug of war, always calculating my tone when I speak to him, making ever-conscious decisions about when to remain calm and neutral and when it’s appropriate to let him know he’s on thin ice, and Momma’s about to crack, so he’d better figure it out quick.
To add insult to injury I feel guilty for worrying, we’ve been given so much medical information to rejoice over. We walked out of Children’s Hospital sixteen days after coming in. I’ve hugged mommas and prayed over precious toddlers who lived for months in step-down rehab facilities, re-learning how to walk, swallow, and form words they already knew. I’ve cried on the phone with a stranger who’s little nephew never made it out of the hospital this side of Heaven. All because of that one dirty word Shep wanted me to define.
Who am I to be ungrateful for the miracle we received? Is it not enough for me to kiss my boy goodnight, drive him to school, fuss at him when he’s picking on his sister? Yet, I’m told children who experience trauma can take months, even years to manifest symptoms of anxiety from their experience… but isn’t it just as possible his anxiety is a by-product of mine? I’ve heard and internalized every suggestion out there: Medication, play therapy, essential oils, PANDAS/PANS, food allergies. I’ve also seriously considered the possibility that God gave Shep a sensitive soul, anxiety is in his genes, so the best course of action might just be more family time and a glass of wine (or something even stronger) for me. The last thing I want to do is breed new issues and stigmas for Shep when time and maturity might shake it all out eventually.
But I am struggling. Shep’s emotions are simmering beneath the surface, and so are mine. I keep thinking someday the intensity will wear off for good, I’m so curious to hear from other mommas further down the road if it ever does. Does it? I thought the sting would be gone by now, but it isn’t. Not entirely.
I think it’s the guilt that drives the fear. There’s a very good chance we’d be wrestling with the same issues we are now even without his drowning history. But the preventability of Shep’s scenario add a layer of insanity to every decision making process. It’s what haunts me at night and drives me to my knees in prayer in the weakest moments. No doctor can offer up concrete answers as to what our future will look like, the crystal ball remains cloudy.
I may have lost my composure at Sunday school today after being up all night stressing over Shep’s future. On the way home, I told Erron how embarrassed I felt over the tears that failed to stay put as our teacher discussed how God continued making provisions for Moses and His people even though that process took a lot longer than they ever would have thought or preferred . Shep piped up from the back seat, “Mom, maybe you need to get under the covers and watch your favorite show!” Noted. Shep is going to be fine, we are going to be fine. We have been and will continue to be provided for. Whatever that looks like, I believe it is true. One day at a time. But for now, it’s Netflix under the covers.